Wednesday, March 30, 2022

New HISA racing rules for Thoroughbred horseshoe traction to begin July 1 in USA

New HISA rules for raceplate traction in USA

New federally-mandated racing safety rules from the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority will be introduced "feet first" this summer. The first new rules are primed to take effect on July 1 at U.S. racetracks. 

A change to how American Thoroughbreds may be shod, including what shoes they can wear, is key to the new rules, limiting the use of shoe traction devices with one national rule for the entire United States.

On March 4, new rules for the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority's Racetrack Safety Program were approved by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They are set to go into effect on July 1 across the nation. 

The new national oversight regulation body included regulations for how Thoroughbred racehorses may be shod and for how jockeys may make use of crops during races.

Three things to know:

  1. If you do not shoe/train/own racehorses, sell racehorse shoes, or manufacture raceplates, this law should not affect you or your business.
  2. The implementation of this law may create confusion and rumors in the coming months. It's important to know what the rules say -- and do not say.
  3. In the early days of the commenting process, some confusion existed about traction devices, but that has now been clarified.
  4. Many state jurisdiction and "house" rules at individual tracks would be superseded by the new policy.

Dr. Sue Stover, chair of
the HISA Racing Safety
Susan Stover DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVS, chair of the HISA Racing Safety Committee, is professor of veterinary anatomy at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory, also at Davis. 

On March 31, 2022, she confirmed to Hoofcare Publishing the status of these regulations as written:

"The rule as approved by the FTC has not been changed, and implementation will start on July 1, 2022."

All text in the color red in this article was copied directly from the Federal Register or HISA documentation.

The new HISA rule Thoroughbred racehorse shoes (Rule 2276):

  • (a) Except for full rims 2 mm or less from the ground surface of the Horseshoe, traction devices are prohibited on forelimb and hindlimb Horseshoes during racing and training on dirt or synthetic racing tracks.
  • (b) Traction devices are prohibited on forelimb and hindlimb Horseshoes during training and racing on the turf.
  • (c) Traction devices include but are not limited to rims, toe grabs, bends, jar calks and stickers.
(This text is quoted directly from HISA.)

Raceplates; copper and hammerhead nails
Raceplates and nails from several international manufacturers used at the Dubai World Cup in past years. (Michael Hunt photo/Hoof Blog archives)

The Federal Trade Commission admits that the rule had previously allowed toe grabs, but that will no longer be the case. On January 5, 2022, HISA posted in the Federal Register that the language is clarified in this sentence:

Initial draft allowed some usage of toe grabs but, based on significant industry input and considered research and available industry information, ultimately concluded it was prudent and appropriate to totally preclude toe grabs on forelimbs and hind limbs.

Kerckhaert raceplate shod with copper nails
A British racehorse shod with raceplates devoid of added traction. Photo courtesy of Stromsholm Limited, United Kingdom.

In addition:

“The rule limits the height of rims used as traction devices on forelimb and hindlimb horseshoes. The rule prohibits use of any other traction devices. Traction devices have been thought to increase a horse's ability to “dig in” to the track surface and prevent slipping. Traction devices reduce the horse's ability to plant its hoof properly and move correctly through the surface. That reduction of movement contributes to catastrophic breakdowns and skeletal and muscle-related injuries.

“The rule follows the scientific evidence that shows that traction devices increase equine injuries.

Standard toe grab shoe worn by Nyquist in the 2016 Kentucky Derby.

“The rule is intended to increase the safety of covered riders and covered horses by reducing the number of accidents resulting from injuries associated with the use of traction devices. Lower racehorse attrition will enhance racetrack welfare by having greater racehorse inventory to fill races, larger race fields, and consequently greater parimutuel betting.

“The rule will standardize traction device use nationwide."

(The above text is quoted directly from HISA.)

Commentary: While the law allows rim shoes, it certainly does not require them. It also doesn't specify what types of rim shoes, other than maximum rim height. 

The law does not define a toe grab, or any other traction device, nor how and if other shoe features, such as toe wear plates, might be defined. In some countries, even the nail head height is limited, but there is no mention of nail head height or shape in the US law.

toe grab racehorse shoe
A typical American-style toe-clip shoe. Raceplates come in many designs, and toe plates come in different heights. (Hoof Blog file photo)

In the near future, more information will be provided here for you to read, but it will not change what the rules say or the fact that they have been approved by the FTC and will go into effect on July 1, barring any unforeseen delay by HISA.

More about HISA:

HISA is an Act of Congress. It was signed into law by then-President Donald Trump on December 27, 2020. HISA only has jurisdiction over Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States. Harness racing is not covered by HISA.

In its comments log, HISA documented only one stakeholder remark about the new horseshoe rule: “One commentator believes that full rims of 4mm or less should be permitted, in place of the current rule prohibiting the use of rims of 2mm or less,” HISA noted.

A racehorse shod at Churchill Downs with toe grabs and mud calks for traction on an off track.

HISA’s response was, “The Racetrack Safety Committee notes that the increase in height of other traction devices increases risk of equine injuries. Therefore, the height of the rims is limited to 2mm.”

The rule change may motivate manufacturers and retailers of race plates to get the word out to their customers and to adjust their inventories.

Disclaimer: No one associated with Hoofcare Publishing was involved in writing, setting, or reviewing of the new rules. Hoofcare Publishing was not compensated for publishing this article.

Please check back soon and often for updates on HISA's racing safety governance plans. You might want to sign up for email alerts from Hoofcare Publishing as we move forward on this issue. You can do that by clicking on this link or by sending an email stating that you wish to be added to the alert list to hoofblog (at)

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