Fads in horseshoeing come and go, and you wonder how some of them ever came into vogue in the first place.
When I first saw the Cytek shoe, I thought, “Here we go again!” and dismissed it. But the shoe didn’t go away. In fact, to my surprise a few horsemen whom I respect gave it a try and stuck with it.
When I heard about a Cytek farrier’s training clinic in Charm, Ohio, I decided to attend. (Yes, there actually is such a village, and all the children there go to Charm School and it shows.)
In fact, the farrier, Ray Raber and his brother, Joe, are about as charming a pair of cowboys as you would ever care to meet.
I’m no judge of character, but I felt very comfortable with these guys the moment I drove into their yard and saw their calf roping dummy. It’s the kind where you rope the back legs and lay the calf down without wringing its neck.
The right way to do some things may take a little more effort, but these guys are of that sort. That’s probably one of the reasons they are into Cytek shoeing.
Ray was resetting the Cytek shoes on a teenage girl’s pony when we arrived. The beauty of the shoe is you can get eight, ten, even twelve weeks between resettings, and they can be reset two or three times. With drill tech, maybe more.
The pony was in great shape with good care and regular use, and its shoes showed a lot of wear. But the nubbed off toes of the pony’s feet were in sharp contrast to the long toes I’m used to seeing on light horses. It was the young lady’s transportation and she didn’t always stick to the roads.
A well-made little horse to start with, Ray pointed out the quality of the hoof and the evident good circulation as he trimmed, reset the shoes and sent the young lady on her way.
I didn’t see the pony come in, but I liked what I saw leaving. It seemed to have a little shorter stride and a quicker breakover than expected, but it had its feet well under its body and carried its rider well. Obviously a naturally athletic horse with quick reflexes, I wondered just how much those Cytek shoes had to do with its performance? It was certainly not a horse for an inexperienced rider, but with the breakover where it should be, it moved beautifully and I’m sure it was a much safer horse for the young lady who wouldn’t hesitate to travel the way the crow flies.
I had read the literature on the Cytek shoe and knew a little bit about it before I met Ray.
The shoe is not the work of any one person but evolved from the experience of horsemen over the last twenty years or more in Russia, Europe, England and a lot of other places where they had chronic hoof problems and were looking for causes and solutions.
Somebody noted that the feral and wild horses of the world do not suffer the many hoof ills that domestic, rim-shod horses are subject to. It was also noted that they have healthier hooves that wear differently. The feral and wild equines, unprotected by the rim shoe, wear their hooves back from the toes, even rolling the toe over. This leaves them standing more upright on round rather than oval-shaped hooves with the long toe.
Taking a cue from nature, the Cytek shoe, with its straight toe, is more nearly round rather than oval. Being about a quarter-inch thick, the metal all around is also wider, giving better support to the foot. The squared toe is positioned at the apex of the frog to support the coffin bone at the weight-bearing part and proper breakover point of the foot. And the toe is free to wear, maintaining balance and the same breakover point.
And since all horses’ feet are made the same physiologically, the Cytek is a cold shoe that is fitted to the foot with no adjustments to conform to any malformations of the foot. Without restrictions and with better support of the foot, circulation is improved and with it vanish a lot of foot problems.
The shoe was brought to Ohio three years ago by Felsen Diemling from England, where it is manufactured.
Diemling, who married an American girl in England and now lives in Dover, Ohio, met Rick Stevens soon after arriving in this country.
Rick had nearly three decades of experience as a farrier. You have to be pretty well put together to last that long in the trade, but he has worn well. He claims his only regret is that the Cytek shoe didn’t come along thirty years ago.
Rick loves horses, most horse people, and he enjoys the work, but he was becoming frustrated with the trade because of his inability to resolve too many of the chronic hoof problems he was running into. Conventional rim shoeing wasn’t doing the job as far as he was concerned and he was ready for a career change.
When Diemling approached Rick with the Cytek shoe, had he not been desperate for a solution to some of his problems, he too, might have rejected it. But under the circumstances he had nothing to lose, so he listened to the man and liked what he heard and saw.
That was three years ago. Today Rick Stevens is one of those fortunate people who has found his niche in the world and wakes up every morning knowing that he will go to bed at night a hero for having helped an animal avoid pain and live a useful, productive life.
I have met Rick at two Cytek training clinics and have spent quality time down on my knees under a horse with him learning some of the finer pints of how a horse’s running gear functions. It was time well spent.
The first Cytek-trained farrier in the U.S., Rick now spends much of his time traveling around the U.S. as a National Cytek Training Farrier.
Felsen Diemling doesn’t fit the mould of the usual American Farrier. Slightly built and studious looking with a distinct British accent, he is a good instructor, but when he takes up a horse’s foot, trims it and nails on a shoe, you realize that here is somebody well-schooled in the trade.
This becomes very evident when Felsen conducts dissections of horse feet and legs to demonstrate how the foot and leg functions and to recognize the damage to the foot and leg from various causes.
Felsen and Ray try to collect legs at the killers from horses they have a little history on and can demonstrate definite injuries or other problems a farrier is apt to run into–a postmortem that everybody learns from.
You don’t have to attend many of these Cytek shoeing clinics to realize that there are a lot of horses out there with foot, leg and even shoe-related back problems that the equine world doesn’t know how to address.
Here in Amish country, I spend a lot of time behind horse drawn buggies and I see a lot of different action going on with those feet. There are “wingers” and “paddlers” and the others with feet flying in all directions. It’s a wonder they don’t just fly off from tissue fatigue. Most are running true when just shod, but as that toe goes out and the shoe gets hauled forward, things seem to get out of balance.
If you have ever seen a foreleg of a horse dissected to expose all those intricate ligaments, muscles and nerves and blood vessels, it’s not hard to understand how a lot can go wrong when a hunk of steel is nailed to a horse’s foot and is allowed to grow out and cause the foot and leg to become unbalanced.
At these Cytek training clinics, people are invited to bring in horses to be shod. It allows the farriers an opportunity to see just about every foot problem imaginable. Some are obviously the victims of backyard farriers and the horses are nearly crippled. Others have been under the care of reputable farriers and still have problems that haven’t been corrected. With photographs and x-rays, progress over extended periods of time can be followed and it is amazing to see horses recover from contracted heels and other problems.
I have learned to spot a Cytek shod horse at quite a distance and have gone out of my way to talk with several Amishmen who were using them on their buggy horses. They are all happy with the shoe. One had a problem with the shoes being set too far back at first, but that was corrected and they have had no problems since.
No complaints, but, with a grin, one told me that it was ugly at first glance and the “esthetically sensitive” might not appreciate it. I know what he means.
Ray has a client who is into dressage in a big way and wouldn’t use anything but Cytek shoes. Another dressage trainer who never worked with Cytek-shod horses will not allow one on the place because of the nubbed off toes. They don’t look right and that’s enough for him.
At present, Cytek shoes are available in sizes from 3-1/2” to 6-1/4 “ in quarter-inch increments. Many feel there is a need for one eighth inch increments and that may be on the way. They are of cast steel or aluminum.
A young neighbor, Ely Niesley, who grew up on a horse powered farm, took up Cytek shoeing in hopes of finding solutions to just a few of the problems he has run into in his short lifetime.
The son of a school teacher, Ely grew up with good learning habits, is quick to analyze a situation and saw how to solve some of his shoeing problems with draft horses. Although the Cytek shoe has not been used on the slower moving draft horses to any extent and are not manufactured in draft horse sizes, Ely made a set for himself. Cut from quarter inch steel plate with welded caulks and drill tech, they are formidable pieces of hardware.
I was there when he put them on his Percheron mare. She knew she was wearing something different and soon got used to them. But would they help her haul logs over wet, snow covered hills? That was the big question.
After a day or so to get accustomed to the new shoes, Ely took her and a gelding into the woods. A half foot of wet snow greased the logging trail and balled up under the horses’ feet. This is not going to be a good trail, I thought to myself as Ely hitched the team to a log.
I was sure the snow would pack around the bar on the Cytek shoe, but it didn’t happen any more than on the rim-shod horse. On this day it wasn’t sticking enough to bother, but the mare was dropping the smaller snowballs.
How high to nail the shoe and what type of nails to use were some questions Ely was working out with the new shoes. He would take a couple of months working with them before he started seeing the improvements he was looking for. Here five months later the shoes have been reset several times and the mare’s feet are showing improvement. He figures it will be a year before he has the results he is looking for, living proof on the hoof.
Closer to home, my daughter’s Haflinger stopped losing her shoes in the mud by the pond after being switched to Cytek shoes. They never were able to keep rim shoes on the horse for more than a month, but after eight weeks the Cytek shoes were still tight when reset.
It’s a little early in the season to check her swimming stroke, but Terry is quite pleased with everything else she is seeing. But she, too, wants to wait and see just how much the hooves improve over the next year. Soles that were subject to stone bruising are thicker due to improved circulation and the whole foot is stronger and of better quality.
In three years, the number of Cytek farriers in Ohio has grown to over 100, and Rick Stevens, Felsen Diemling and Ray Raber conduct Cytek shoeing clinics all over the Midwest and into the South. They truly believe this is an improvement over the rim shoe and are having fun spreading the word.
Of the two dozen or so light horse owners using Cytek shoes that I talked with, none have any complaints and intend to stick with them. A few buggy horse owners claim radical improvements while the riding horse owners feel their horses have their feet under them better and are less apt to stumble. Some are simply taking a wait-and-see attitude with the shoe that can go two months or more between resetting. Too many rim shoe farriers dislike that idea with a passion bordering on hatred.
I’m for anything that will make the life of a horse better, and I believe these guys do have a better horseshoe. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.