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the 2004 AHA Convention last November, the Equine Stress Committee
appointed a subcommittee to look into the shoeing regulations — which currently state
that neither purebred Arabians nor Half-Arabians may have shoes weighing
more than 14 ounces, and that the toe length may not exceed four
and one-half inches. Many people would like to see this rule changed,
especially those breeding large Half-Arabians with large hooves,
and the subcommittee has been asked to look into the matter, and
come up with a new solution — a rule that would make everyone
happy, and be in the best interests of the horses.
Here, some of the people most affected by these rules, trainers and
breeders, sound off on the rules as they stand, and offer some insight
into the issue.
Peter Conway, Conway Arabians, Chatfield, Minnesota:
The rule as it currently stands is that the shoe for any purebred
or Half-Arabian must weigh 14 ounces or less. The problem is that
as we breed larger Half-Arabians who have bigger feet, it becomes
ever more difficult to shoe within the parameters of that rule
and still provide adequate support.
In 2003, those involved with the sport horse divisions came forward
at the convention saying that they had many big Half-Arabians that
they could not compete at AHA shows with. It was impossible to shoe
them within the rules. The sport horse people argued that since they
had no desire to increase the amount of action on their horses, there
would be no reason for them to “overshoe.” Everyone agreed
that it made sense, and sport horses were excluded from the shoeing
Those of us who compete in the English divisions, and in particular
those of us breeding the Dutch Harness Horse-Arabian cross, are also
having the same issue. Our horses’ hooves are too big to shoe
within the confines of the rule. Fundamentally, everyone’s
already agreed there is a problem — that’s why the sport
horses have been excluded. However, there are many people within
AHA who vehemently feel that there must be some sort of a rule. So,
the question then becomes, how do you create a rule such that people
won’t be abusing their horses by overshoeing them, but allow
for the larger Half-Arabians to be shod adequately?
Many people in the English divisions feel a bit outraged that someone
might think that the sport horse people would take better care of
their horses and wouldn’t need shoeing regulations, whereas “those
darn saddleseat people” are going to overshoe their horses.
The implication is upsetting, and it flies in the face of recent
studies that confirm what good horsemen have always known: Proper
shoeing enhances the quality of gaits on all horses, and overshoeing
At the 2004 convention, the Equine Stress Committee appointed a subcommittee
to see if there was a way to resolve all of this, and write a rule
that makes sense and will work for everyone. Lori Mangan chairs that
With input from numerous farriers, trainers, vets, and people who
study the locomotion and mechanics of horses, Lori and I have been
working on a solution. It is based on the concept that the only way
to put too much weight in a shoe is to make it either too wide, or
too thick. Obviously, the bigger the hoof is, the heavier that shoe
becomes, just because it has to go around that hoof. But if you aren’t
making it either too wide or too thick, you cannot be making it too
heavy. Instead of trying to make the hoof fit the shoe, we need to
make it so that the shoe fits the hoof. Rather than defining some
set size and weight that all horses have to fit into, we have to
make it a variable based on the size of the foot. But we have to
do that without making it extremely complex.
What we are exploring as a concept (but we’re not ready to
say this is the answer) is to simply make a little steel gauge that
everyone could have. On one corner of the gauge is a little notch
that is the correct maximum thickness. On the side of the gauge is
another notch that you lay over the shoe to see if it is too wide.
You could just push the gauge up against the shoe — while it’s
still on the horse, so you don’t have to jerk the shoe off — and
the rule would simply be: if it fits within the gauge, it is neither
too thick nor too wide, then it is legal. Simple. It would a) allow
our large-footed horses to be shod correctly; and b) it would save
the stress on the horses of having their shoes jerked off and then
redone just to see if they are legal, and c) it would save AHA money,
because they wouldn’t have to pay a farrier to do that.
As for the length, there seems to be a fairly universal agreement
that there should be the same five-inch toe length in the U.S. as
there is in Canada. That way, there won’t be horses that need
to wear extra pads because they have one size in the U.S. and have
to be padded up to be competitive in Canada. I think that for the
larger horses especially, the five-inch toe length makes for a more
sound method of shoeing. They have no higher incidence of lameness
with the five-inch foot in Canada.
Right now the rule whose very purpose is to reduce stress on horses,
forces people like me to make the decision to either inadequately
shoe the larger horse, or not show them. Rules intended to protect
the horse shouldn’t do the opposite.
Lori Mangan, Conway Arabians, Chatfield, Minnesota:
The current shoeing regulations are compromising the health and
well-being of our show horses. With the current rule, the large-footed
horses are either not able to compete at our shows, or the comfort
and stability of the foot is being compromised to adhere to the
The 14-hand horse and the 17-hand horse should not have to be subject
to the same shoeing regulations. We want strong, large feet on
our horses, not small contracted ones. We want to encourage owners,
trainers, and farriers to balance and maintain their horse’s feet for
optimum soundness. The current shoeing regulations require many horses
to be shod with shoes that are too short or too thin to adequately
support the foot. They need more steel to get around the circumference
of their feet but can’t do it and comply with a 14-ounce rule.
The length is another issue that invokes stress on our horses due
to constant resetting of the shoes to comply with the rules. The
maximum of four and one-half inches from the ground to the “soft
spot” at the coronet band can be varied depending upon who
is doing the measuring. Consequently, the interpretation of the length
can be subjective. Trying to comply with this rule with big-footed
horses can be difficult.
I have some horses for which these rules don’t work, but I
have to make them work, because right now we don’t have a choice.
I have several horses that have been shown for years, that if I could
shoe with a little more foot and another couple ounces of steel,
they would be more comfortable and better-moving individuals. On
some of the three-year-old Dutch Harness Horse/Arabian crosses I
have, their foot trims out at four inches barefoot, and a plain plate
weighs more than 14 ounces to fit around the circumference of their
foot. These horses cannot be shod adequately and comply with the
We need to change the rules in order to do what is best for our
horses. Ultimately, I would love to shoe horses the best way possible
for their health and optimum performance without any restrictions.
Our sport horse division has done it for the good of their horses;
why can’t all the other divisions do that? We know that the rules
are in place because people are worried about how much shoe they
will put on their horse. Most people are not worried about what shoes
are on the halter, western, or hunter horses but they think the English
competitors are going to use excessive weight so the horse will trot
higher. I have obtained several studies proving that that is not
the case. Optimal shoeing enhances the quality of stride on an English
horse, just as it does on a dressage horse, but overshoeing is detrimental,
gaining only very minimal additional action and causing labored movement.
Some people might go overboard with their shoeing at first, but I
think that would quickly balance out after they found what works
best for their horse.
Peter Conway (my fiancé) and I came up with the novel idea
[that he described on page 7 of this discussion]. The idea is to
let your horses’ hoof size dictate the size of shoe that they
will wear. The length of foot should be at the discretion of the
owner, trainer, and farrier. Every horse can keep a good foot to
a certain length and then it becomes soft and “shelly.” If
I must pick a length of hoof, I would go five inches for purebreds
and no restrictions for Half-Arabians. I also think all western and
working hunters and jumpers should be exempt from any shoeing regulations,
as we know they’re not trying to get elevated motion.
Chris Culbreth, Wolf Springs Ranch, Westcliffe, Colorado:
At this point in time, I believe the shoeing regulations are a little
bit antiquated and need some restructuring.
Years ago, we had a 12-ounce shoe, no bars, no pads. Well, we all
got together and decided that needed to be changed; and we changed
it. It was a good change, it was a move forward. But now we’ve
got more of these big Half-Arabians who do need a bigger shoe. Purebred
Arabians are a different story. We have a breed height standard,
and if you’re outside that standard, you’re not an ideal
specimen. When a horse stays within that standard, I’m not
sure they’d need to have more shoe. I need to hear more argument
on that before I’d agree that they need more shoe.
At Canadian Nationals, you can have a five inch shoe on a Half-Arabian,
and in the U.S., it’s four and one-half. I think the rules
need to be the same in the U.S. and Canada. The Half-Arabians tend
to run bigger, so I am totally in favor of having a bigger shoe on
them. However, here’s the caveat: the shoeing needs to be done
I think it is very important that if we allow more shoe, judges don’t
reward horses that are wearing more shoe than they can comfortably
carry. If a horse is plodding along with a heavy foot, and moving
in a labored way because he’s overshod, that horse should be
penalized. Everybody has a tendency to think if a little is good,
then more is better. But if we add shoe to give us more motion, it
may not give us the right kind of motion. A judge should be able
to recognize poor motion.
Sport horses aren’t subject to the same rules, but I feel that
since they’re registered in the Arabian breed they should have
to adhere to the same rules. The argument was that there’s
no advantage to having a heavier shoe in the sport horse classes,
ergo, they’re never going to put more shoe on a horse than
the horse needs. I don’t know if there’s an advantage
to wearing more shoe on those horses, but I’m not going to
advocate open season on shoeing for Arabian horses. Maybe it’s
worked for them, but we all need to have the same rules. They’re
When it is time for me to make my own decision at convention, I’m
really going to listen to what Lori Mangan of the Equine Stress Committee
has to say. As for my western pleasure horses, our reiners, and my
Canadian National Champion Park Horse Mister Chips, I have had as
much shoe as I needed. Mister Chips, that horse is wonderful. He
doesn’t wear much and he gets around just fine. A little bit
more might be nice, but it doesn’t have to be much.
The push for change seems to be driven mostly from the English divisions.
If the reining guys don’t think it’s a big deal, if it’s
not a big deal to the sport horses, and the western people don’t
have a problem, well, what’s the motivation? I guess maybe
so they could put more pad on them. I want more motion, but I want
quality motion. I want to stress that. I am all for a little more
length and weight, as long as the horse that is moving in a labored
way because he’s poorly shod is penalized. There are so many
variables, so for someone to say “Oh, we’ve gotta have
it” is a bit simplistic. The rules need to really be looked
at. When our shoeing rules were changed years ago, it was a big battle,
and it needed to be a big battle that was won based on fact, statistics,
and study. If we change the rules again, it needs to be done very
responsibly. I don’t want to see us get too loose and easy
with the regulations and see something that, in the long run, we
Tim Shea, Shea Stables, St. Clair, Michigan:
I think the rules for purebreds are perfect the way they are now.
The rule change that was made a few years ago, which allowed us
to add a wedge and use leathers, was good for the horses. Before,
even with one leather, some horses were just too low angled. Now,
you don’t hear about bowed tendons or blown suspensories
nearly as often as you used to. It has just made things so much
easier, and so much healthier for the horses.
I don’t really show Half-Arabians, though I did a few years
ago, and I have a couple right now that are ready to start. But I
know a lot of people who show Half-Arabians who want a change to
happen, and I would not be against it. One way would be to simply
add another quarter inch, or half inch of hoof to the Half-Arabians
in general, but there are problems with that. Not every large horse
has the same foot. And, not every Half-Arabian is big. Some are pony
size! Another way to do it would be to have a permanent measurement
card, like they have for show ponies. If you wanted to have that
extra length, you’d have a steward measure your horse, barefoot,
at the beginning of the season, and any horse over, say 16 hands
for example, would be allowed the extra length.
It makes sense that the sport horses are excluded from the shoeing
regulations. From a financial standpoint, it saves money to not have
to hire stewards to measure and weigh shoes. And it’s really
unneccessary, since they aren’t going to be adding weight or
length. I don’t think it’s unfair at all, because it’s
not their world.
Chase Harvill, Chase Harvill
I feel that the shoeing regulations as they stand now are only fair
for our purebred Arabian horses. I don’t understand why our
Half-Arabians have the same regulations. The breeds that we typically
cross with our purebreds are much larger horses with a broader
foot. We are sacrificing the soundness of our Half-Arabians due
to these regulations. To give an example, I wear a size 12 shoe.
Why in the world would I try to put on a size six? Boy, my feet
would get sore!
The misconception of many in the Arabian horse business is that we,
the horse trainers, are arguing for change because want longer feet
and heavier shoes to achieve more motion out of our English horses.
There is nothing further from the truth! The reason is simple: We
want our Half-Arabians to have the correct size shoe and foot to
fit their larger and heavier bodies.
The only way that we can be fair to our horses is to completely do
away with the shoeing regulations. I would also do away with time-outs
to replace a shoe in the showring as well. With no limitations on
our horse’s feet, we can properly shoe them to the standard
of their own foot and not to the standard of the rule book.
By taking away the time-out to replace shoes in the ring, we would
be governing excessive weight or length for that particular horse.
Also, I feel that the judge should be responsible for watching for
a labored mover in the ring. Labored movement should be extremely
Joel Kiesner, Kiesner Training Inc., Friendsville, Tennessee:
At one time, I felt that really large horses were at a disadvantage,
and that smaller horses were at a distinct advantage, with the
four and one-half inch foot length. The larger horse needs to be
much more talented to compete with a smaller foot.
Some people have said that they have horses that simply can’t
be shod within the rules, but I’ve got some pretty big horses,
including two Dutch Harness Horse crosses, that we’re going
to be able to fit a shoe on fine. I’ve heard the argument that
14 ounces is not enough metal to cover a big horse’s foot,
but it has not been my experience that our current shoeing rules
are dysfunctional for larger horses. They’re still functional,
though four and one-half inches of foot is a pretty small foot on
a 16.2-hand horse, and a really long foot on a 14.2-hand horse. I
think that 14 ounces is plenty of weight. I wouldn’t recommend
more than 14 ounces for purebreds especially, because they’re
just smaller and they don’t need it.
About five years ago, I thought it would be a good idea if we used
a measuring stick at shows and if your horse’s withers won’t
fit under the 16-hand mark, you should be allowed four and three-quarters.
One quarter of an inch is a lot, a half an inch is a whole lot. I
don’t think any of us want to see our horses looking like Saddlebreds.
We like the way our horses look, we’re proud of the fact that
they go light and they go without all kinds of pads or weight. They
have a real natural, springy motion. But the little bit of extra
length would mean a more level playing field for the larger horses.
But really, in a nutshell, I don’t have a problem with our
current rules. We all play by the same rules, and I’m okay
with them. Creative people can do wonders to make the current rules
work for a specific horse.
The pad regulation changes that were made a few years ago have really
helped the soundness of horses. Since we’ve added pads, I haven’t
encountered a horse that couldn’t work within the rules. We’re
able to give the horses angles that they prefer to go on — there
are a lot of horses with a high heel or a low heel that just grow
a little different, and with pads you can keep their foot healthier.
In Canada, you can have a five-inch foot, but the way the horses
go up there doesn’t change that much. But, since we don’t
run our horses at five inches all year long, and then when people
let the foot grow out a bit longer for Canada, they lose a lot more
shoes up there. By the time your horse grows out to that five-inch
foot, the foot has become distorted, the bottom of the foot is not
as strong, and the nails loosen up if you’re not careful. It
would be really helpful if all the rules were the same in the U.S.
and Canada; however, they’re two different countries. But you
know what? You learn the rules, and you try to follow them. I’m
happy with the current situation and don’t think that more
length or more weight would help with the soundness of the horses.