Reasons Why More Horses Are Running Bare Foot
Racehorses and Racing Plates
Since time memorial, all racehorses have run with either a full set of shoes or in a few cases only a front set. The shoes began as heavy iron plates, the same as could be found on working horses of the same period. Over time however, racing plates have become lighter and lighter, now being made from aluminium. These shoes are so light that they do not affect the horse in terms of weight, but still have an effect on how the hoof moves and works.
Some trainers are starting to run their horses barefoot, i.e. with no shoes at all. Although this is still a hot topic of debate, there are some definite good reasons behind this. Will we see more ad more barefoot horses on the track in the future?
The Purpose Of Racing Plates
For many years, horses have run on grass tracks, which can be slippery. In other equine disciplines such as jumping, horses have studs fitted to their shoes to give them better traction and prevent injury from falling. Grass racing horses have had shoes on for years with the same kind of thinking behind the action. Shoes = traction = more speed and fewer injuries. With modern track surfaces, however, this is not nearly as necessary as it was. Synthetic tracks are much less slippery in all weathers, making shoeing less of a necessity. Thanks to new technology, the tracks are more predictable and the horses’ performances often easier to predict than the outcome of FIFA World Cup betting!
Another reason for the shoeing of thoroughbreds is their notoriously bad hoof structure. Thin walls and thin soles equal brittle hooves that chip and crack if not held together with shoes. This, of course, makes the horse lame and unable to run.
So What’s Changed?
Aside from the track surfaces seeing a huge technological improvement, other aspects of horse husbandry have come on by leaps and bounds. Nutrition has been proven to play a huge part in hoof quality, so trainers are now feeding to build strength from the inside out.
Studies have also been done on concussion and how the hoof flexes when it hits the ground. It has now been noted that a flexing hoof actually helps the horse to grip as it creates a vacuum underneath the sole for a few milliseconds, giving the horse more traction that results in more speed. Of course, if a horse has a piece of metal nailed to its foot, this flexion becomes severely limited.
With all of this in mind, a number of trainers all over the world are starting to run their strings of racehorses barefoot, and seeing the results far sooner than they expected. In Canada, a trainer named Marc Blouin is running all 17 of his horses barefoot on a number of tracks. It took a while for the track authorities to allow this, however, as with anything change in the racing industry comes slowly. He has seen a marked improvement in many of his runners.
Another benefit to keeping a racehorse barefoot is the turnout and rest aspect. Most thoroughbreds who are in full training tend to go a bit dilly if put into a paddock for any period of time, and with the running around and generally being silly they either pull shoes or damage themselves. This severely limits the time that the horses are allowed to go out. A barefoot horse does not run any of these risks, and therefore is much less of a danger to himself and any paddock mates without shoes.
Obviously, this won’t work for all racehorses. Each horse has to be assessed individually, but the future for more natural racing is looking bright.