Robbie Miller (Awcf Asf), former President of the South African Association of Professional Farriers (SAAPF) has spoken out against claims that poor farriery is causing delays at the start of many races in South Africa.
Miller, in response to comments by irate punters on social media, strongly denied that horses are having shoes refitted at the start at an alarming rate. He said: “Let me make a statement. Lost or loose shoes and delays at the gates are not being cause by poor work performed by farriers. This is a complete misconception that has been created by the racing channel, Tellytrack, and as a result is being overblown by the folks on social media.”
Miller explained: “Many meetings go by without incidents, but when a horse loses a shoe, Tellytrack has seen it fit to put the notification up on their screens, which is not done in other racing jurisdictions. I suppose they have to inform punters, but their info banner flashes for several minutes and this leaves a message with viewers that farriers are constantly making mistakes, which is wholly untrue!”
In doing some simple mathematics, Miller said, one can see that there is no reason for concern. He said: “Let’s say there are eight races on a race day and 10 horses per race, and most of the time there are more. That makes for 80 x 4 feet, which is 320 feet that have been shod by farriers on the day. If one shoe comes loose at the start, that is 0,3% of the total shod, or if two are lost on a day that is 0,6% – a small error margin mostly subject to variables outside of the farrier’s control, and which I think is something the industry and punters can live with!”
The shoeing of horses for a race day is often done three days before the races, for example on a Wednesday for a Saturday, so that they invariably run on the work track and do pace work in the new shoes or alumites before they get to the races.
“This is something to consider, because there are times when the sand tracks at the training centres are heavy and the feet are literally sucked in, which can loosen shoes slightly, and then it surfaces at the races.”
But there are many other variables too, Miller said: “Horses travelling from training centres to the races, let’s say for example from Randjesfontein to the Vaal, are loaded onto a truck on the morning of the races. Anyone who has seen the loading process knows that shoes can come loose here. Sometimes horses are skittish, nervous and they step and prance around on different surfaces when they walk to the truck and onto a ramp to get in. It’s the same on the other side, when they get off.”
Miller said that shoes come off when a horse runs onto the track from the saddling enclosure or when it gets to the start and the jockey halts them by pulling the reins in. When they slow down, they put their legs down in different positions. Also, on heavy grass tracks there can be a kind of suction effect on shoes when the feet go down deep.”
Miller also pointed out: “In general, our horses spend too much time milling around at the start. A friend from England phoned me the other day and he asked, ‘what is wrong, why do they take so long. Sometimes 10 minutes?’ I couldn’t answer him, because we haven’t got things right here. In England, the US, Australia and Hong Kong horses arrive at the start and go in, there is no waste of time, most of the time. They get there, go in and jump!”
Asked whether trainers were using inferior shoes to save money, Miller said: Most trainers in South Africa don’t buy the alumites themselves. They are bought by us, the farriers and we bill the trainers. The three biggest farriers are myself, Andy Rivas in Gauteng and Robbie Dawson in KZN and we, also many others, use the ‘St Croix’ alumites which are imported from Brazil and are of excellent quality. It happened once that we noticed that the shoes were getting a bit ‘soft’ or less rigid and therefore bending easier, but the problem was addressed with our wholesaler and quickly rectified.
“So as for quality of shoes, they are very good and trainers are not using inferior products. But we do shoe about 600 horses at a time in three- to four-week cycles and there are trainers who extend the cycle to five or six weeks to save costs, so that could have an effect. But it can only be small, if at all, as you can see from the calculation I did earlier.
“One could also argue that there are more feet problems these days due to genetic inbreeding over many decades, but again I do not see that as a problem because serious feet issues have always been there, they are professionally addressed by veterinarians and farriers.”
Miller concluded: “Our farriers in South Africa are recognised as some of the best in the world, they take a lot of pride in their work and they love the animals they work with. At SAAPF we are in the process of making the FITS examination compulsory for all individuals who want to trade as farrier. That is the Farrier International Testing System which is being used in nine different countries in the world, in fact an examination which all our top farriers here have completed.”
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