A Pat Brady knows all about horseshoes for harness race horses. That’s his business, and the riders who draw the lines over the backs of the sleek pacers and trotters swear by him. Brady‘s headquarters are just outside of the racetrack, near Boston, and the equine stars of the quarter pole know it well.
Farrier Brady is experienced in the special art of shoeing the best horses of harness racing. He learned his trade at the Reidsville track for over 10 years. His record of shoeing horses surpasses the records of all other blacksmiths there.
In Brady’s shop, if you turn to the right immediately after you cross the threshold, you observe a pile of cast off horseshoes. Apparently junk, it is a collection of relics. One out of a dozen battered horseshoes in this pile is associated with the name of a stellar pacer or trotter, because Reidville horse racetrack is the record home of Star Pointer, Joe Patching, and Dan Patch, and Lou Dylan, and the schoer of the best horses there is the possessor of treasured relics and traditions.
If you examine those rusty old horseshoes you may read the history of the harness racing world during the early 1900’s and you may recall without difficulty the wonderful performance of Star Pointer one afternoon half a decade ago when the two minute mark went by the board, and everybody in the enclosure and on the grandstand and along either side of the racetrack leaped up and down, shouting and saluting the establishment of a new dynasty of harness horses, and crowned the new king with deserved honors.
There is one of the shoes Star Pointer wore - a very ordinary little hoop of iron, worn shiny on the outside edge and twisted at the end of the other arm and along the major curve. It is so light that it seems to be a weakling, yet the blacksmith who fixed it to the hoof of Star Pointer now declares that it is only comparatively light, that it is several ounces heavier than the standard shoe of the racing horse today.
The modern horseshoe looks like a wire configuration. It is an excellent illustration of the blacksmith’s art, pretty enough, beyond the question excellently made, interesting doubtless to the veteran horseman who sits beside his waiting mare, steady lipped, calm-eyed, with an appearance of contempt for hustle and bustle. To this scholar in the realm of horse racing it is a highly credible and desirable shoe. But he knows, and the farrier knows, and you know, and you know that both men know, that the pretty product of the year 1906 is not the battered crude oval shoe here on the top of the scrapheap – that is not one-tenth as interesting.
The blacksmith, fingering his latest product, calls your attention to the swedge effect and to the light incurving of the horseshoe on the inner side. The farrier is rather proud of his effort and he is desirous of illustrating the extreme care necessary in the construction of a light shoe.
You can see how the farriers tried to get everything down to a fine point. And that’s the reason, of course, why they have got horses that can go so much faster than the horses of 12 or 15 years ago. It ain’t windshields or anything like that, it is just scientific training – paying attention to small things in breeding and training, and in a lot of other things including the shoeing.
Another very interesting shoe is long and narrow. It’s downs apart from all the other shoes in the entire shop. Its sides sweep inward with long graceful curves, quite unlike the curves of any other horseshoe in the group. At no point is it wide. The layman would instantly declare that a champion racehorse had once worn it. “I can’t say for certain or not” observes the farrier, looking critically, “but I think I took it off Nancy Hanks.”
The horseshoe is in your hand at once, and you are fingering it with rapt attention, noting with appreciative and approving eyes every turn and twist, especially that long graceful and curved at the ends. There is not a line without beauty, it is comparable to a number two women’s shoe, and in addition to its intrinsic beauty is its character. Pride and blood stand out in every inch of it, obviously a racehorse of great beauty and speed wore it. The blacksmith is doubtful but there is no cause for doubt. Of course Nancy Hanks wore that shoe. No marvel of the race track save that wonderful little mare could have worn such a graceful distinctive horseshoe.
On the wall are a score or more of illustrations of shoes of the fast harness horses - Searchlight, Anaconda, Cresceus, Joe Patchen, Dan Patch, Lou Dylan, and of the pictures in that group the shoes of two horses stand out clearly and beautifully . One of those striking illustrations is labeled Nancy Hanks.
In proportion to its width the horseshoe is longer than any other depicted. It is small in its major curve, and the ends are long graceful incurves. Characteristic for characteristic, and whole for whole, it is the counterpart of the shoe in your hand. You feast your eyes and review ancient history until the blacksmith fidgets and looks uneasily at the impatient mare in the corner, and then you tell him that the relic is well worth possessing.
Then in that collection of old horseshoes in Brady‘s blacksmith shop there is a medium sized, broadly rounded shoe. It is a little thicker than the Nancy Hanks relic, it is worn very unevenly on the outer side, it is characterless and homely; it is very ordinary. Even though you were quite ignorant of its history you couldn’t help admiring the Nancy Hanks shoe. This horseshoe is as plain as a daisy. Yet you feel like taking the horseshoe in your hand and reminiscing, for Cresceus, they say was the best harness racer of his time.
There is a mate to Cresceus’s old horseshoe; it is a shoe Joe Patchen once wore, and it fits the name of the old record holder. That is to say, it is very round; it is round or even than Cresceus’ shoe. Then it is battered and twisted. The blacksmith in removing it doubtless neglected to take the precautions necessary for the best preservation of a relic for certainly Joe Patchen never maltreated his footwear so badly. It’s plainness makes it an uninteresting horseshoe. It is not nearly so exquisitely formed as Audubon Boy’s.
Indeed, Audubon Boy’s old horseshoe is positively dainty in its petiteness. It is the baby shoe in the collection. It is small at the major curve. The sides are small and arch gracefully. It is like a number four shoe in the world of male human beings. Compare Audubon Boy’s with the pictures of Dan Patch’s shoe. It is like the comparison of a 5 foot men’s shoe with the brogan of a six footer.
The varying sizes of horseshoes in the scrap pile prove that the size of the hoof may not always debar a horse from speed competitions, for some record breaking equines have worn large shoes. Dan Patch, for example, probably the best of them all, with the possible exception of Lou Dillon wore horseshoes of generous proportions. And DanR, another first class performer on the track, also wore a large shoe.
Lest, however, these large shoes create a wrong impression in the minds of the uninformed, it is well to know, on the authority of the farrier, that trotting and racing horses wear much smaller shoes than the ordinary horse.
Farriers say that as a rule the finely-bred track horse has smaller ankles and feet than your everyday horse. And the finer they are bred the smaller, as a rule, their hooves are. In fact, you can almost go so far as to say that small hoofs are a characteristic of the fast horse. Horses like Lou Dylan and Cresceus and Courier Journal, Patchen and Star Pointer run to delicate ankles and comparatively small hooves. Farriers have always noticed that it’s in the breeding just like a lot of other things. Horses big boned in the legs are generally fit for plowing but not for fast going.
These racehorses that have been at Reidville are harder to shoe than ordinary horses. They are finer strung, you see. They have greater nerve force. Flies always bother them, and to shoe a track horse properly you have to have a man help you, to wield a switch and hold the horses head
Shoeing racehorses is a very different proposition from showing carriage horses or any other horses. Everybody doesn’t know that Boston is a pretty big place isn’t it? Yeah you couldn’t find three blacksmiths in the whole city who could shoe Corona and do it right, I mean so that when he was on the track everything would go smoothly. This work is a special form of horseshoeing and has to be learned just like any other specialty.
No trainer who knows anything will let an ordinary blacksmith shoe his horse. The job might put his pony out of the going for a whole year. In the first place you have to pair the hoof down correctly, make it even and all that. If it ain’t even, then the horse doesn’t go right and maybe she sprains something. No slipshod horse shoeing serves in that respect.
Many blacksmiths work a quick job by putting the shoe on hot and making it fit by burning the hoof. That sort of work would never go with these valuable horses at these racetracks. You have to fit the shoe cold. That means you must make the required weight, the required shape, and nothing but the best quality of material and work go.
Some horses wear a swedge shoe, a shoe with a groove, on some horses a shoe weight is slightly on the one side, some horses a few with cleats, some horses a perfectly flat shoe save where the end turns down – and so they run. No two horses are shod the same, and the blacksmith who shoes the race horse must know beforehand just how that horse must be shod. Perhaps the trainer stands over him and gives directions, but more often the trainer merely tells him the weight and lets him find out the rest. If he has a good blacksmith, he does all right provided of course that he understands the trick of shoeing track horses.
The least thing out of the way hurts many a horse. Suppose for instance that you shave the record holder at a wrong angle. Well, he may go out on the track and fall off several seconds and still be in a record breaking condition otherwise. Years ago they didn’t pay so much attention to shoeing, but with breeding, all along the line in scientific training, they have given attention to shoeing, because it means so much to a horse
They used to race horses with 10 ounce shoes, and they thought those heavy weights were all right. Nowadays it’s usually 3 ounces. And there’s a pile of difference between carrying a 3 ounce shoe and a 10 ounce one. You’ll understand the difference in speed that it makes if you stop to think how many strides a horse takes during a mile.
The comparison of comparisons is that between the average racing shoe and the average dray horse shoe.One looks like a bent wire, one weighs 3 ounces and the other 3 pounds and a half. Lou Dillon’s shoe is an infinitesimal fragment beside the shoe of a powerful dray horse. It is like a ladies shoe beside the shoe of the Barnum and Bailey giant. Therefore, anybody can understand readily enough that much skill and knowledge are required of a blacksmith or farrier before they can shoe the stars of the harness racing world effectively. Such skillful farriers and blacksmiths are brought up in the atmosphere of record breaking horse racing.