By CATHY MOUNCE, Register Staff Writer
Cooke County —
If a horse shoe is considered a symbol of luck, a farrier might be the luckiest person around. Although the profession has seen a decline in the past century, a farrier or “horseshoer” is still a widely respected individual who plays an important part in the equine world. In fact, farriers are skilled to work with any hoofed animals. Wooden horseshoes, relics of another time, have been unearthed and discovered in archaelogical digs.
Originally in small towns across America, farriers and blacksmiths were one and the same. In fact, the word farrier comes from the Latin word “ferrarius,” which means “of iron” or “blacksmith.” In pre-Industrial America, the town blacksmith would make items out of iron, including horseshoes. The blacksmith would also be the one to fit the shoes to the horses. Although making the horse shoe is an integral part of the job, the farrier takes caring for the horse’s feet to the next level.
Horseshoeing involves removing the old shoes, trimming the hooves, measuring for fit, and customizing the shoe to fit the hoof.
The Cooke County and North Texas area is known as “horse country.” Several ranches in the area have prized registered horses that require much attention to care and feeding. Many of the horses specialize in specific activities and contests.
Ranch owners know without a good farrier, a world class horse may become handicapped by problems developed from a lack of hoof care.
Keith Day is a busy Cooke County farrier.
“There are primarily three reasons to shoe horses, Correction, traction and protection,” Day noted. “With thousands of horse shoes and sizes, a farrier not only knows how to manually form the shoe but also can diagnose and treat problems of the hoof. He works with many veterinarians in the area who count on the farrier to assist with finding a corrective shoe for the benefit of the horse. Many medical problems can be corrected and treated with the right shoe and hoof treatment.”
Besides the various styles and sizes of shoes, Day’s truck is equipped with specialized tools such as an anvil and a portable forge.
His equipment isn’t cheap.
“I don’t have an office and a waiting room available so I have to bring my office to the customer,” he said. “I have to buy a $30 rasp once a week. I have various specialized nippers used for trimming hooves which cost as much as $300 each.” Boxes of horse shoes are not inexpensive items either, he said. Everything on his mobile office is used and organized for efficiency.
Day plans each week in advance, usually six weeks between visits. “Some horses don’t require shoes because they are always on the soft pasture ground,” he said. “ Trimming is still required to even out the horse’s gait. Horses that work on pavement, such as police horses, require special shoes to prevent sliding on pavement. A barium stick is fixed to the shoe and is soldered to the shoe to give it more traction.”
Day can trim up to 22 horses a day or complete shoe sets on up to eight horses per day.
Although farrier trade schools exist, Day said he thinks apprenticeship is the best school.
“In a six week training course you will never be able to learn what hard work and experience can teach you,” he said.
Day — a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — got into horseshoeing by chance. After his time in US Marine Corps, he was working at a local horse facility when met local farrier Michelle Selby.
Selby talked him into an apprenticeship with her.
“All she said I needed was a strong back and a weak mind so I fit the bill.” he laughed.
Selby has since retired from the business but Day still uses the name M&K Farriers.
Working with large animals can be a hazardous career.
“It is not a question of if you may get hurt but when you will get hurt,” Day said. “Even an animal with the mildest temperament can be startled and suddenly you are in their way. When I first started, there was a duck that flew down and brushed the ears of the horse I was working on. Scared both of us. You can’t plan for things like that.”
From Burt Reynolds “Quint” in Gunsmoke to literature, the farrier or blacksmith has been romanticized many times. The words from Henry Wadsworh Longfellow’s poem “The Village Blacksmith” still ring true for today’s farrier as he works from dawn to dusk under Texas skies. “Under a spreading chestnut tree/The village smithy stands./The smith, a mighty man is he.”