Category Archives: Shoeing, Shoes & Nails

shoeing, shoes & nails

HEAVY SHOES VERSUS LIGHT SHOES

The horse world must be the only industry where despite all of our modern technology, we appear to be going back to the dark ages when it comes to shoeing.

Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to look at horses in most areas of this great country, and now I am more concerned than ever that we really have lost the plot!

Breed registration and classification have produced better types of horses with a much greater performance potential. Rider tuition and schooling has never been more readily available for all forms of competition, but so often that beautifully bred and highly trained horse’s natural athletic ability is drastically reduced by having to wear the wrong shoes. The horse didn’t have any choice, but we did.

The golden rule for shoe selection is that a shoe should be as light as possible to allow the horse to perform his task. Not as heavy as possible.

Perhaps it is an economic thing, and you may think that if you fit heavy shoes they will last longer and you will save money – that is wrong thinking! He will have to be reshod every four to six weeks regardless of what shoes are fitted so that cost never alters. Sure, heavy horses need heavy shoes but light horses with fine leg bones do not.

I constantly see light framed horses around fourteen or fifteen hands wearing size three to size five shoes that are far too heavy, both in flat or concave profile, complete with quarter clips to help hold them on; these horses are usually clumsy and have a plodding action. Every time these horses are shod with the correct weight shoes, the owners notice the increased freedom of movement and ability.

The real cost is to your horse’s performance and the destruction of his lower leg and hooves. Heavy shoes create greater concussion to joints and are usually fitted with heavier nails which destroy that delicate hoof wall capsule.

There has never been a greater choice of ready made horseshoes available for us to choose from, as well as nails to suit any shoe. All we have to do is spend a little more time while we evaluate the horse’s needs and your expectations of his performance, both as a rider and as a farrier. Let common sense prevail – could you as a ballet dancer perform your best in heavy working boots?

Fitting the correct weight shoes will lift your horse’s athletic ability dramatically, and will also reduce downtime from lameness and injury.

In my day to day work, my personal choice is a lightweight concave shoe such as the St Croix Concorde. These shoes have the advantage of being light in weight and providing good coverage with ideal nail placement.

Nowadays it is possible to select the correct factory made shoe, regardless of the horse’s size, weight, bone structure or working expectations, and, with the use of care and consideration by the farrier, fit them to enhance your horse’s performance.

Shoes are also available in various grades of hardness as well as a flat or concave profile. The choice is huge, and so is the need to be particular and get it right.

Your horse’s needs for the correct footwear for the job are exactly the same as your own, so be fussy.

THE PROS AND CONS OF HOT SHOEING

The old-timers go misty eyed when they recall the sight and the smell of the local blacksmith fitting hot shoes to the horses, and I for one still love the aroma and the clouds of smoke from hot shoeing.

The tradition of hot shoeing was born out of necessity. When hand making horse shoes prior to the machine made shoe era, the hand tools were not as refined as they are today. The old style hoof cutters were difficult to use as they only had one cutting edge which was very narrow, the rasps were also narrow so achieving a flat hoof surface was difficult, thus while hand making the shoe, which was still hot from the forge, it was a better option to simply burn it on to get a perfectly married fit to the hoof.

This system today still holds true with regards to shoeing heavy horses, as the shoes are difficult to shape cold due to their weight and size.

Much has been written about the fact that hot shoeing seals the hoof and thereby prevents white line disease, ie that bacterial infection which creeps into the laminae area under the hoof wall. In my opinion this problem is quite misunderstood and needs to be examined from another angle.

White line disease is the first stage of hoof wall separation from the sensitive laminae, where the hoof wall is stretching outwards because it has become too long and out of shape. This separation then allows dirt to penetrate into the area which in turn causes inflammation then infection then an abscess, leaving a cavity between the hoof wall and the white line/laminae structure.

So now let’s reconsider the belief that hot shoeing helps prevent white line disease. What really stops white line disease is correct hoof preparation and the elimination of flares.

The next statement in support for hot shoeing is that in a wet climate hot shoeing helps prevent the hoof wall from becoming water logged, by sealing the surface under the shoe. This is quite correct as the hoof wall is made up of hollow hair-like fibres and they melt together like burnt toast when the hot shoe is applied, definitely sealing it.

Six weeks later when those shoes are removed it is quite obvious that the hoof wall is still dry up to 1.5cm above the edge, also the naturally produced hoof oil seems to come down to there but no lower. However in constantly hot shod hooves, this dry area eventually deteriorates, so there are good points and bad points for hot shoeing in wet conditions.

Hot shoeing on thin shelly cracked hooves is also very beneficial, as it allows us to use light weight shoes and finer nails which put far less stress on that type of hoof, however these are few in numbers and they should only need to be hot shod a couple of times to correct the problem.

Shaping shoes while hot is also less physical stress on the farrier’s delicate anatomy for those who are heavily into occupational health and safety, as some of us are actually quite delicate petals.

So now we live in the twenty first century. We have access to world class hand tools and we are able to cold shape and cold fit our modern horse shoes to most horses very successfully, with less physical effort. I personally prefer to cold shoe and I reserve hot shoeing only for those remedial reasons previously stated.

From the horse’s point of view, we only shoe him to satisfy our own needs so let’s keep it as non-intrusive as possible. And think about this fact – if his hoof was meant to be barbequed every time he is shod, why is it made of hair?

Too many horse owners are mistakenly led to believe that because their farrier only hot shoes, he must therefore be better at his trade than a farrier who only cold shoes. The truth is that hot shoeing can disguise a multitude of preparation faults whereas cold shoeing cannot.

If the hoof is not correctly balanced, then hot or cold fitting the shoe won’t make it right.

So in conclusion, having reviewed these simple observations, if what you are doing now is resulting in your horse being sound then don’t change anything, but if the reverse is the case then you should consider the options for your hair footed horse’s sake.

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SQUARE TOED SHOES PROMOTE PROBLEMS

A recent incident resulted in this article. The complaint from the owner was that the horse had become very unstable on its feet, was tripping and stumbling, and very rough to ride but had previously not been like this. On inspecting the horse, I found it was shod totally inappropriately with square toed shoes all round. The danger seems to be that although this is a supposedly new fashioned idea the real answer to the problem is in the balance of the foot. If the hoof is prepared and balanced in the correct fashion, the ground surface of the hoof should be exactly the same shape as the coronary band. However the square toed shoes tend to promote flares either side of the square toed shoe (Pic 1)

If you want an idea of what flares do to these feet, push your own thumb nail down on a hard surface of a table, and you will notice that about half way up you will see a red spot – a stress point in your fingernail which causes pain. The horse’s hoof reacts in exactly the same way. If it is long and flared (Pic 1) that horse is unquestionably suffering a lot of pain half way up that hoof capsule, and this is why these horses get unkind to ride, become unstable and do not want to work. As soon as you relieve these stress points and get the hoof capsule to come down at the correct angle, you will relieve this pain. It needs to be understood that this really IS pain – you can’t see the red spots in most black hoofs; it can be seen occasionally in white feet, but even if it can’t be seen it is still there and is very very painful.

If you refer again to Pic 1 you will also see the heels of these shoes hanging out past the buttress of the heel – this creates pressure back there and will cause those heels to collapse. It is the most illogical fitting shoe I have ever seen. The heel of the shoe must finish at the buttress of the heel otherwise if it is hanging out the back it will create pressure. It is only natural that a long extension hanging out the back is a bit like wearing skis all the time. Make no mistake, extended heels will cause pressure at the heel.

Pic 2 shows the same horse after reshoeing correctly to the hoof’s natural shape, and Pic 3 shows the comparison of the square toed shoe and the correct shoe once the hoof is trimmed properly. As you can see, it is a bit like chalk and cheese.

Over 49 years of shoeing horses, I always expected that owners had the capacity to maintain their horse’s feet or at least have a pretty fair understanding of what was required for shoeing and trimming for performance. All that seems to have gone by the board, and owners are being led to believe that below the knee of the horse is some mysterious realm of the farrier. I still believe it is the owner’s responsibility to seek information and take more of an interest in how their horse is being looked after at hoof level. It is not rocket science, it is very, very easy to learn and to understand, and primarily the first responsibility is for horse owners and riders to thereby be able to then have a positive input into the hoof care of their horses.

If your horse is tripping and stumbling and becoming unstable on his feet, the chances are pretty high that he is just simply too long in the toes. If you then check the hoof pastern angle from the side, and you find that is right then the answer lies not in just squaring that toe off as the modern trends seems to be, but simply to balance the hoof properly, trim it correctly, and shape it as per the horse’s coronary band.

The misunderstanding that horses in the wild wear their toes square is true only in one sense – at the end of a drought when the springs have all dried up and the horses have to dig for water, they wear their toes down so that they do become square. However as soon as the season breaks their feet grow, they wear off and their toe grows down in the same shape as the coronary band. The answer is NOT in putting on square toed shoes.

If your horse is unstable, the answer is simply to balance the hoof properly and shape the hoof as per the coronary band.

SHOEING WITHOUT VIOLENCE

As a farrier and also as a teacher of farriery I teach, I preach and I practise shoeing without violence. There is absolutely no need for any ropes, hobbles, straps or restraints of any kind, no matter how difficult that horse may be or has been in the past. I prove time and time again that with kindness and understanding all of these horses will come good, they will allow themselves to be shod in a relaxed manner without using violence. They will first of all start off expecting the worst, but within a very few minutes they will relax, settle down and allow themselves to be shod with no violence whatsoever.

I abhor the use of hobbles, sidelines, collar ropes and they are totally unnecessary. I have actually seen where a young horse was hobbled, then sidelined and then fitted with a big heavy halter and a big heavy lead rope to a heavy post that will not break and then they have the audacity or the stupidity to get down and try and pick up a front leg or a back leg and try and shoe that horse.

The horse cannot possibly balance, because he has hobbles and sidelines and his feet are in inappropriate places. In order for him to balance when you pick up a leg, he has to be able to spread his legs; either to spread the hind legs for you to pick up a front foot or vice versa.

You also must realise that when you pick up a horse’s front leg, he has what I call a ‘Happy Spot’. This is an area of about one foot square that when you hold the foot up off the ground at the fetlock joint, there is no tension on that leg at all, and the horse is standing on his other three legs perfectly balanced and comfortable. That is the spot to work on the hoof.

However, most people then pull the leg out another foot and up another six inches so they can step in and work on the leg. That immediately puts the horse out of his comfort zone, the hoof has been removed out of it ‘Happy Spot’ and the horse will not stand there for more than a few seconds before it starts to shift its weight, pull its leg back and then get branded as and ‘idiot’ or as a ‘bad horse’ then gets thumped or kicked or at the very least abused and then tied up a bit tighter, and the whole thing goes spiralling down hill and comes out the other end in disaster. This is even more evident with a hind leg. Young horse or older horse, it makes no difference, but if you are going to teach them, start at a young age and these problems will not occur.

With a hind leg, it is picked up in exactly the same way, and you find where the horse’s leg is relaxed by simply holding the hoof and taking it out the back to find that happy spot – it may be a lot lower than what you expect, it could be a little bit higher, or out the back a bit further, or back under the horse a little, but wherever that relaxed spot is, that is where you work.

If you look under your shoulder at the front feet when you are picking up a back leg, you will see that the horse will have moved its opposite front leg out by around two inches in order to balance the leg that you are holding. Now if he is hobbled or sidelined he cant do that, so immediately the horse will panic and seemingly start to kick, but all he is actually doing is grabbing his leg that he doesn’t fall over again. In all cases where horses have been misunderstood and hobbled, sidelined or collar roped, they expect violence when you handle their legs and they react accordingly to defend themselves.

In every single case, by taking a little extra time (and I have explained this and demonstrated it to countless pupils at my courses) you will find how easily this task can be performed with very little stress on the horse, and the outcome is always predictable, in other words successful.

THE CHANGING HOOF

I had a call from a client tonight. I have only recently taken over her horses, and when I did so she had them in square toed shoes. I told her what I thought of square toed shoes and what I said was the same as I have said in recent articles – I will use square toed shoes when I find a horse with a square coronary band. As I have also said in recent articles, square toed shoes are a very lazy and short cut way of shoeing a horse which has an over-reach problem. All that is required is to balance the hoof correctly. I convinced this new client to let me shoe the horse in the correct fashion and she was dubious at first, but delighted with the improved results.

Tonight’s call from her was to tell me that the horse was forging after being shod only three weeks ago. Forging is caused when the toe grows too long , slowing down the break over or take off of the front hoof thus causing the rear hoof to collide with the heel of the front hoof. This excessive toe growth is usually conformation-related to long sloping pasterns, and is undoubtedly the reason why so many horses are put into rolled or square toed shoes, which is a big mistake. Nature is telling us that these horses need to be re-shod more often than just six weekly, in order to maintain the correct hoof pastern angle and symmetrical shape.

Rolled or square toed shoes will speed up these front feet but they also drastically alter the flight of the hoof causing them to lift higher but land shorter thus causing jarring up the legs. This concussion actually retards the hoof growth also, and when the hoof is re-balanced it begins to then grow at an accelerated rate for some time; nature’s relief I guess.

This is a very interesting progression, and is one that I have noticed repeatedly when taking horses out of square toed shoes and then balancing the hoof and using a shoe to suit the horse and a shoe which is the same shape as the ideal coronary band.

The reason is that when the hoof is balanced, the hoof capsule is evenly supported and the weight of the horse is evenly distributed. This allows the hoof capsule to work evenly on all contact points.

So the real problem in the first place was that the assessment of the horse’s hoof pastern angle was not given enough consideration in programming his re-shoeing periods, which then allowed the toes to get too long which also causes the low heel syndrome as well. My experience with these horses has shown that if the front feet are re-shod every three or four weeks to keep this toe growth in check, the low heels will start growing again and after a while they develop a healthy heel buttress.

However, it does take some diplomatic persuasion to convince the owner that they have to join in with the hoof care programme seriously.

DO YOU REALLY SEE WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT?

When we alter the ground bearing shape of the hoof contrary to the shape of the normal coronary band, for any reason, we change the normal flight of the hoof.

This statement should be common sense to us, it certainly is for the horse, so why do we, who are entrusted with the duty of care to our horses, keep defying what nature is showing us?

There is only one correct way to dress the hoof to suit the horse so that it avoids discomfort and lameness; all you have to do is to see what you are looking at. The coronary band is (in most cases) a nice even shape; when you clean out the old crusty sole to where it meets the hoof wall, you will see that the white line/laminae shape (which is the true road map of the bottom of the hoof) is the same shape as the normal coronary band. (Pic 1) This is a great revelation, and should never be overlooked.

The hoof wall must be an even thickness all the way around. The centre point of balance in the bottom of the hoof is 19mm behind the active tip of the frog. When the hoof is correctly balanced you will have an equal measurement from that point to the toe and to the heel, and a correct parallel hoof/pastern angle. The hoof must be correctly balanced to achieve this even thickness of hoof wall, which in turn then copies the shape of the white line, which in turn is the same even shape as the coronary band. These three should always be the same shape – hoof wall, white line and coronary band. But the hoof wall is the only one over which we have any direct control.

If the coronary band is distorted, there are three possibilities. It has been distorted by injury and or deformity, by long term trimming and shoeing problems, or by short term trimming and shoeing problems. Now, how can trimming and shoeing problems affect the shape of the coronary band?

Next to my shoeing bays at home there is an ever increasing pile of distorted shaped horse shoes which have been removed from lame horses entering the barn. All these horses leave sound, with normal shaped hooves, either shod or unshod. And if shod, they are in machine made factory shoes, which have not been distorted to fit the hoof.

A shoe should be as light as is possible to allow the horse to move freely and do the job. However, so many are fitted with shoes that are far too heavy, and often squared in the toe and may also have quarter clips (Pics 2a and 2b). These shoes have crept into our market place over the past few years supposedly to suit the heavier warm blood types, but are far too heavy for most of our Australian horses.

Apart from the weight of the shoes, the squared toe alters the stride of the horse and the quarter clips severely restrict the expansion in the bottom of the hoof wall. They also have a nail pattern which is too close to either side of the clips and when used tends to jam that part of the hoof wall in behind the clips.

When removing this type of shoe I have noticed that the hoof is very sensitive in these quarter clipped areas and there is a noticeable distortion to the coronary band directly above them (Pic 3). The short term use of any distorted shoe shape may be desirable to counteract a hoof problem, however the long term use of such shoe shapes will cause the hoof to flare under pressure, and this will cause other problems such as cracks, hoof wall separation, abscesses, seedy toe, distortion of the lateral and medial cartilage and long term lameness.

And that’s just the fronts – the hind shoes are just as important and must be an even and symmetrical shape. So many horses are trimmed or shod and left standing with the toes pointing out or cow hocked – this causes weakness in the driving end and pain across the hips.

Once again, see what you are looking at: if the horse is standing cow-hocked the hoof will have a flare in the outside toe quarter. The inside heel will become crushed and under run and the outside heel will begin to flare out as well.

Some hind shoes are still made with the outside branch fuller than the inside branch and if we use this type of shoe we are in fact shoeing to the distortion instead of correcting it, so for the horses wellbeing correct the flares which will then allow the horse to stand straight, and then fit a balanced symmetrical shoe. It seems to be the trend also to use quarter clipped hind shoes (Pic 4) supposedly in case they screw when turning and shift a shoe.

These quarter clips inhibit hoof expansion and will eventually result in lameness. A shoe with a simple toe clip or no clip at all will not move on the hoof if it is correctly fitted to a well balanced hoof. So once again, these new trends are catering to poor shoeing practices and ultimately perpetuating the problems.

This is a bit like the chicken and the egg story – which came first? Have the horse shoe manufacturers made all these bandaid type shoes to cater for what they see are our needs, or have we the hoof carers and farriers allowed it to happen by not really seeing what the horse needs and by not insisting on using the correct shaped shoe which will enhance the horse’s performance, and not inhibit it.

SUPERSIZE

When I was a small boy, everything was large. Our house was large, my parents were large, especially my father, towering over me sternly as he lectured me yet again. As I grew, it was a bit like Alice in Wonderland – everything shrunk down in size. Visiting our old farmhouse as an adult, it was a small cottage with pocket handkerchief size rooms. I towered over Dad, and realised that Mum had never been tall anyway. But as I grew older, I found everything around me was getting bigger again. Particularly food. At the pictures I would be surrounded by kids with a four litre bucket of popcorn, washed down with two litres of Coke. Going out for a meal I would be served a soup tureen full of pasta that I’m sure 50 years ago would have fed the seven of us plus Mum & Dad. Not that any of us had heard of pasta back then.

I shoe a horse for a lovely lady and every time I go there, she gives me a ‘cookie’ to take home. Now Georgie’s cookies are a force to be reckoned with. She designed these cookies for her hungry teenagers, and one of them lasts me for morning tea for a whole week. Nearly an inch thick, and as big as a bread and butter plate, the cookies have huge chocolate chunks in them (no mere chocolate chip was ever that size), oversized fat sultanas, gallons of rolled oats, and half a cane field of sugar. I hope I don’t meet her children on the street one day; they must be seven feet tall by now.

One of my customers rang me some months back, as she had bought a ‘beautiful horse’ but he was not broken in, and would bite anything within range. I referred her to a friend who is the best breaker I know, and forgot about it. She rang me last week wanting shoes put on the horse, which was now broken in, so off I went to attend to it. Julie is a tall lady, and always has tall horses, but I was quite taken aback to meet Wally – at 18.1 hands he was a most impressive sight. He dwarfed me, and at 6 foot 2 inches that is quite a funny sight. He had been cured of all his nasty biting habits, and was now an ‘absolute pussycat’ according to John the breaker, but I soon found he had replaced it with licking.

It is quite something to shoe an 18.1 hands horse while his huge slobbery tongue is in your ear, down your back, licking your eyes and cheeks and chewing your shirt. His feet took a size eight shoe, a shoe usually only needed for a heavy horse. By the time I had finished his shoes his enthusiastic licking was running down the side of my face and dripping onto the ground.

Still on super sizing, there are many farriers, owners too, who figure that if they have a big heavy horse, he must need big heavy shoes. When I get called out because the horse has a lameness problem or a performance problem, it saddens me to see the horse has been shod in big, flat, heavy shoes, firmly nailed on with big thick nails. Have a look at a big man in the street – most likely he is wearing lightweight Italian style shoes, not hiking boots. Watching eventing recently, I was surprised to see a really good horse knock the last three rails. Casually walking past the stalls later, I saw he was shod with flat heavy shoes – he had lost because he was tired, and he was tired because of the weight of the shoes which had removed that all-essential competitive edge.

Horses don’t need thick flat shoes unless they are working horses, pulling a heavy load. Ninety nine percent of the time I use a lightweight concave shoe such as the St Croix Concorde along with a BH5 slim nail. The hoof capsule is quite a fragile and delicate construction, and there is no need to puncture it with a heavy nail. It is not the size and the number of nails which keeps a shoe on, but the balance of the prepared hoof. A heavy hand clinching a heavy nail is likely to cause pain to the horse – if the horse is tucking his toes back after shoeing, he is already feeling the pinch and that means being in pain.

Shoe size is another critical performance decision – and for most people that decision can only be made after the horse has been trimmed and correctly balanced. If the horse is tripping and stumbling, most likely the shoe size is too big. Correctly balancing the hoof often results in that same horse being shod in shoes one size smaller.

The horse’s hoof is the horse’s barometer, a bit like his eyes – lightly holding the hoof you can feel his mood, his temperament and what he thinks about you as a farrier. I have a pair of the biggest and roughest hands in the business, with skin like leather and thumbs like champagne corks, but I tell my course participants that shoeing is all about touch, and that touch is as gentle as a butterfly. Shoeing is not about banging on a pair of shoes. Shoeing is about enhancing the horse’s athletic ability, and, through that gentle touch, learning what the horse is telling you about what you are doing to him so you had better be mindful that he is monitoring your own performance too.

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TITANIUM HORSESHOES

For the past five years I have been trialling a revolutionary new horseshoe. Testing has been on selected horses in three main areas –

  • Racehorses in pre-training

  • Endurance horses

  • Warm blood pleasure or dressage horses.

The results have been quite amazing.

Imagine, if you can, finding a shoe almost as light as aluminium but with a wear factor three times as strong as steel.

Made of pure titanium these horseshoes are not for everyone until people realise their relative value to performance is really, in the end run, very cost effective.

The first test was on a racehorse in training, which by the process of elimination could only be kept sound by wearing bar shoes. He was a light framed horse with very upright pasterns, boxy feet and who trotted out with extreme action. We tried him in aluminium bar shoes which he regularly destroyed every two weeks, then he went into steel bar shoes which proved to be too heavy and caused jarring up in his joints, always just before race day.

When fitted with the new titanium shoes, this horse trained into the race completely sound, and went on to win his next three races, after which he was turned out for a spell.

I retrieved those shoes and fitted them onto two other horses with similar problems, both with positive results, and I still have those shoes, which have considerable wear left in them.

Next I found an endurance horse, quite heavy footed, which was having to be reshod far too often simply because he was wearing out shoes, thus his hoof walls were becoming perforated and weak. Fitted with wide web titanium flat shoes, this horse moved out much better, and because of the greater wear factor he was able to return to a normal reshoeing cycle.

The latest trial was on a warm-blood mare that had mild laminitis and dropped soles; she needed to be shod with wide flat shoes and under pads, always looked bumble footed and had lost her action, I suspect partly due to the weight of her shoes.

When fitted with titanium shoes of exactly the same dimensions, but not padded, the titanium shoe weighed two hundred grams per shoe, as against the steel padded shoe at five hundred grams. This mare is now working totally sound, looks like the athlete she used to be and eight weeks later there is no visible wear to her titanium fronts, but I have had to replace the steel hind shoes already. Her owner is ecstatic.

Working with titanium shoes is quite different from a farrier’s point of view. Because of its strength, titanium definitely cannot be worked cold, however it requires only about one third of the heat to attain red heat, at which time it is easier to shape than steel. It cools down like aluminium and it can be re heated and cooled as often as required and still retains its original tensile strength. Rasps do not react kindly to titanium so the shoes need to be very well fitted in the first instant.

To sum up, the titanium shoe has the soft cushioning effect of an aluminium shoe or better, and a much greater tensile strength than a steel shoe, and is considerably lighter. They can only be fitted hot, and when refitting you will notice they never warp or buckle. They are about three times as expensive as steel shoes, but can you imagine fitting a set of concave titanium shoes to a racehorse that will last all his pre-training and then be able to race in them, eliminating any interference before or after the race!!

The benefits are far reaching to every form of competitive horse sports and pleasure pursuits. And no, the farriers won’t all be put out of business, because Mother Nature makes sure that the horse’s hoof just keeps on growing.

FOOTNOTE 2014 – CSIRO scientists have custom made and 3D printed a set of titanium shoes for one Melbourne race horse in a first for the sport.