Monday, May 07, 2018

Badminton's Farriers Prize 2018 to Liam Collins

Dani Evans and Smart Time on cross-country at Badminton Horse Trials 2018
British rider Dani Evans and her horse Smart Time won the Farriers Prize at Badminton Horse Trials for 2018. Smart Time is shod by Liam Collins, a farrier in North Somerset, England.

If you think that the upcoming Royal Wedding in England sounds romantic, wait until you read this. The lightning-bolt connection between three-day event riders, horses and farriers is magical when it strikes and all three emerge from a top competition effort safe and sound and happy.

But what about when the relationship is more than professional? It happened again this weekend, and they all lived happily ever after.

For the fourth time in the last five years, a male farrier's shoeing of his female partner's four-star event horse was judged so outstanding that the farrier was honored with one of the hoof world's quietest but most coveted awards: The Worshipful Company of Farriers' Prize for the best-shod horse at the grueling four-star Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in Gloucestershire, England.

Is there something in the water in that lake in front of the impressive formal country home of the Duke of Beaufort? Each May, the Duke opens the gates to his parkland and the public--more than 100,000 strong--rushes in to watch the competition and shop in more than 500 popup shops that sell everything for horses, dogs, country people, and the well-heeled who want to dress and eat like country people, if only for a weekend.

Badminton Farrier Prize winning shoes
The four shoes of Smart Time, ridden by Dani Evans to a 17th place finish out of 78 horses entered. The horse is owned by Luana Edge of Wiltshire, England and is shod by Dani's partner, farrier Liam Collins, DipWCF of North Somerset, England. Photos of the gelding's feet taken immediately after shoeing, courtesy of Liam Collins.

Somewhere beyond all those horse vans in the traffic jams on the winding country lanes, the three-way partnership between a farrier, a horse and a rider took a victory gallop on Sunday. The horse may not have won the event, but only those few outstanding horses that make it all the way to the final showjumping phase are eligible to even have their shoes judged.

The horse's wellbeing and the suitability of the shoeing for the demands of all three phases goes into the judge's decision of which horse's hooves are above and beyond the already-high standard required merely to qualify a horse to compete at this level.

This year's winner is North Somerset, England farrier Liam Collins, DipWCF. Liam shoes other eventers, but only one four-star horse. Smart Time, the 14-year-old grey Irish Sport Horse gelding whose hooves so impressed the judge, is ridden by Liam's partner, Dani Evans; this week was Dani and Smart Time's second try at Badminton, and the rider's first-ever Top 20 finish.

Farrier Liam Collins, DipWCF shows off the Worshipful Company of Farriers' Badminton Horse Trials "Farriers Prize" ribbon to best-shod horse Smart Time in the stable area. (Dani Evans photo)

Liam Collins is enthusiastic, energetic and on his way up in the farrier world. A dedicated competitor, Liam can be found most weekends at one of Britain's countless farrier competitions, but not this weekend. For the past three days, he was on hand to support Dani at Badminton. "I didn't even take any tools out," he admitted.

"Mainly, it’s all credit to Liam's pride in his hard work," Dani said on Monday. "He knows how to keep a horse sound and comfortable. He has a lovely way with horses and they respond to that.

"We have a great relationship!" she continued "We both have full-on long days, so we understand each other’s focus and drive. We rarely get days off to do normal couple things. We probably have most conversations over a strong coffee at six o'clock in the morning!"

Dani Evans (GBR) riding Smart Time, shod by Liam Collins, during the dressage test on Friday at the 2018 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (Photo by Simon West/Action Plus via Getty Images).

About the shoes
In an interview soon after the prize ceremony, Liam Collins shared information about his work on the horse, which he has been shoeing for approximately 18 months.

Liam, who is an active competitor on the international level, could have used standard shoes on this horse, but he wanted to do more. He could have made lovely handmade shoes from bar stock, but that wasn't enough. He went the extra mile and created a set of four tool-and-fullered concave shoes.

"Tool-and-fullered" describes what he did with the bar of square stock. Instead of hammering it flat, he made it into three-dimensional creased shoes. The stock is concave, or sloping, from the ground surface to the inner point that contacts the sole.

The front shoes feature pencilled heels with what is called a "hunter fit"; Liam felt this was a good choice to prevent the horse from potentially pulling a shoe during the cross-country phase, where there is a scrambling and considerable time in the water.

Badminton Horse Trials shoe
Liam Collins took this photo in the arena at Badminton at the end of the event. (Liam Collins photo)

"You need to treat a horse like this like an athlete," Liam said. "He doesn't have the strongest feet. He's 16 hands, and has a light frame. Luckily, the ground was good this year."

He explained what readers will see in the photos, "On the hinds, I started with nine inches of 5/8” square stock and tooled it out to 12 1/2 inches," he said. "I then got a short heat on the outside heel and bumped the steel up and allowed it to swell.

"I only got 3 inches or so of the steel hot and bumped it up on one end to drive the steel into itself. This gave me a broader section to fit with more support at the outside heel where it was safe to do so.

"The inside heel I then narrowed up slightly and fitted with a tapered heel so it was nice and safe for him going cross country. I only (used) two nails on the inside branch as his hind feet are very upright and I wanted to keep his feet as strong as possible.

Badminton Horse Trials Worshipful Company of Farriers Prize winners 1993-2018
Liam Collins is the latest farrier to see his name added to the impressive list of Farrier Prize winners at the Badminton Horse Trials.  The competition is sponsored and judged by the Worshipful Company of Farriers.

The judge, Phillip Perryman, AWCF, declined an interview but later sent an email comment: "It was an extremely high standard of shoeing this year.

"The (winning) shoes were fit for purpose for the ground conditions. The shoes were well-balanced with correct nail hole and stud hole position. I know this type of shoe (front with pencilled heels) is controversial, but because of the wetness of the cross-country course, I think (it) was very applicable to use this type of shoe.

"I gather that there were quite a few lost shoes after the cross-country phase and even the last day...a horse lost a shoe just before he was to go through to the show jumping element," he concluded.

Liam's award was presented in the main arena at Badminton. Princess Anne presented the prizes to New Zealand's Jonelle Price, who was the winner of the event this year but the Master of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, Brigadier Neill O'Connor, made the trip specifically to present the award to Liam.

About the Company
The Worshipful Company of Farriers is the surviving livery company of farriers who once plied their trades in the City of London. Today it is an organization that provides benevolent oversight of the highly regulated farrier profession in Great Britain. Education and craftsmanship are two high priorities of the Company, which includes men and women from many professions as well as farriers.

Judges for the Worshipful Company often say they are impressed with a farrier who solves a problem for a horse, or one who employs an especially creative solution, or one who simplifies to basic elements what might otherwise be a complex job for a horse that needs to excel in three different phases of the grueling competition--and be sound enough to trot up in hand for a soundness inspection twice in five days.

blacksmith tool for creasing a horseshoe
Liam Collins makes more than horseshoes. This photo shows one of the distinctive fullers he makes for other farriers. (photo courtesy of Liam Collins)

This was the 25th anniversary of the Farriers Prize at Badminton. Sponsored and administered by the Worshipful Company of Farriers since 1993, the award recognizes the horse's owner as well as the farrier who are behind the best-shod horse.

As the Farriers Prize has evolved over the past 25 years, some farriers have kept it in the backs of their minds as they prepare a four-star horse for the eventing season, and the level of craftsmanship, particularly in terms of handmade shoes, has ramped up and up and up in recent years. The list of winners includes some of the world's most respected farriers -- including actual former world champions like James Blurton and Billy Crothers.

Past romantic partnerships to win the award were Ireland's Clare Abbott and Neil Dickson in 2014 and 2015, and Izzy Taylor and Charlie Sands in 2016.

The craft of advanced shoemaking is often dismissed as simply preserving lost skills that are superfluous to today's farriers. Badminton's Farriers Prize turns that idea on its head, as some farriers use the most labor-intensive and traditional skills to prepare the horses for the very modern tests that await them at the world's most highly-respected event.

The Badminton Horse Trials will be held again next May. The Worshipful Company of Farriers sponsors "best shod" classes at three-day events and horse shows across Great Britain throughout the year, but Badminton's "Farrier Prize" has its own unique reputation and mystique.

It's the farrier competition that goes on without any roaring forges or racks of hammers. The farriers don't shed a drop of sweat. All that goes on at home, before the horses load up for the trip to Gloucestershire. The prizes may be meager, the glory may be fleeting, but you can be sure that farriers are already thinking what they can do to win it next year.

Watch for more news from the Badminton Horse Trials in part 2 of this story.

Badminton Farriers Prize badge
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