Saturday, August 07, 2021

The Olympic Hoof Explained: Swedish farrier outlines barefoot management of gold medal team

The Olympic Hoof barefoot showjumper

Everyone has questions about the shoeless Swedish showjumpers that have been so successful at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Sweden won the Team Gold Medal Saturday, as a followup to rider Peder Fredricson's Individual 
Silver Medal for jumping earlier this week.

To explain it to you, we went straight to the source. Peter Glimberg is the farrier at Peder Fredricson's training farm and oversees the hoofcare of some of the world's most elite show jumpers, many of whom now train and compete without shoes on carefully-groomed arena surfaces.

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Peter has kindly written an article about what he does for these horses, and why he does it, so today we turn The Hoof Blog over to him. Here's Peter:

First of all, I must confess that I’m pretty “Swedish” and I’m not so confident in the spotlight, I like to work in the shadows.

I’m sorry to say that I’m not in Tokyo; I was supposed to be, but the Swedish team does not have a farrier at the site due to restrictions. Nevertheless, I was with them in Tryon (World Equestrian Games 2018), Rio (Olympics 2016), and Normandy (WEG 2014), among other championships, as I usually travel as the Swedish national farrier. 

I have been Peder Fredricson’s farrier at the Grevlunda training center for three years. I am the farrier responsible for his top horses. 

Peder Fredricson on All In competing barefoot to win Olympic Gold Medal at the Tokyo Olympics
The Swedish show jumping team, led by Peder Fredricson and All In, had only one rail down among all three riders in the entire five days of competition. Two of the horses, All In (seen here) and King Edward, ridden by Henrik von Eckermann, competed without shoes. (Photo courtesy of FEI)

I had been working previously for 12 years as a farrier at a veterinary clinic; I have done a lot of therapeutic work on lame and distressed horses. I am educated and certified at Sweden's "Authorized Farrier" level (see below), which is required in Sweden for vet clinic work. I also still do a lot of therapeutic jobs and normal shoes.

I am not comfortable discussing any specific horses, but I’m happy to discuss my thoughts in general. As an approved farrier by the Swedish agricultural department, I have an obligation not to mention the horses I’m working on, by law. All of the photos are active horses from Peder Fredricson’s stable, but who is who, I won’t say! 

Unshod foot protected with Vettec Superfast
When the showjumpers' hooves wear exceeds growth. Peter Glimberg says he applies a thin coat of Vettec Superfast (urethane adhesive): "I would call it a coating," Peter said. "We try to keep it as thin as possible, maybe 3-4 mm thick. It wears down quite quickly so if the horse is going to compete in the next 7-10 days, maybe we put on a little bit thicker layer." Peter did not think that the horses' hooves had been coated in Tokyo because the grounds were so well-planned for the horses' welfare. Image © Peter Glimberg/Hoofcare and Lameness)

The hoofcare program for these top horses centers on the balance between the positive and the negative effects of both shod and unshod hooves.

I believe that the unshod hoof interacts better with the modern fiber-sand arena surfaces, where these horses train and compete.

Another Swedish showjumper with a coating of Vettec SuperFast to counter excessive wear. The material is applied when horses show signs of soreness. Hoof boots are worn when hacking, but the horses are trained, turned out, use the walker, etc. without hoof protection other than occasional adhesive coating on some horses, some of the time. (Image © Peter Glimberg/Hoofcare and Lameness)

The negative side of nailing a shoe to a hoof is that you automatically lift the hoof from the ground and therefore take away support from the underside of the frog and sole. Since  modern arena materials are very firm, with a nailed-on steel or aluminium shoe, we also take away the hoof's ability to flex medio/laterally.

This is a problem because I think we therefore put excessive stress on the hoof, especially on the coffin joint, since the fiber-sand surfaces don’t allow one side to sink while turning.

It isn’t hard for a farrier to get the top horses to function and perform barefoot on these surfaces. The problem is to get them to also function in the fields, in the walker, hacking out and so on.  -- Peter Glimberg

The reason: If the hoof wears down more than it grows, the horse will get sore. It is as simple as that, and then you will have to protect the hoof. At Grevlunda, they do use hoof boots while hacking out, but only then--not when training on fibre-sand surfaces. 

The bare hoof has its limitations when horses are required to compete at showjumping events held on grass, which is more common at big events in Europe and Britain, such as Aachen, Hamburg, and Hickstead. Peter Glimberg devised a thin aluminum shoe, which he had manufactured specifically for this purpose, so that grass studs could be used. However, he later found that thin steel shoes were more successful. (Image © Peter Glimberg/Hoofcare and Lameness)

Quite often, I build up some extra hoof wall on these horses with a thin layer of “plastic” (Vettec Superfast), so that the horses never get sore because of excessive wear. Sometimes they compete with the adhesive and sometimes they don’t. We use it when the horses need extra protection.

The reason for putting this on is mainly for protection at areas surrounding the main arena.

Editor's note: For clarification, Peter was asked if the horses' hooves were coated in Tokyo, and how thick the SuperFast might have been. He said, "I’d say they are competing completely barefoot in Tokyo, the surrounding areas are super and very forgiving, as I understand."

We have also tried really thin aluminium shoes for jumping at grass shows, just to be able to put studs in. These really thin hunter-fit types shoes allow the frog to function.

I believe that this program is something horsemen can benefit from if they have horses performing at the absolute top level. Otherwise, they are better off keeping their horses shod.

bar shoe and shod hoof by Peter Glimberg
Peter Glimberg sent examples from his veterinary clinic work; he likes to use Colleoni bar shoes from Italy. "I use them on horses diagnosed with navicular and problems in the coffin joint. Those horses often move fine on a straight line but not on a circle."

However, I think we use far too thick standard shoes on show jumpers. I believe that horses can benefit from thinner shoes, just by getting closer to the ground and therefore getting better support from the surface.

I’m very proud of the Swedish riders in Tokyo and also very proud to be a tiny bit part of it. 

However, my part as a farrier is to keep the horses sound and therefore able to withstand the training required. That’s the only way a farrier can improve the horses' performance. You can’t get the horses to run faster, or jump higher, but you can help them stay sound and perform at their best. That makes me feel really humble!

My advice: Keep it as close as you can to barefoot.  The simplicity of a barefoot hoof interacting with a soft surface--that is what I believe in. But it is much, much easier said than done.

More about me

Before I became a farrier I trained young show jumpers. I also competed at national level and I breed my own horses. 

Nowadays my children have taken over that part of my business. My daughter has competed in the FEI Jumping European Championship for Young Riders and my son was away working in Belgium at a stable with only young showjumping stallions.

One of Peter Grimberg's homebred showjumpers is "Farrier's Fear", who is anything but, ridden in competition by Peter's son. 

All my horses have the "Farrier" prefix in their name. The horse Farrier’s Fear, ridden by my son, is one of my home-bred horses, as is Farrier’s Fling, ridden by my daughter, and a three-year-old called Farrier’s Faith, which is just being broken in by my son.

Farrier's Fear is one of the most gentle, kind and easiest horses I’ve met, so the name is just a joke. At home we call him “Figge”. 

--Peter Glimberg

About farrier regulation in Sweden

In Sweden, “Authorized Farrier” is a protected title for which a farrier must apply to the Swedish Board of Agriculture (Jordbruksverket). An Authorized Farrier may perform surgical procedures on horses’ hooves and perform other equine hoof treatments.

Authorized Farriers are classified as animal health staff, which means a license is required to practice. Only an Authorized Farrier may work on horses that are under general anaesthesia, horses that have been sedated, and horses that have been locally anaesthetized via injection. Authorized farriers are required to work in accordance with science and proven experience and to keep patient records.

Farriers are also allowed to work if they do not have the “Authorized Farrier” title. They are not allowed to work with horses that are under general anaesthesia or that have been locally anaesthetised via injection. 

Only “Authorized Farriers” are allowed to perform surgical procedures or other treatments that may cause significant suffering. Farriers must not delay the provision of veterinary care to a horse in need of it.

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