Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Someone Needs to Write it...The Shoes are way out of Proportion.

In 1938, the Percheron Horse Association of America published a little booklet on the Percheron standard. It was the opinion of 100 of the top breeders, judges, agricultural teachers and Percheron experts in the USA and Canada. The image below is the section written about the ideal type of good foot and shoes for the Percheron horse. The mare, whose bottoms are shown below won the Championship at Ohio State Fair in 1935. These standards were developed in the early 1800s and continued up until the 1960s. What changed?

How did scotch bottoms come to dominate the show circuit? Here is the story that I have heard about how the use of scotch bottoms came about. In the 1960s, when the modern type Percheron was being re-invented, a small number of Clydesdales were imported from the UK for exhibition at the Royal Canadian Winter Fair (one of the top fairs in the Americas). The feet of these horses were shod with scotch bottoms, as these horses were being used for slow field work and heavy pulling work. Well, the American Percheron owners saw how these shoes caused the Clydesdales to pick up and how the shoe allowed for the feet to grow bigger than normal and it was love at first sight. Early use of these shoes was moderate, they were not the huge, oversized and weighted monsters of modern draft horse shows. It happened gradually, but slowly these giant shoes, along with modern epoxy formulations became the foundation for growing a huge, oversized and unnatural foot. Unfortunately, the horse without an extremely over-sized scotch will not place in the halter or the hitch ring now. They are considered a "must have" for any serious competitor at a rated show.

Taking a stand against these shoeing practices is not an easy thing to do. I love draft horse shows. I love the pomp, the action, and the presence of these majestic animals. But I love these animals more than I love a good show and I think the draft horse industry is doing our horses a grave disservice. I believe that the modern draft horse shoeing practices for halter and hitch horses (particularly Percherons) at the big shows are often bordering on and can be inhumane. I also hear the stories of drugging with caffeine and speed, overuse of steroids and NSAIDs, and the use of other drugs to enhance performance. The use of electroshocks under the harness to promote action, impulsion and animation are common. So common, that often electroshock controls are left openly on the wagon seat for usage during shows. I do not believe that these practices reflect modern animal husbandry standards. The standard shoeing practices for halter and hitch horses can and usually do lead to soreness as well as side-bone, sequestrums, splints, OCD, and ringbone. No one who works in this industry will deny that these shoeing practices hurt horses and that drug use for enhanced performance is a common occurrence (if you can get them to speak openly behind the barn).

In fact, an argument might be made that the practices of shoeing with over-sized scotch bottoms -sometimes inches too big, weighted shoes, growing flares, shaving off the inside hoof, cutting down the inside hoof, using excess epoxy, and growing out toe and hoof beyond normal farrier practices breaks the Federal laws regarding soring.

Here is a link to the APHIS/USDA fact sheet on soring. What do you think? Would the statement in the USDA fact sheet (quoted below) be inclusive or exclusive of scotch bottoms?
"The accentuated gait may also be accomplished
using inhumane hoof trimming or pressure-shoeing"
Why or why not? Do the modern scotch bottoms, and the farrier practices associated with showing Percherons violate Federal law? Is the use of chemicals to enhance gait a common occurrence? Honestly, I don't know. But am I totally off my rocker to think that it is time for the industry to regulate itself before the Federal government decides to took a closer look?

Is it possible for the draft horse industry to regulate itself? Return to the standards set by our forefathers? Or, do you believe that these shoes, steroid use and drug use falls within normal agricultural practices? Do you believe that drug and steroid use is minimal and an uncommon occurance? I would love to hear your point of view.

The clipped images (4) used above are for educational use only.


  1. Those feet plus the super tight overchecks among other items are the reason why I wilL NEVER show my girls as "hitch or halter" horses again, Jill. They are So extreme that I kept hearing about how the halter / hitch horses don't last much past 4-5 years of age ! Wrong, wrong, WRONG. I'll compete in the pleasure classes- but no more exaggerations for the Percherons here.

  2. kris - It isn't just the tight over and side check, as you know, it is the check bit. Could you imagine having a piece of heavy gauge, stiff wire running across your upper hard palate and your head tied back -just an inch back from vertical? Now, think inches past vertical -now TROT around outside like that. Talk about cruel! At the Perch Congress, I saw someone riding saddle seat and they used a CHECK BIT for their second bit (rather than a bradoon-snaffle). Boy, they sure got their horse stomping, as they cranked on that piece of stiff wire running through his mouth! Of course, using a check bit is not allowed in a real saddle seat class (too cruel), but hey -who cares, it isn't a "gaited" horse -right? No government officials at draft horse shows, so who cares? The crap never ends.

  3. I have been commenting about this practice for some years now myself. We have all but been ignored by our Draft Horse Association here. I watched our gorgeous 8 year old gelding get third place out of three halter horses because of those shoes - and the other horses looked like greyhounds! Why are they breeding a "light" Percheron? The ancestors must be weeping and gnashing their teeth during each show. Good for you for speaking out -