by Howard Beissinger

Illustrations by Lynn Wade

Reprinted with permission from Hoof Beats

Published in the August 2000 Issue of Anvil Magazine

Let me switch gaits now and talk a bit about the problems you might encounter shoeing a young pacer. As I stated before, I start all my pacers off with either a 1/2-inch by 1/4-inch or 9/16-inch by 3/16-inch flat shoe in front. Behind, they will wear a 1/2-inch by 1/4-inch flat shoe.

The 1/4-inch-thick flat shoe will always outwear the 3/16-inch, of course, but the 9/16-inch by 3/16-inch shoe has a little more bearing surface and I find that desirable.

Those will usually be steel shoes because I am not that fond of using aluminum shoes on my horses, although I might occasionally use aluminum shoes if a pacer started out too climby-gaited in front. A lighter aluminum shoe will tend to make him go lower. Many aluminum shoes come with a grab in the toe and I would be very careful about using a grab on the toe of a shoe with a young horse. The grab will accomplish your goal of eliminating his tendency to climb in front, but the grab will also exert severe stress on the ankles. You might ask your blacksmith to grind off the grab altogether or to grind it down so that it isn't quite so severe.

One important precaution in using a grab in the toe of any shoe is that you must remember it will change the horse's angle by raising his toe.

If I had a pacer who had the opposite problem and who was going so low to the ground that he couldn't even pace over a corncob, I would perhaps try him in a 1/2-inch half-round shoe. That will generally encourage the horse to fold a little bit in front. Don't think that half-round shoes are only for trotters. With a low-going or "daisy-cutting" pacer I may also try a heavier flat shoe, such as a 1/4-inch by 3/4-inch shoe, to get him to pick up his feet more.

The ideal pacer should have good knee action, although not as much as a trotter, and not so much that he hits the bottom of his hobbles. It's also important that a pacer reach out and not pace back underneath himself.

Once in a while, a trainer will have a pacing-bred colt or filly who doesn't show any inclination toward pacing initially. I would prefer not to strap a tight hobble on a horse like this right away because the colt or filly will often fight the hobbles and then you've got problems. Sooner or later, the pacing-bred youngster will usually hit a decent pace and show his breeding, but you can help one along by letting his hind feet grow out to about 4 inches and cutting down the front toes. You can also add a sideweight shoe behind, but I haven't had to use many of them in recent years.

Frankly, horses who fit this category are quite rare, but if I have a youngster who is pacing-bred and he wants to trot, I'll just let him trot for a while and see what happens. Don't get yourself into a situation where you're forcing or fighting the colt this early in training. Don't get discouraged if you have a pacer who doesn't seem to come to a natural gait. Many horses, both trotters and pacers, will get better-gaited as they learn to go faster. It's just the maturity and experience that helps them.

For example, many pacers will show signs of being what we call trappy-gaited at first. That is, they will often go with their front feet reaching up too high and not extending far enough. They just pace underneath themselves and don't cover any ground. Such a horse might benefit by having a full swedge shoe in front or maybe even an aluminum shoe with a mild grab, but many trappy-gaited horses will improve as they go faster miles.

I should add that pacers can go too high as well as trotters. I recall one horse, Paulsboro, was climby-gaited in front and I put a full swedge shoe on him to take some of that action away. I shortened his toes a little and dropped the front angle and he was fine from that point forward.

When a pacer is marking the bottom of his hobbles, then you know he is going a little too high in front.

In my comments on trotters, I indicated the problems a trainer could have with a paddler, but I don't find a pacer who paddles to be nearly so troublesome. At least you know that a pacer who paddles will not hit his knees, although the paddling action is a strain on a horse's ankles.

Pacers hitting their knees can be quite a problem and there are some methods a trainer can employ to help a pacer miss his knees, but there are also some pacers just destined to hit their knees.

Before I get into discussing the various methods, let me emphasize the importance of having a horse's head in front of him when he travels. I mentioned this briefly when talking about how you can judge a yearling's gait. A horse who might normally be good- gaited will often start hitting his knees if he gets his head around to the right, for example, going into a turn.

Your horse might need a head pole or gaiting strap to keep him going straight, and it is only when you have a horse moving with his head straight that you can adjust his gait. A horse with his head off to the right will often flip his right foot in and hit his left knee. You might be able to eliminate that problem if you get the horse to carry his head straight.

If your horse is carrying his head straight and still hitting his knees, there are several things that you can do to help him. They might not work if you have a confirmed knee-knocker, but there are some remedies you can try.

For example, if you have a pacer that hits one knee but not the other, you can often help him by keeping his head turned slightly toward the side he is hitting. So if your pacer hits his left knee but not his right, you might try to turn his head slightly to the left so that he's less likely to hit that left knee.

If the pacer were just slightly brushing his knees, I would ask the blacksmith to rasp off a little of the inside wall of his front foot. After all, that is the part of the foot which is brushing his opposite knee and you might be able to take off enough to enable the pacer to go clean. You need to leave enough of the hoof wall, of course, to nail the shoe on, but no more than that. If the pacer persists in hitting his knees, the time-honored remedy is to lower the foot on the outside. Let me caution you, however, that you should ask your blacksmith to lower the horse's foot only slightly, as an abrupt change would lead to lameness and might even cause worse problems. I've found that lowering a horse on the outside might not eliminate the problem altogether, but it might cause the horse to merely brush his knees instead of hitting them hard.

Actually, since some horses are going to fold in toward their knees no matter what you do, your efforts are best directed in getting a pacer to go lower than his knees just as you might try to get a trotter to go above his knees. And if all else fails, get a pair of well- padded boots.

Many pacers will race quite satisfactorily with knee boots and many of them will require knee protection no matter what you try. I do think that you should try whatever you can to avoid using boots because I have some pacers who came close to their knees, but never showed that they touched a hair. Many horsemen, including myself, think, "Well, I might as well just put a pair of knee boots on this horse for protection in case he does hit a knee."

In some cases, that pacer who was merely getting close to his knees in the past will mark his newly fitted knee boots rather severely, and then he'll probably need those boots for the rest of his career.

The same is true with a horse going to his elbows. I've had trotters go so close to their elbows that I couldn't tell if they were hitting or not, but if you put a pair of elbow boots on such a horse, I can assure you he'll mark them up pretty good.

I think that when a horse-pacer or trotter-is going clean, he never gives any thought to the prospect of interference. He is going free and naturally. But once he hits a knee, elbow, or shin for the first time for whatever reason, he begins to think about hitting. Even though the horse may be trying to avoid interference, he actually is so afraid of it recurring that he simply can't prevent himself from hitting.

Pacers generally aren't as likely to require pads as trotters are, because they don't hit the ground as hard. I will use a plastic rim pad on some of my pacers if we're racing over a hard track.

Don't think, however, that pacers can't wear full pads, because often it is necessary to go to a full pad if a horse has bad feet. Bardot Lobell, for example, wore full pads when she was a three-year-old because she had bad feet, thin soles, and corns. Those pads helped protect her feet. I like to use silicone underneath pads; it has a lasting rubbery effect and it will shape to the sole of the foot and prevent any foreign matter from getting between the pad and the sole of the foot.

The rear end is where the driving power of a horse is, so I like a pacer whose hind legs travel forward with the normal swinging motion. I do not like a wide, sprawly-gaited pacer with too much swinging to his hind legs. As with a hocky-going trotter, that is wasted motion. Unless the horse is cross-firing, the hind legs of a pacer usually follow his front legs and there isn't much you need to worry about.

As I indicated earlier, virtually all my pacers will wind up with a half-swedge shoe behind with the swedge portion to the outside. That swedge section acts to widen out a horse to prevent the horse from cross-firing. We don't see nearly as much cross-firing in pacers today as we did years ago, but that is a problem where the hind feet of a pacer will swing in underneath the body so far that they will clip the front feet on the opposite side. The natural swinging motion of a pacer contributes to this, and many older trainers would use a trailer on the outside to prevent cross-firing. Putting caulks on the end of a trailer was popular years ago, too. Another trick many trainers have used is to lower the inside of a pacer's hind feet. Our horses are more naturally-gaited today and cross-firing is seldom a serious problem.

If you do have a pacer who cross-fires, a traditional remedy is to put a diamond- toe half-swedge shoe on the horse behind. That is simply a standard half-swedge shoe with the inside toe of the hoof wall blunted so that the shoe is not round, but instead comes to a diamond point.

Also, since the inside heel of the front shoe is often clipped by a cross-firing pacer, I will have the blacksmith "spoon" or turn up that heel of the shoe. The blacksmith will simply turn up the end of the shoe and fit it to the heel of the foot so that the end of the shoe will look much like a clip. The cross-firing pacer then can't grab the heel of his front shoe as easily.

Part 6, the last in this series, will appear in next month's issue.

CAPTION Cross-firing is often a problem with pacers, and one traditional remedy is the diamond-toe shoe (top left). The author also notes that the inside heel on a pacer's front shoe can be "spooned" or turned up to prevent it from being grabbed by a cross-firing hind foot.

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