Luke Proulx is an internationally respected farrier, judge, consultant and clinician who has been plying his trade for 43 years. A graduate of the Oklahoma Horseshoeing School in 1977, he is an American Farriers Association Certified Journeyman Farrier and a very successful competitor in blacksmith challenges around the world. His skill at the forge saw him named to the Canadian Farrier Team eight times and finish fourth at the prestigious Calgary Stampede 1989 World Championship Blacksmith’s Competition ‒ coming back to co-judge it in 2007. He won the 1991 Little Rock Mustad Specialty Forging along with many other top finishes in Scotland, England, Canada and the US.
Originally from Alfred near Ottawa, Luke now lives in Stevensville, ON, with his wife Rebecca and her two dressage horses. He spends the summers crossing the province in his RV tending to clients, and the (pre-Covid) winters in Florida with the jumpers and dressage horses. Over the years, Luke’s reputation resulted in his shoeing clientele growing to include grand prix, World Cup and Olympic riders and their mounts. Many of his top hunter, jumper and dressage clients have been with him for decades, flying him all over the world to shoe their horses. He has had multiple clients competing in every consecutive Olympic Games from 1992 through to 2016.
His road to his chosen profession was pretty interesting, and rather family-driven. “When I was 16, I wanted to open a riding school,” he says. “My friend and I were going to get some riding horses, and then I decided that I was going to shoe my own horses. I went to work for my uncle in St. Catharines for a year ‒ my grandfather and my uncle were blacksmiths. My mom booked me into a school in Oklahoma and when I came back I tried to get an apprenticeship with somebody, but there was nobody available. I went to the Ontario Farrier Association and met Bob Marshall. He was the coach for the Canadian Farrier Team; he’s the one that got me involved in competing.” Competition involves trimming the foot, making a shoe from bar stock, and fitting it on the horse within a time limit.
It was during one of these competitions in England that a veterinarian saw Luke’s work and in turn told a couple of his show jumping clients to contact him. The ball started rolling, quickly. “I started to do Cindy Ishoy’s horses around ’87 or so. Then I met Mac Cone and Jay Hayes and John Pearce and Beth Underhill. This is where it all started that I started doing the Olympic-level horses.” Current (Covid-19 delayed) 2020 Tokyo Olympic dressage contender clients include Christilot Boylen, Belinda Trussell and Megan Lane.
Luke often works with veterinarians to help assess equine locomotion and biomechanics and subsequently address the underlying performance issues through a combination of precision trimming, shoe design and technology. “When dealing with orthopedic shoes, we look at the horse walk and we determine how he is ‘loading’ ‒ when the limb is fully weight-bearing,” he explains. “We watch the horse go on hard ground and soft ground and make an assessment as to what kind of shoes and what kind of trimming we are going to do.”
Following are a baker’s dozen of the some of the more intriguing designs Luke has created for various breeds and disciplines, and their intended purpose.
This is a concave shoe, 1″ x 3/8″, and the outside is wider. When the horse walks, if he sinks on any medial/lateral edge, we widen the shoe to keep him above the ground. So anytime you have a ligament or soft tissue injury, we want the foot not to sink in the ground; if we have bone bruising or calcification, we want the opposite ‒ we want the foot to sink in the ground as a shock absorber. This is basically for a horse that is sinking on the lateral edge. The concave shoe, the way it’s shaped, is the normal shape of the hind foot; the same shape as the coffin bone. So it allows the toe to engage on the ground to be able to engage the deep flexor tendon to bring that pastern back up.
In terms of shape, the front feet are more round, and 65% more weight-bearing. It’s almost like a wheelbarrow, where the front tire basically handles all the weight. The back end is the pushing power, so that’s why the hind foot is more pointed so they can dig their toes in and push the weight and propel the horse forward.
This is mostly a traction device for a field hunter in heavy going. It’s got a block heel on the outside, and it’s got a swell heel on the inside. That means that on the hard ground the shoe will be level; on the soft ground, the block heel’s going to be able to sink and keep that foot from sliding forward. In the old days you put corks in. You don’t have a block heel on the inside because they would cut themselves.
The right shoe is from Rebecca’s dressage horse, and that’s how we shoe her horse all the time. The one on the left is from a thoroughbred from the racetrack that I shod here. I was just showing the difference in the shoes; you have the same material, just much different sizes.
#4 & #5
(Top) This is a front draft shoe, 8″ wide by 8 1/4 long. That is what you see on Clydesdales, and when I used to compete in Scotland, we used to shoe Clydesdales. This is what we made in competition. This is a show horse mostly pulling a wagon or plowing the field. He doesn’t need that much traction. If you’re talking about a pulling competition, it’s basically the same shoe, but with the toe piece for the front shoes (bottom).
The shoe on the right [with the unusual nail hole configuration] is called a preventer shoe. Believe it or not, we do shoe some of the show horses with it. You have a horse that’s young ‒ about four or five ‒ and you’re starting to do a lot of lateral work such as in dressage. They’re very uncoordinated in the back; they’re like teenagers and their muscles are not mature enough. They’re hitting their ankles, their legs are everywhere. So by making that shoe you’re able to save the inside and leave the foot to overhang. That’s why you don’t have any nails there, only in the back, so if they ever hit themselves it’s not metal, just foot. We do that just for a little while until they grow up and get stronger. Or sometimes you get horses that have bad conformation and they’ll start hitting themselves and that’s one way of dealing with the problem.
This is called a patent shoe, and it is a hind shoe for stall rest. If you have a tendon that is injured or needs surgery, the weight needs to be non-existent on that leg. It will lift the heel up least three inches high, putting all the weight at the toe. The horse is going to [have no choice but to] rest that leg.
A side-weighted standardbred shoe. On the pacers, around a year-and-a-half old we would put them on the hind to help them figure out the gait of the pace. The reason why it is shaped the way it is, if you look at the (right) side weight it has a hollow there so it’s easier for you to shape if you have to bend it. On the outside it is just flat steel with a crease where the nail goes. That crease fills up with with dirt and it creates a sandpaper effect so there is more traction on that side.
This is similar to #1, but a different type of support. It does two things: it provides lateral support, but then allows when the horse lands to sink into the ground a little bit. It’s to create a basically more gentle kind of support. And it’s in a different position; the width is mostly almost in the center of the foot, whereas in #1 it’s right at the heel in the back.
This would be for a horse that has conformation that makes it sink on one side more than the other side and is smashing the foot down to provide some support on that area. So if you have a horse, for instance, that is pigeon-toed, and he lands hard on the outside, basically the foot is not growing on that part because he’s overbearing the weight on it. All that steel over there is able to support the weight on the sole and frog and lay off the heel.
This is mostly a forging exercise ‒ I’ve never put that shoe on any horse! The design of the shoe is basically to give traction to the horse, not to jar them as much as a block heel. So it lets the horse slide a bit but it prevents it from sliding medially or laterally. The swell heel on the inside keeps the balance of the foot even to your traction device on the outside.
A fish shoe is put on on the hind and would be for a horse that has a deep flexor tendon injury that needs the support totally at the heel. The frog plate in the middle is to put the pressure on the frog so it doesn’t smash the heels, because if you have that much torque going to the heel and you lose your arch support, the heels will basically break down and you’ll have a problem. The fish shoe is basically a stall rest shoe until the deep flexor tendon gets better.
A block heel and preventer is again a traction device and the inside is kind of like a raised heel, but it’s not. There’s nothing that the horse can hit themselves on. So if the horse is coming close with interference, he won’t cut himself with that shoe. The square toe is so if the horse is forging, for instance, you back the shoe off and leave the foot there as a bumper.
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