It has been nearly 40 years since Ross first picked up a rasp to trim a horse’s foot. That act started him on his lifelong journey to help horses. He has never stopped learning. Over the years there have been a few very influential veterinarians in his life. They have taught him, helped him and together they increased their knowledge of lameness. Here is Ross’ story.
LARRY HANSON AND TRACY PEDERSON
When Ross first came back from the Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School in 1988, he worked with Dr. Grant Royan, DVM, who was the original owner of Sherwood Animal Clinic just outside of Regina, Saskatchewan. Ross learned quite a bit from Dr. Royan who introduced him to reading and interpreting equine X-rays. Ross met Dr. Larry Hanson, DVM, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan when Larry was working for Dr. Bob Bellamy, Bellamy Harrison Animal Hospital a year or two before Larry purchased Sherwood Animal Clinic. Larry became very influential in Ross’s learning to read and use X-rays for horse shoeing. Once Larry was at Sherwood Animal Clinic, they started pursuing and learning all they could about lameness issues in horses. After a few years Larry invited Ross to work out of his clinic. They arranged that every second Tuesday clients of Sherwood Animal Clinic could make an appointment to bring their horses with lameness issues to the clinic to be first checked by Larry then trimmed/shoed by Ross. They worked together on all different types of lameness cases that came along.
Reading an X-ray during those early years was not as easy as it is today with digital cameras and laptops. When a traditional X-ray was taken it projected the image on to a piece of film. This film was then held up to a screen with light behind it so it could be reviewed. Ross would regularly drive to Sherwood Animal Clinic to speak with Larry and Dr. Tracy Pederson, DVM, who joined Larry in 2003, about the results of an X-ray. Even though Larry has retired Ross still consults with Tracy on many clients horses. Ross is very grateful to Larry and Tracy for their support and friendship throughout the years.
As technology has progressed so has X-rays and so has Ross. It is so much easier now to view X-rays. They can now be sent by email and text message to Ross who can pull it up on his phone while working on the horse and see exactly what he needs to know about the horse’s condition. The availability of X-rays is extremely helpful to any farrier wanting to provide the best they can offer to the horses they work on.
TERRY GOSLIN and Peak Veterinary Health
Dr. Terry Goslin, DVM, Peak Veterinary Health in Moose Jaw became involved with Ross when Terry was working for Dr. Bob Bellamy. Terry was a young veterinarian starting out and he wanted to learn more about horses and lameness. Dr. Bellamy asked Ross if he would work with Terry and teach him about lameness. Ross and Terry worked on a handful of lame horses but when Ross decided to start figuring out where breakover should be he asked Terry if he wanted to do the X-rays for him. Ross showed him on the X-rays where breakover was and Terry was very excited to go on this journey of discovery with Ross. Whenever there was a lameness issue they would go to the clinic or Terry would meet Ross at the Moose Jaw Exhibition grounds. They would X-ray any horse that they could and were learning everything they could about breakover, center of balance, distances and each would learn from the other. They worked together X-raying horses for several years. Terry then branched out on his own in 2012. Dr. Laurie Zemlak, DVM, BSA, began to work for Terry. She too took X-rays of horses for Ross. When Terry was busy, she would meet with Ross as she was familiar with all that Ross and Terry were doing. It was extremely helpful to have Laurie involved too. They X-rayed many horses over the next three years. They recorded what the distance that was on each X-ray and started to see a pattern in the measurements they were finding. The measurement did not vary as much as they thought it would. Terry and Laurie continued to help Ross X-ray to confirm what he was trying to do and whenever Ross had a new idea, they would do more X-rays and even today they are still X-raying. Dr. Laura Ferguson, DVM, BSc, new to Peak Veterinary Health in 2020 now works with Ross and his research. Terry has been an extraordinary supporter of Ross and his research and Ross is forever grateful for his assistance and guidance.
The CONRAD EFFECT
Ross met Dr. Conrad Wilgenbusch, DVM, DACVS-LA, from Saskatchewan at Justabouta Ranch owned by Dale Clearwater when Conrad was working there as an assistant horse trainer. Conrad wanted to improve his horsemanship skills and at the time was also a student at Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine. Conrad wanted to learn how to trim his own horses and asked Ross to train him. This was before the protypes of the COBIT (around 2006 – 2010) but Ross knew of the center of balance but not where it was. Conrad and Ross worked with that knowledge, but it was not until Ross met Terry that he pursued the idea further. When Conrad convocated in 2011, he received a one year internship at Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery in Weatherford, Texas. He then accepted an Equine Surgery Residency at Iowa State University and in 2015, he became Board Certified Equine Surgeon. He joined Momentum Equine in Sherwood Park, Alberta in 2018 and is a specialist in equine surgery and lameness.
While Conrad was in the United States Ross met Terry and the development of the COBIT began. By the time Conrad came back Ross already had a protype that he was using regularly. Ross met up with Conrad again at Dale Clearwater’s place, but this time Conrad was working as a veterinarian treating horses at Dale’s ranch. Ross showed the COBIT to Conrad. Conrad explained that the veterinarians he had been working with in the United States were finding the center of balance through X-rays by measuring the angles of various points on a horse’s foot. When Ross first showed Conrad how the Center of Balance Indicating Tool could find the center of balance in a horse’s hoof, they decided to mark the center of balance with something that would show up in an X-ray. Using the COBIT they found breakover. They then used the method Conrad had explained about measuring with angles, to find center of balance then breakover on the X-ray. They also used the X-ray to find breakover from the tip of the coffin bone and all three of the techniques came up with the same point of breakover. The biggest difference was that the other methods involved required the use of an X-ray machine but the third method was just to use the COBIT. With Ross’s extensive X-raying of sound and unsound horses he has been able to prove over and over again that the COBIT finds the center of balance and breakover correctly.
Ross and Conrad kept meeting at Dale Clearwater’s ranch, Ross to shoe horses and Conrad as Dale’s veterinarian. When they were there together, they would X-ray horses and compare and confirm what was done by trimming/shoeing a horse to what the X-ray showed to find out what was right or wrong. In the summer of 2021 Conrad helped Ross find out if the center of balance moves when a horse has long feet to when it would be trimmed up properly. Dale had a horse in bad shape that they used to work on. Conrad gave it a vet check which it failed as the horse was not sound. They decided to start with X-raying its feet before anything had been done and again at halfway through the shoeing and at the end. They compared the center of balance at each step and proved that the center of balance did not move. It did not matter if the foot was long or short.
As Ross was concentrating on breakover and center of balance it never occurred to him to wonder if the center of balance moved until Conrad suggested it. At that time Ross did not have the X-rays to prove it. Conrad did not think it should move but Ross though it would move to a small degree. After their initial experiment with the horse at Dale Clearwater’s Conrad kept X-raying and kept seeing that the center of balance did not move. Both men were very excited at this confirmation. At the time Ross was very close to the COBIT that is used today. It is amazing that even after six years after the original COBIT protype was made Ross is still learning the effects of what it can do.
It was at the end of three years since the first COBIT protype was created that Ross finally agreed that there was a common measurement in horses that two inches in front of center of balance was where breakover should be. Very early on in the process of X-raying horse’s feet it was found that two inches in front of the center of balance was correct. Terry and Ross kept checking as many horses as they could to confirm the hypotheses and each time it was correct. With this finding Terry and Ross kept X-raying horses but started to include sound horses. With this addition to their X-raying they kept confirming that two inches to breakover was still correct.
Terry and Ross started to work on how far back the heel should be. At first the thought was there would be equal distance of two inches from center of balance to breakover and two inches to the buttress of the heel. As Ross was also honing his Center of Balance Horseshoeing method, he knew from the way he trimmed and having looked at all the X-rays he had that if it was two inches from the center of balance to breakover and two inches back to the buttress of the heels the Palmer Angle would be too high. Once the Palmer Angle was set to where it should be on a healthy footed horse he found that there was two and a quarter inches behind COB and two inches to the front. There was a quarter of an inch difference between the two measurements.
It was suggested to Ross in August 2021, that if you can find breakover with the protypes why not the heel? At the time the heel was found by measuring with a ruler, two and a quarter inches back from the center of balance. After giving a lot of thought about how to adjust or enhance the COBIT to be able to measure the buttress of the heel too, Ross thought that the slot already on the COBIT could be enlarged. Ross decided to make the COBIT round so that it could be turned around with the screw always on the outside. Since the toe measurement is different that the heel measurement making the slot bigger would be the answer and that using the back of one side of the slot was the quarter of an inch difference needed. Ross had a prototype created with a bigger slot, tried it and it worked. Again, he was amazed at what the COBIT could do. Never did he think that six years later he would still be learning about his invention makes him wonder what more will it be able to do in the future.
Ross would like to thank Dr. Grant Royan, Dr. Bob Bellamy, Dr. Larry Hanson, Dr. Tracy Pederson, Dr. Terry Goslin, Dr. Laurie Zemlak, Dr. Laura Ferguson and Dr. Conrad Wilgenbusch for their support throughout the years. Their assistance has been invaluable to him.
Ross’ passion to help horses lead better lives drives his need to learn and grow as a farrier. His education in X-rays over the years has been a leading factor in his invention of the COBIT and his Ross Smith Center of Balance Horseshoeing method. The COBIT and his horseshoeing method can now be included in the arsenal of tools available to horse owners, veterinarians, and farriers and to keep up with the challenge of having horses perform at their top peak of fitness what ever that may be. All horses from the schooling horse to the top performance horse deserves to be happy, healthy and sound.