A farrier pounding a red-hot shoe on an anvil is part of our equine heritage. Most disciplines prefer their farriers to hand-make shoes from bar stock using a forge to custom-fashion them for each particular horse. The shoes are applied to the bottom of the horse's feet while still hot, a process called “burning,” which doesn't hurt the horse.
Racehorses are an exception. They wear manufactured aluminum plates, which is why racetrack farriers are referred to as “platers.”
Pat Broadus, along with his brother Chris and father Sonny, shoe some of racing's top stakes horses under the business name Broadus Brothers. They take care of the feet of 600 to 700 head of Thoroughbreds, including multiple Grade 1 winners Forever Unbridled, Practical Joke, and The Pizza Man.
“We're dealing with athletes who are asked to run at a very high rate of speed for a pretty significant distance, so we want to keep them as light as we can,” said Pat Broadus. “You don't see many human sprinters wearing big, heavy shoes. We run in aluminum race plates because they're lighter. They're made to run in. They have the traction that we need, and they're punched for smaller, finer nail holes. We shoe racehorses on a four-week schedule most of the time, so we don't need great-big nails, and we're shoeing them on such a short cycle that we don't need a real heavy shoe.”
Broadus said he seldom modifies an aluminum shoe because just about any particular type of shoe he needs is commercially manufactured.
“The only shoes I make myself are bar shoes. And I'll go weeks, sometimes months, without putting a bar shoe on a horse,” he said.
Sometimes racehorses need custom-made shoes to address a particular problem. In these instances, a farrier will use his forge to hand-make a shoe from steel bar stock, just like hot shoers do in other disciplines. Typically, these shoes are Z-bars and V-bars. The Z-bar protects a hoof defect, such as a quarter crack, to keep the weight off it so it can heal. A V-bar sits over the frog to help that structure pump blood, and the increased circulation promotes healing.
It is possible to work with aluminum in fire, but Broadus said it is difficult. Besides, there really isn't any need to hot-form aluminum shoes because they can be shaped easily using a hammer and a stall jack, a small portable anvil used by platers. If a farrier wants to modify an aluminum shoe, it is easier to use a hand-held torch than a forge.
Racetrack barns are not designed with dedicated fireproof areas for farriers to work with a forge. Farriers must shoe horses in the shed row, which would be a fire hazard for hot shoeing. Plus, Thoroughbreds don't tolerate having their shoes burned on.
“Thoroughbred racehorses just aren't going to go for the smoke. They're too fractious,” Broadus said. “We try to take a good amount of foot off a Thoroughbred racehorse, and I don't want that to sound like we're cutting them down to nothing. But we're trying to live on a fine line there. Because of keeping the leverage off the leg, we have to keep the toe short and keep them underneath themselves and try to keep them balanced. By doing that, we take them down pretty close to where we don't have room to burn the shoes on. ”
A large part of the American Farrier's Association's certification test focuses on forge work. Because racetrack platers seldom have need for a forge, few have sought AFA certification. Historically this has caused a rift between the hot shoers and cold shoers , with racetrack platers often regarded as second-class farriers.
Broadus set out to prove naysayers wrong by foregoing an anvil and instead using a stall jack to during his AFA certification test, which he passed. He intends to test for his journeyman's certification in August.
Broadus said the AFA testers were skeptical when he stepped up for the test, stall jack in hand, but they soon realized he was a proficient farrier.
“I came and I did it my way, but I stayed inside what the test required,” he said. “I think there are a bunch of platers who are talented and handy enough to kick it in that test. I wish more of them would do it just to prove that we [racetrack farriers] are pretty good, too. It's just a different game. Shoeing racehorses is different. I respect guys who shoe dressage horses and jumpers, and I try to understand why they do things. There are reasons why we do things, too.”
Broadus believes that any talented, skilled farrier can cross over to another discipline and become proficient at it after spending six to 12 months learning the nuances of that discipline.
“I'm never going to use [forge work] on the racetrack, but I wanted to prove that we platers still have plenty of talent on the racetrack, and we can get it done,” he said.
Forge of July Free Clinic
July 14-16 marks the second annual Forge of July in Shelbyville, Kentucky. This free clinic for farriers of all disciplines offers presentations and demonstrations by leading farriers. Broadus said the knowledge and skills shared informally among the farriers who attend is equally valuable.
This is a family-welcome gathering at Clear Creek Park. Camping is available. More information, including the schedule and facilities, can be accessed by joining the closed group Forge of July on Facebook. Last year's inaugural event drew 700 farriers from around the country. Top racetrack plater Steve Norman's band, Shades of Grass, will entertain Saturday evening.
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