In human history, the horse has always been a beast of burden and transportation and an instrument of war. A few factoids of the equine sort were tossed around the table at Clermont Farm recently, such as: It’s likely that horses were first shod around 400 BCE, giving Alexander the Great a huge advantage in his rise to power and reach by allowing his animals to ride farther and longer. Six hundred years before that, the Chinese invented a harnessed breast collar for horses, extending the animal’s ability to pull tools and vehicles, literally upping its “horse power.” This catapulted the Chinese far beyond other societies around them; but without those shoes, any individual horse could only go so far and work so long. Alexander’s army would have been bogged down unshod.
Last March, Andrew Elsbree and Susan Kayne occupied Clermont Farm in Germantown, along with their thoroughbreds, brood mares and a small contingent of hired hands. The 160 verdant acres and multiple barns, stables and paddocks now house an operation that offers partnership/ownership of some of the best-kept racehorses in the State of New York. Kayne’s weekend television show Unbridled has been on the air since 2003, including a segment called “Farrier Facts” presented by Elsbree. Whether you race thoroughbreds or keep a pet horse for your 4-Her in your own backyard, you should know that hoof care is the most important part of caring for your horse. And Elsbree is all about educating horse-owners, trainers, other farriers and veterinarians on this imperative.
Depending on the work that a horse is expected to do – run a racetrack or pull a wagon or cut cows on a real-life ranch – its hooves must be shod correctly and in holistic relationship to its entire body. Elsbree starts there with an assessment of the horse’s conformation: its body alignment and balance. “Every time I work on a horse, I look at the horse’s leg and how it’s hitting the ground. Each joint has mobility in it, and I have to decide how the horse is standing. You pull the old shoe off, then make your plan on what’s going to improve that horse’s balance. You want to see the horse stand with all joints straight, with the shoe flat on the ground.”
He goes on about the degree of movement in each joint between the knee and the hoof, and how incorrect shoeing can cause a joint to bottom out, producing bone-on-bone and other more severe problems. A farrier’s degree of knowledge, skill and experience can either make or break a horse, virtually crippling it.
Elsbree went to farrier school at the North Texas Institute of Horseshoeing and apprenticed at raceways in Freehold, New Jersey and in Washington, DC. “In the late 1980s, I got interested in competing and went to the Dutchess County Fair for the Empire State Competition. There were American Farriers’ Journal magazines on the table, and somebody was selling memberships.” At that time, the Farriers’ Association had a certification program that offered two levels of qualification: farrier and journeyman farrier.
What Elsbree found, as he worked toward being certified over the next few years, was that although he had attended a school where students were trained in both shoeing and blacksmithing horseshoes, he had been doing things that weren’t necessarily right for the horses. “I got the idea that customers didn’t have a clue. They were asking me to do these things. For the first time since I’d left school, my work was being evaluated by somebody who wasn’t paying me. The program wasn’t easy, but I perfected my skills and got a greater understanding of anatomy, motion, gaits and horse psychology.”
After passing the very difficult test, Elsbree was asked to continue on as a tester, and later as an examiner in charge of monitoring testers. The certification program is voluntary – anybody can hang a shingle over his or her door without being certified and call him- or herself a farrier – but Elsbree also recognized how unstandardized the process was, resulting in successfully employed farriers being washed out because they didn’t understand the type of job that was expected. Eventually he was instrumental in rewriting the guidelines booklet, and has continued to work toward a standardization of the certification process, and the educational aspects of competition as well, where working farriers are encouraged to learn and improve their skills.
“It’s important to understand the scope and size of the industry,” says Kayne. “In the US there are ten million domesticated horses. That means 40 million hooves that need attention every six weeks. Lameness in the horse industry costs a billion dollars a year, and most of it is preventable.” She explains that Elsbree’s focus is not only to educate horse-owners, but also to provide optimal function and efficiency in the horses that he services.
“My specialty has always been horses with problems or performance horses that need a specific edge. I look to solve the immediate problem in one shoeing. It’s the pride of my business. A horse inherently wants to grow a healthy, strong foot. The right application of a shoe will allow it to grow into perfection. Our goal is to make the horse useful.”
Elsbree moves out to his trailer rig and demonstrates the making of a horseshoe, starting with a ¾-by-5/16-inch bar of steel, bending it and forging it and adding a toe clip. “It’s not just about making a pretty horseshoe, but one that’s functionally designed and applied to the horse to help it.”
While the technology of horseshoeing has changed some in the past 2,400 years, it’s the body of knowledge and the application that have been altered significantly. The couple reiterates: Application is the most important part. They talk about how vital it is for good communication among the farrier, the trainer and the attending vet to take place on a horse’s behalf. “Even some trainers ask for things that can possibly hurt the horse,” he says, citing the regular request for traction devices on racing breeds. “You need to articulate to the trainer a middle ground, for the horse’s benefit.”
Kayne grew up with horses, and says that they’ve brought her the highest highs, the happiest joys and the saddest days. “I feel like they chose me. They’ve helped me learn about life. I’m inextricably linked with them.” Elsbree says, “I just fell into it, and I’ve always worked in this industry. To my own detriment, I’m driven to educate. I wouldn’t do this any longer if I didn’t believe the owners, if educated, would always make the right decision. All I can do is put the welfare of the horse first and give it every possibility to succeed.”
In addition to appearances on television, Elsbree’s work has been featured in national trade magazines, such as Dressage Today and US Equestrian Magazine. He educates young farriers at venues such as Cornell University, Equine Affaire, the International Hoof Care Summit and regional horse councils, Pony Club and 4-H groups. He is a former president, board member, certification examiner and administrator of the Therapeutic Endorsement Exam for the American Farriers’ Association. His current practice includes servicing horses of different breeds, engaged in a variety of disciplines in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Clermont Farm, located on Woods Road in Germantown, accommodates horses overnight for ship-in shoeing. Speaking engagements, clinics and photo opportunities may be scheduled through the office at (518) 537-7223. For more information visit www.AndrewElsbree.com.