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At the modern edge of a time-honoured profession

By Andy Bryenton - For Canterbury Farming publication April 2014


Since the earliest days of civilized horsemanship, back in far antiquity, there have always been farriers. The oldest horseshoes found date from before the rise of classical Greece – they were found as grave goods in an Etruscan tomb dating back more than 400 years BC. Originally designed for military purposes, the horseshoe is one of the key inventions of human history, arguably as important to the rise of nations as the plough or the sailing ship.

 

With the advent of the automobile age, many people think that the role of the farrier is a lost one – a profession consigned to history along with the miller and the armourer. Even the word seems old and antique to those who haven’t seen the modern farrier at work, for of course the tradition of those hundreds of years lives on. The biggest surprise, to the uninitiated, is that the science and technology of this multi-faceted trade has also kept pace with other areas of equine care, and that the modern farrier bears little resemblance to the leather-aproned, hammer-swinging figure of historical myth.

 

Take for example Christchurch farrier Adam White. He's been involved with horses his entire life, coming from a strong harness racing background, and he takes immense pride in the profession which has seen him help train and maintain champion horses here and overseas. Adam exemplifies the cutting-edge modern farrier – a key part of the team which makes a good racehorse great, and who works closely with trainers, drivers, owners and veterinarians to form the 'behind the scenes' crew for a winning effort at harness racing's top prizes.

 

Adam grew up in an equine family – both his mother and father were horse owners, with his father riding as a jockey for many years. His first job at the age of 10 was not as a paperboy or mowing lawns – Adam became a stable hand for Murray Edmonds, and remembers watching his first boss shoe his own horses. Something started then and there, leading to a lifelong passion for learning the farrier's art, and passing that expertise on to others. His father taught many of the basic showing techniques which are the foundation of that skill – more advanced methods came through hard work on the racetracks and in the stables of Auckland, where Adam was soon shoeing his own team as a public trainer. He credits many folks in the racing scene with helping him hone his art.

 

“I learnt a wealth of knowledge watching, assisting and working under Dave Smith and later with Steve Butler,” he says. “Around this time I went to Australia and furthered my shoeing knowledge by learning from world renown Farrier Karl O'Dyer”

 

And there is certainly more to learn in the work of a farrier than simply a calm manner around horses and a steady hand with a hammer! The nuances of corrective shoeing can make or break the chances of a horse in the top-flight strata of racing. Adam says that the biggest satisfaction in his line of work comes from taking a horse which is underperforming or even functionally lame and making it able to run again, to reach its full potential. This is achieved with a combined strategy of training and exercise combined with advanced shoeing techniques designed to correct anomalies in the hoof – issues lead on from here, and can be stopped here too.

 

Adam agrees that a good analogy comes from the world of motorsport. The most powerful, high-tech racecar is only as good as the tyres it sits on. Formula One teams debate endlessly about which tyre compounds to use on any given race day, accounting for the temperature, track surface and the sharpness of the corners. So it is too with shoeing a top level racehorse – though in fact it's even more complex, as a horse is a living thing. The science involved in being a farrier at this level blends materials science with biology, veterinary medicine with biomechanics. Shoes made from plastics and even carbon are now used alongside traditional steel, and an in-depth knowledge of how horses move and run is enhanced with computer modelling and slow-motion video capture, both of which are now available to trainers as learning tools.

 

It's not just about performance, either. A huge range of illnesses of the hoof can be remedied by a competent farrier's attention, such as splitting, cankers, abscesses and corns. Left unchecked, problems in the hoof can effectively cripple a horse, and have knock-on effects in its gait and temperament. A good farrier can help heal and correct these issues at the source, improving the horse's quality of life immensely.

 

To date, Adam says that the high point of his career has been travelling through Australia with champion horse Monkey King, winner of numerous top-tier trophies including the fabled Miracle Mile. Like a key member of any sporting entourage, he was there for the victories and the setbacks, but watching it all come together into a world-beating performance was something truly special.

 

Far from being a young stable hand, Adam now shoes fro many of the top stables in Canterbury. His knowledge is sought out by all manner of riders, trainers and owners, and it's this precious legacy of hard-won skill which he would love to pass on to future generations. Many farriers working today aren't young any more, and it's vitally important to keep the trade vigorous and alive with young folks passionate to learn. It's an exciting time to engage with this time-honoured trade as well, with technology and improvements in technique making the art of the farrier a decidedly 21st century discipline.

 

Andy Bryenton

 

 

Adam White - The unsung NZ Cup hero

 

Behind every New Zealand Cup champion there's always a harness racing story of an unsung hero - a person behind the scenes who does his bit to ensure glory. For two years Southbrook farrier Adam White has done just that.

The 33-year-old horseman admits Monkey King isn't his favourite horse when it comes to shoeing, but he readily admits he's by far the fastest.

"I had a tear in my eye when he and Ricky (May) crossed the finishing line last Tuesday (Cup Day - November 9). It doesn't get any better than this. To see him win last year was huge. To do it twice well that it was just unthinkable. I'm still living the dream," White told Harnesslink.

A trainer and driver with a small team at Andrew Stuart's Rangiora racetrack stable, White now admits he will probably have to give away his training and driving duties to concentrate fully on his blacksmith job.

"The workload is increasing and if you want to be good at something you have to go full-on. It's a trade where you never stop learning.

Monkey King, the 8-year-old black Sands A Flyin gelding, who has won 38 of his 77 starts and $3,404,998, had his last race for Steven Reid and Graeme Rogerson's Hamilton stable on March 6 last year.

Nineteen days later Brendon Hill took over the training at Kaiapoi. That is when White became the champion's official farrier

"Sam's (nickname) the complete racehorse but he can be a real b..... to shoe. He bites and one day he even urinated on me. Nothing surprises me with him. He kicks out and always looks at me as if he's the boss," White said.

He insisted Monkey King never got any special treatment.

"I shoe him along with half a dozen or so every two to three weeks at Brendon's Dancingonmoonlight stable. He doesn't get preferential treatment. I don't do him first or last but when I do shoe I know who I'm shoeing and I make sure I do a better than good job," White said.

Does he what!

White has steadily built up a reputation as being one of the finest, most thorough/articulate and promising blacksmiths in the South Island. He is doing 10 or more horses a day for numerous trainers throughout Canterbury. He also shoes hacks and some gallopers.

"I have a lot to learn in this game. In fact you never stop learning. This weekend for example I will be studying frozen legs in a freezer and cutting them up to suss out where problems like club foot, pastern alignments and laminitis stem from. There are always ways to advance and undertake better corrective shoeing techniques," White said.

Asked if had suffered any injuries through his job White replied:

"About three months ago a yearling kicked me in the jaw. I was knocked out and spent a night in hospital, but was released the next day without any serious injuries or repercussions. I was a bit out of it. I remember when I came too I was raving on about Haley's Comet for some reason."

When asked who was the second best horse he had shod, White instantly replied - 'Kiwi Ingenuity'.

"Undoubtedly she's the best mare I have shod and probably one of the most satisfying too because she has had a lot of problems with her gait. I was really chuffed when she won the Harness Jewels Final at Ashburton last year. We got it right that day. She flew in 1:52.1 and came home in a tick over 55. Those sorts of days you never forget," White said.

But even eight day's after New Zealand's biggest race White said he was still buzzing over "Sam's" second consecutive New Zealand Cup victory.

"It's something that I will take to the grave with me. To do it once made all my dreams come true, but to do it twice - well even today it's still a bit hard to take in.

"I remember when I was 16 I used to sit on a bucket and watch Murray Edmonds shoe his horses. I used to work for him before and after Lincoln High School. I remember him saying to me as a joke:

"'One day son you will be as good as me'. I still laugh at that. Maybe one day I will," White said.

By Duane RANGER (editor) Harnesslink

 

Big bids for harness great's shoes

By MATT MARKHAM - South Canterbury

06/05/2010

Last year's New Zealand Trotting Cup winner Monkey King has helped line the pockets of many punters this year with an outstanding season on the race track, but now the speedster pacer is giving a little bit back.

A framed set of the harness racing great's shoes have been framed and are up for auction on Trade Me with proceeds going to Cure Kids, which supports research into life-threatening childhood illnesses.

The idea came from Monkey King's farrier Adam White. He and his sister, Abbe, have seen what was originally going to be a good deed for a friend grow into something much larger.

"Originally we thought about giving the money raised to a friend of Abbe's who has a daughter who has cancer in her liver," Adam White said.

"We then decided that Cure Kids would be the best option because we would hopefully be able to help a lot of kids.

"I was shoeing Monkey King one day and said to his trainer, Brendon Hill, that instead of just leaving these shoes lying around they should be put to good use, and he agreed."

As the winner of last year's New Zealand Cup and a host of other major races around New Zealand and Australia the popularity of Monkey King was never going to be too much of a problem.

With the help of Colin and Ayjay Berry, of Race Images, who did the framing and display of the shoes, White said the end result was fantastic.

"We have been very lucky in the fact that Colin and Ayjay were so keen to help us out, and to have the full support of everyone involved behind Monkey King as well.

"Everyone I have talked to has said how great it looks, and I think that has shown in the amount of interest in it already."

The framed shoes, which also display a picture of Monkey King and details of his past season, have already reached almost $3000 on Trade Me with the auction due to close on Saturday.

White is hoping that over the last couple of days things may pick up again. "It's hard to put a price on it really, it would be nice to see it go up some more because it is such a great cause, but you don't really know how much interest for something like it is out there."

The listing can be found in the sports section of the website under sports memorabilia.

Cure Kids, formerly the Child Health Research Foundation was established over 30 years ago.

With more than $25 million invested over that time the research has helped save hundreds of young lives and has improved the quality of life for thousands of children.

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