Hurray for Olympic farriers!

The team of blacksmiths at the Rio Olympics are an important part of the equestrian competitions.

The farrier team at Rio Photo Arnd Bronkhorst
The farrier team at Rio (Image: Arnd Bronkhorst)

The most recognisable brand of running shoes, and definitely the fastest running shoes in the Olympic movement are not on the track and field athletes in Rio 2016. They’re the shoes on the only four-legged athletes at the Games – the horses!

Whether it’s heels up in Europe to keep the good luck in, or heels down in Asia to stop the bad luck dropping in, the horseshoe is a universal sign of good luck. And the hardest-working shoe fitters in Rio are the team of British and Brazilian farriers working round the clock to keep the well-heeled equine athletes well-shod at the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro.
Farriers Anvil Photo Arnd Bronkhorst
Farrier’s anvil (Image: Arnd Bronkhorst)

Just like their human counterparts, equine athletes have the choice of hand-made shoes and off-the-shelf versions, but the Olympic horses here in Rio have bespoke shoes to help them perform at the very highest level.

Farriers at Rio Olympics 2016 hammering a shoe Photo Arnd Bronkhorst
Shaping a shoe for an Olympian (Image: Arnd Bronkhorst)

These shoes come in variety of styles: flat, tapered, heart-bar (encasing the entire foot), and shoes with studs for grip. And some even come with gel pads for cushioned comfort.

 There’s no tying laces for these athletes. Their shoes, which are made of either iron or aluminium, are nailed on.
Farriers at Rio Olympics 2016 Furnace Photo Arnd Bronkhorst
The farriers’ furnace (Image: Arnd Bronkhorst)

To achieve the ultimate equine fit, the shoe is heated to a red-hot 800 degrees before being forged on the anvil to the correct shape. When the temperature of the shoe has dropped, it’s pressed on to the foot and, once the fit is optimal, the shoe is plunged into a bucket of water to cool it down. Then it’s nailed on to the insensitive hoof, the equivalent of a 10mm thick toenail. A pedicure and shoe-fitting in one package!

Farriers at Rio Olympics 2016 Cooling a shoe Photo Arnd Bronkhorst
Cooling a shoe (Image: Arnd Bronkhorst)

There’s also a glue-on aluminium option, using a special glue that sets in two minutes. This requires fast, accurate work and is a really specialised job. One of the horses that was re-shod by the Olympic farriery team using this method went on to win gold!

And then there are apparently decorative effects that actually play an important role, like copper-coated anti-microbial nails which tackle the equine equivalent of athlete’s foot.
Farriers at Rio Olympics 2016 Jim BlurtonFinishing a shoe Photo Arn Bronkhorst
Farrier Jim Blurton finishing a shoe (Image: Arn Bronkhorst)

Just like track and field athletes or footballers, when grip is crucial, studded shoes are the only answer. And for horses, there’s a huge variety of different lengths and shapes of studs for different ground conditions. According to the Rio 2016 Lead Farrier, Jim Blurton, “stud selection is nearly as important as tyre selection for Formula 1”.

Luiz Tenorio Brazilian farrier Photo Arnd Bronkhorst
Brazilian farrier Luiz Tenorio (Image: Arnd Bronkhorst)

Former world champion Blurton (57), a third-generation farrier from Wales, heads up a five-man British team that also includes Jim’s right-hand man Ben Benson (36), himself a second-generation farrier, who will take over as lead farrier for next month’s Paralympics. Both of them worked at the London 2012 Games, along with forge general manager Emma Cornish (41). The British side of the team is completed by Ed Dailly (26), Craig D’Arcy (48) and Dean Bland (45).

Luiz Tenorio (44), the man in charge of Farrier Services Coordination for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Photo Arnd Bronkhorst
Luiz Tenorio, the man in charge of Farrier Services Coordination for the Olympic and Paralympic Games
(Photo: Arnd Bronkhorst)