About Harness Racing: the Farrier

One of the most important friends of a racehorse is a farrier. The word farrier comes from the Latin word farrarius, or worker with iron. A blacksmith is probably the more recognized term for someone who works with metal.

The farrier must be very knowledgeable about the anatomy of a horse's foot and be able to judge the thickness of the wall and sole of horn like material, which forms the hoof. With sharp knives and rasps he must shape the foot and pare the sole to accept the steel shoes. It is an exact science, which requires physical strength and dexterity, to hammer the specially made nails in, through and back out the sides of the narrow walls, while holding the horse's leg and much of its weight. Many farriers can drive a nail with either hand, while the horse's foot is twisting and turning in their grip.

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In the early days of harness racing the breed was developed from Morgan horses and thoroughbred mixes. The traditional trotting gait was a transitional motion from a fast walk to a gallop. All breeds of horses can trot, but most will naturally break into the faster gaits. It was found that with proper weight and balanced shoeing the trotting and pacing gait can be maintained at higher speeds.

Farriers are skilled at fitting shoes at different angles of slopes on the hoof, and different lengths of toe are tried until the proper combination produces a comfortable balance for the animal. Special brass "toe weights" are often used to extend the foot forward like a lead weight on a fishing line. Although modern day Standardbreds trot and pace more naturally the relationship between the barrier or blacksmith still plays a crucial role in the success of the horse.

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