Farriers Say Racetrack Licensing Process Leaves Much To Be Debated

by | 03.31.2016 | 4:42pm

Every racing jurisdiction includes in its rules of racing the specific criteria a horseshoer must meet to obtain a racing commission license as a farrier. Passing a two-part test that consists of a written portion and a practical assessment of the farrier's skills is necessary in most jurisdictions, although a license may be issued to an individual who already holds a farrier's license in another jurisdiction (reciprocity). Complicating the issue is that some states have right-to-work laws that prohibit racing commissions from denying a license to a farrier who has an established business.

The Jockey Club is currently refining a standardized farrier's test that it hopes will be adopted nationwide, much like model rules for other aspects of racing. The standardized farrier's test was developed by the Shoeing & Hoof Care Committee of the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, chaired by prominent owner Bill Casner.

The concept of a standardized test has drawn mixed opinions from racetrack farriers.

California shoer Wes Champagne is adamant that the test should remain regional.

“I can tell you right now that shoeing horses in one state is not the same as shoeing horses in another,” he said. “A horseshoer from back east would have a hard time here on the West Coast. You can shoe a lot shorter on those deeper tracks. And with all the moisture, you would almost have to use a smaller shoe and drive the nails in a different location than we use here [in California].”

Champagne is also concerned about reciprocity.

“I've gone to other states, and I've gotten a license right away without taking a test,” he said.

But, honestly, who wouldn't issue a farrier's license to the person who shod the Triple Crown winner? For all three races, American Pharoah wore a standard Thoro'Bred shoe that Champagne modified with a heel plate to protect the site of an old bruise. It worked.

Tom Halpenny, who shod 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, sees standardization as a way to get back to the days when the powerful Journeyman Horseshoers Union had strict rules about who was granted a license. Only those who completed an apprenticeship with a veteran racetrack shoer were eligible to take the farrier's test.

“When we had the union, the JHU, there was a lot of control that way,” Halpenny said. “You had to pass a test to get in, and then you were critiqued by your own people. Nowadays, once you get your license, you're in. I think it would be a good deal. But it has to be done properly.”

In California, a loophole Halpenny would like to see closed allows a farrier to employ helpers who shoe racehorses under that farrier's license without obtaining their own farrier's license.

“They'll go on for years before they even take the test, and they only take the test so they can go out and work on their own,” he said.

Ray Amato, longtime farrier for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, applauds the standardized test because the 83-year-old farrier said he and his son, Ray Jr., have been asked many times to fix the mess left by those he said should not hold a farrier's license.

“There is such bad shoeing going on with Thoroughbred horses,” he said. “The work I see is disgusting, terrible. They don't know angles; they don't know how to get the foot level; they don't know what they're looking at when they look at a hoof. It's crazy. There are only about five good horseshoers in New York, but I see a lot of bad work.”

Testing process

For some racetrack farriers, the test itself is not the issue. They are more concerned with who is administering and grading the test. Each racing commission assigns its own testers, who may or may not be experienced farriers. Some testers are veterinarians and trainers; some are stewards or other racing officials.

In the JHU's heyday, journeyman union members sat on the testing board. But when the union fell out of favor, individual racing commissions began to do their own testing, and it remains that way today.

Shoeing horses that compete at 40 mph while exerting up to 14,800 pounds per square inch on the hoof as it impacts the track is a special skill that farriers who shoe other disciplines do not have. Logically, only veteran racetrack shoers should conduct the test, farriers argue.

“Have a fellow shoe a horse and have qualified shoers watch him,” Amato said.

For years, the American Farrier's Association has tossed around the idea of certification for racetrack shoers. The AFA is the official body that certifies journeymen farriers who work in other equine disciplines. But the AFA committee looking into it does not have a single member who is a racetrack farrier.

“At this point in time, there hasn't been enough drive from the membership to encourage the committee or the board of directors to be more diligent about looking into that, and that's kind of our issue,” said AFA President-Elect Jon Johnson.

Luis Jauregui, safety steward for the California Horse Racing Board and a former jockey, oversees the panel that tests farriers for that jurisdiction. The panel consists of three veteran racetrack farriers, one veterinarian, one trainer, and one steward. Jauregui believes the CHRB's testing program is the best in the nation, but he said there is always room for improvement. For example, the CHRB's test still requires the candidate to fashion a shoe from bar stock using fire and a forge, which is rarely required in everyday shoeing for the racetrack. Jauregui believes that portion of the test is outdated.

“I'd like to see more of what's being done out there now on the test, like patches and Equilox,” he said. “And I'd like to see the written test cover modern diagnostics.”

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