Sunday, September 03, 2017

Burghley Best Shod Horse 2017: Paul Varnam's Bar Shoes for Eventer Ivar Gooden Impress Hoof Judge

The hind feet of Ivar Gooden, the "best shod horse" prize winner at England's Burghley Horse Trials this year, are shod with dramatic lateral extension shoes, as prescribed by the horse's veterinarian. But the judge said that it was the front feet that won this horse the prize for farrier Paul Varnam of Leicestershire, England. (Paul Varnam photo)

By Fran Jurga
© Hoofcare Publishing
It's that time again: The Olympic-level champions have lined up to compete in one of the world's toughest tests for any horse: The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, held in England this weekend. Many of the world's best four-star-level event horses and riders are there, as well as celebrities and royalty.

As usual, The Hoof Blog will probably forget to tell you who won or what happened. Instead, we want to draw your attention to what amounts to little more than a footnote on the prize list: The Best Shod Horse Prize.

To the horses that compete at this level, the farriers who tend to their feet are key to the performance levels and scores they can attain. They wouldn't be there without the farriers at home, so the little note on the prize list is worth explaining and, in one horse's case, celebrating.

The horses that lined up for Burghley's horse inspection on Wednesday were beautifully groomed, turned out, tacked up and conditioned. What the public couldn't see, however, was what was underneath them. Some of the world's best farriers worked quietly--and anonymously--to prepare these horses for the three days of tests before them. One horse would be singled out and recognized for the extra effort, skills and perception its farrier had used in preparing that horse for this difficult event. This horse and its farrier will be awarded the Best Shod Horse Prize.

The best shod horse prize at Burghley Horse Trials went to Ivar Gooden, an Irish Sport horse shod with handmade front bar shoes with side clips. The shoes were made from 7/8 x 3/8" stock. The horse wore bar shoes as a preventative, farrier Paul Varnam reported. Judge Mark Watson and the rider concurred that the horse has healthy front feet. He has had a fungal wall infection in the past, however, and his conformation calls for more medial heel support than straight shoes can supply. Burghley was his second four-star event this year in front bar shoes, his first in handmade bar shoes. (Paul Varnam photo courtesy of Imogen Murray)

The foot judging is a simple process at a three-day event: After each horse has been trotted up for the jury at the first horse inspection, it is led over to the farrier judge, who will lift all four feet of each of almost 70 horses, in the case of a large event like Burghley or Badminton.

Best shod horse judge at Burghley
this year was Mark Watson, FWCF. 
(Stephen Hill photo)
The Worshipful Company of Farriers sent a judge to Burghley: Mark Watson, FWCF had the task of picking a winner. He brought his daughter to be his scribe. She took notes as he rattled off his observations, which were based not just on the shoes the horse was wearing but how they fit and if they were appropriate for the horse’s size, conformation and its mission at hand: to complete all three phases at Burghley.

“Yes, there was fairly good stuff,” Watson remarked casually when the judging was done. “But some (was) middle of the road, and others not so nice.”

Watson is also an examiner for the Worshipful Company; he judges farriers who come forward for diploma and advanced levels, such as for the Associate and Fellow levels of recognition. His job is to recognize quality and to be able to discern the talented work from the window dressing. He was looking for horses shod for the job at Burghley, and shod safely and thoughtfully.

For Mark Watson, a 10-year-old Irish Sport horse named Ivar Gooden filled the bill this year.

While the winning horse wore hind shoes that made an artful statement and drew the eyes, it was the front shoes that warranted his highest praise. “The fronts were really well made and well nailed. That horse was simply the best shod of all.”

About the farrier
Sometimes, a farrier gets to work with a rider long enough to see great things happen, and know he or she has been a part of it. That’s what happened this week at Burghley.

The farrier winner of the Best Shod Horse Prize is Paul Varnam, DipWCF of Leicestershire, England. Paul is the fifth generation in his family to shoe horses in the county. (Photo courtesy of Paul Varnam)

Ivar Gooden joined rider Imogen Murray’s stable a few years ago, and was soon under the care of Imogen’s longtime farrier, Paul Varnam, DipWCF. Paul has been shoeing for 21 years. After completing an apprenticeship with Leicestershire farrier Tim Allen, Paul joined forces with his father. Today he shoes a lot of eventers, noting that the sport is very popular in his area.

Burghley marks the first time Paul Varnam has been awarded a “best shod” prize.

The Worshipful Company's Varnam
Tray was donated by Paul Varnam's
family and is awarded to the 
who scores highest 
in the
practical examinations. It is inlaid
with 19 different types of wood and
contains 1,461 pieces. It is a
memorial to two of Paul's uncles who
were great supporters of the farrier
profession in England.
(Doug Bradbury photo)

The shoeing challenge
“I’ve shod for her since she was a little girl,” Paul said on Friday if his longtime client, Imogen Murray. “He’s a nice, well-behaved horse. He’s not enormous, maybe 16 hands, but he has a big canter, and is very Thoroughbred-y. He’s quite fine, really.”

Paul described the horse’s feet as “not bad”, noting that the horse occasionally has problems with wall fungus. “But he hasn’t had a lot of issues with lameness,” he reflected. “He wouldn’t be competing (if that was the case).”

Paul said that he shod the horse to help its conformational shortcomings. “It’s all preventative type shoeing,” he said. “The right front rotates out; he has problems with limb and hoof imbalance.”

Left hind: Ivar Gooden wears vet-prescribed lateral extension shoes on both hind feet to improve his movement behind. Paul Varnam said that the horse tends to stand close behind and has weak lateral heels. (Paul Varnam photo courtesy of Imogen Murray)

Ivar Gooden wears front bar shoes, which alarmed some people when the rider showed her horses’ shoes on Facebook. Both Paul Varnam and Mark Watson insisted that there is no hoof damage, and that the bar shoes were added this season for injury prevention and support. Because of the limb rotation, medial-lateral balance is an issue for the horse.

Paul Varnam said that he shod the horse with side clips in front, instead of the customary British-style toe clips, because of the balance needs and to hold the shoe in place. The rotation means that the right front has a weak inside heel; he said he couldn’t completely support it with a regular (open) shoe. The bars displace weight more evenly over a larger surface area. Paul noted that he made both the front and hind shoes in a tiny Swan Signet gas forge from ⅞ x ⅜” concave stock.

“I wanted to keep them as light as possible,” he remarked. “And that is the best size material for that size hoof.”

Ivar Gooden wore this type of bar shoes on both front feet at Badminton Horse Trials in May, but they were machinemade. For Burghley, Paul Varnam moved up to handmade shoes for the gelding, remarking, “They leave it up to me.”

The only photo of the front feet shows one shoe, and the ground surface only. When asked if the horse's front feet were a pair, Paul laughed and said that the shoes could be swapped and nailed right on, the feet are so close in size.

Paul said he hopes to prevent any recurrence of the wall fungus. This summer has been wet and hot in Leicestershire, and the side clips in front help prevent the foot from over-expanding, which could lead to spreading over the shoe, or developing flares that leave the white line vulnerable.

Another view of the left hind shows the fit of the heel on the broad base of the lateral extension and the arc of the outer branch's extension from the second nail hole to a point under the heel bulb. (Photo courtesy of Paul Varnam)

The side-clipped lateral extension shoes on the hind feet were prescribed by the horse’s veterinarian. “He wouldn’t have the support, and wouldn’t move so straight underneath himself when he reaches forward under his tummy (without the lateral extensions),” Paul remarked. Dressage is a critical phase of the modern three-day event so a clean and smooth collected movement is something the sport horse farriers strive to provide.

Ivar Gooden has worn the lateral extensions for several years, but Paul said he has no overt limb or joint issues in his hind legs. “They’re supporting the outside heels,” he said. “The horse does stand close behind, and he loads the outside heel.”

The rider
Imogen Murray, 24, of M.S.Team Eventing, has graduated from a successful career as a junior and young rider and gone straight to the four-star level. She is based near Willoughby Waterleys in Leicestershire, England. This is her first Burghley competition. She and Ivar Gooden completed the Badminton four-star event in May.

Rider Imogen Murray hacking best-shod winner Ivar Gooden in front of Burghley House earlier this week. (Photo courtesy of Imogen Murray)

The horse
Ivar Gooden, a 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, is owned by Aivair Ward and MS Team Ltd. His sire is the Thoroughbred Young Convinced and he is out of a mare by Coevers Diamond Boy. Imogen and Ivar Gooden are 15th after cross-country, going into Sunday’s show jumping. They started Saturday at 51st, based on their dressage score.

Only 45 of the approximately 70 horses entered are still in the competition; falls, refusals, and voluntary retirements on cross-country eliminated scores of horses.

The prize
Best shod prizes are generally acknowledged as a British invention, but American horse shows like the Ohio State Fair gave prizes for the best shod horses, too, back in the early 1900s. Today, the administration of “best shod horse” awards in Great Britain is under the aegis of the ages-old Worshipful Company of Farriers, which maintains a list of judges for this event who have been trained for the task.

The Company has formalized the process and created a way for farriers to compete against each other without ever seeing each other, without driving anywhere, and without time limits or even many rules. A farrier can take all day to shoe a horse, and the judge won't mind. A farrier can use modern or traditional methods, steel or copper-coated nails, side or toe clips, and any width and thickness of material. The winner is the one who not only showcases his or her skills, but shows that the work is helping the horse do its job.

The Varnam Family of Farriers
A key thing to know about Paul Varnam is that he is at least the fifth generation of his family to be a farrier. His family has a fascinating history, which has been documented in a booklet by farrier historian and museum-keeper Doug Bradbury of Derbyshire, England. The Varnam family donated a silver tray in an intricate inlaid wooden case to the Worshipful Company of Farriers to be awarded to the farrier scoring the highest level in the practical portion of the Associate examination each year. Doug has told the story of the tray and the family behind it.

It all began with Farrier Major William Varnam, Sr., who served as a high ranking farrier in the Second Dragoon Guards before returning to Leicester in 1886 to become a private farrier. The Varnams have been shoeing there ever since.

His son, farrier William Varnam, Jr., had eight sons and three daughters; three of the sons became farriers. Two of them, Bill and Fred, worked in Leicester all their lives. Bill's three city forges employed 20 workers; one was open 24 hours a day to serve the working horses.

Fred Varnam, meanwhile, became an Associate of the company and an examiner. He was granted a rare honorary Fellowship in 1986.

Paul Varnam comes from this long line of farriers who have given a great deal to their profession--and to their country.

Where and when was the first best shod horse prize awarded?

Farriers have always gone home at the end of the day knowing whether or not they’d done their jobs, and done them as well as could. They have always also known who among them had the toughest challenges, and who went the extra mile to help a horse, once they saw the horses lined up together. But they probably kept it to themselves for centuries.

Now, we have a name for it, and a plaque, and we tell the world. We hope someone will listen, and understand that some farriers work very hard to prepare horses for these big tests. That they actually like the horses and their riders.That they are there to help the horse compete successfully, and will be for years to come.


Update: Congratulations, Ivar Gooden, who rose from 51st place, based on his dressage score! He and Imogen Murray finished 14th overall in the 2017 Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Of 62 horses that went forward after dressage, 40 completed all three phases.

Listen to an interview with "Best Shod" judge Mark Watson, FWCF, during the judging during the Burghley horse inspection on the "An Eventful Life" website.

The Hoof Blog would like to thank Paul Varnam, Mark Watson, Imogen Murray, Stephen Hill, Doug Bradbury, Burghley Horse Trials media office, and everyone who has been so helpful during the preparation of this article. We look forward to the day when all the horses will be declared equally "best shod".

Fran Jurga is a professional freelance writer and editor in Gloucester, Massachusetts (USA). She writes on all subjects, and is widely published, particularly on the subjects of horses, pets and wildlife. Fran is especially dedicated to promoting the history and appreciation of professional hoofcare for horses around the world, as well as providing the most up-to-date information on hoof disease and research. The Hoof Blog's parent company, Hoofcare Publishing, is involved in many projects, including the new monthly equine research update service, HoofSearch.

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