Today we have a guest post from one of our readers who has years of experience in the draft world. Now, you may recall we previously did our own post on draft tails, and another about a draft mare for sale – neither of which went over very well with some readers… 😉 So we jumped at the chance to have a real, live draft person submit a post!
To start off, currently I am an armchair equestrian. But this does not mean that I do not know what I am talking about. Before my son was born I had my hands on horses several times a day all through college. I went to a tiny, tiny college (you would not have heard of it) in northern Vermont with a non-traditional equine program. At this college I made my way up the horse ranks from peon to Draft Horse Teaching Assistant. But it is not draft horses as you’ve most likely seen them in the big show hitches at the state fair. Rather, at my college, I learned to farm and log with draft horses. I learned every aspect of draft horse management, use, physiology and spent a year studying barefoot trimming. At the same time I was a groom for a highly respected breeder and trainer of Dales ponies and Fjords who used Linda Tellington Jones TTeam methods for training in combined driving and dressage. It was an odd double education, since the driving techniques are so very different. The summer after I graduated from college, I worked as a carriage tour driver on Mackinac Island, also I drove the drays that deliver everything on the island and the road sweeper. When I point at a draft horse and start talking, generally I know what I’m speaking about. However, show me a hunter or a reiner with a myriad of conformational faults and I’ll have to take your word for it. Light horses always look a little weird to me.
Now that that’s out of the way, on to my biggest pet peeve in the draft horse world: Scotch Bottom Shoes. I will admit, I didn’t even know what these were until my husband purchased a team of Belgian geldings that had been used for 10 years as show hitch horses. There’s nearly zero call among real working draft horses for Scotch Bottom Shoes. They originally evolved in the English swamps to give the drafts a wider hoof base for pulling in the muck, and when done properly can actually give a draft with bad conformation an easier time of it. Just like soring, although not as painful, these shoes are a way to enhance the movement of drafts for that exaggerated gait you see in hitch horses; where their front legs touch their bellies at the trot in the ring. A lot of draft horse people will probably call me out upon hearing their shoes connected with soring, but I spent a year not only training our drafts to stand to be trimmed without stocks, but a full year repairing their damn feet. Turns out one of our geldings has textbook perfect feet and hasn’t had an unsound day since we pulled his shoes; no matter if it was dirt, mud, sand, back country gravel road or paved road we asked him to work on, or how much snow we asked him to pull through. Our other gelding still has issues with cracks and flaring and must be trimmed every three or four weeks.
For those who aren’t familiar with SBS shoes, you can check out photos on this forum.
You can see in the photos how wide the horses’ hoof is and how, without the shoe, that would be considered flaring. SBS, as they are done for the show ring today, turn the toes excessively outward (usually considered a fault among light horses) and pull the hocks together (again, considered a fault among light horses). This places tremendous stress and screws up all the angles of a normal draft’s conformation. Outside of the soft sand of the show ring, horses worked in SBS that are too extreme can be permanently lamed and have laminae separation – also known as Laminitis.
SBS actually is not a completely evil thing in or of itself. But as in most things it is taken way too far by some. Some people not only let the hoof grow out but trim off the heel before shoeing to further enhance movement – and that is the quickest way to lameness for a hitch horse. But it is all the judges currently look at. If you are showing in a hitch class without SBS you are ignored no matter how naturally or nicely your horses move. Another problem with SBS is that most people don’t know how it is supposed to work. In the sand of the show ring the horses just look “pretty” (definitely not to me, but to others). But once you take a horse in SBS out on the road, to train or to work, you are hopping on board the lameness train.
What really pisses me off is talking with people who shoe drafts for hitch in SBS and say that there is no permanent damage to the horse or that it is not hurting the horse one bit. In most cases this is true and not true. Pull the shoes and most horses walk away fine and never turn up lame if they are properly trimmed from them on out. Others may never have good feet, come up with tendon and muscle issues pretty quickly, or have Bute shoved down their throat prior to going into the ring. Everything I’ve been taught about basic horse and hoof anatomy tells me that the angle is hugely important to load bearing and when you throw that out of alignment you have issues.
The typical thing done with hitch horses is to let their hooves grow out, throw them in stocks, put Scotch Bottom Shoes on them for the 10-14 week show season, then pull them and throw the horses in winter pasture the rest of the year. For reference, this is what a draft horse hoof should look like:
The following pictures are of our drafts after they’ve been barefoot about a year, trimmed by us every 4-5 weeks:
One of the biggest problems we’ve had with our horse Bobby (on the right) is the flaring in his back hooves. We could get his fronts looking normal, but if not trimmed approximately every three weeks his feet would start to flare in the back and he would catch himself as he walked, cutting his pastern on his hoof. It was incredibly frustrating to get this horse barefoot after his years in SBS shoes. Every time we thought we had it, a crack would appear or his back hooves would start to flare.
The final point is that most things in moderation are not so bad, or used when needed. But SBS and the current hitch world and what judges look for leads to this:
Just another run of the mill instance where the standards judges use in the show ring no longer have anything to do with a well-formed and well-performing horse, and more to do with what stupid people think looks “pretty”.
Up next: Mackinac Island. Just thinking about it makes my blood start to boil!