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The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world. SavvyExacta is a lifelong animal enthusiast with more than 20 years of experience with horses. Freckles (an English setter) is a frequent topic on the blog. Other CR4 bloggers occasionally add great posts.

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The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

Posted June 21, 2010 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

A farrier is an equine professional that trims, balances, and shoes horses' hooves. It is not quite the same as a blacksmith who makes the shoes; however, most farriers shape shoes to the hooves of the horses. Wouldn't it be nice to have custom-made shoes every month?

Kurt Klein has been a farrier for nearly 40 years, and despite the hard work, still enjoys his job. Klein was always interested in working with horses, so in 1971 he traveled from upstate New York to Virginia where he spent 12 weeks in farrier school. Upon completion of his studies, he apprenticed with the school owner's son for two years.

Tools of the Trade

Klein drives a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, the back of which is a portable workshop custom-built to his specifications. The doors on the sides and rear swing up when he is open for business. A forge swings out to heat the shoes and an anvil is placed on the ground to shape them. On one side is a drill press to put holes in shoes that will need studs (like athlete's cleats), a vise, and torches for applying tungsten carbide (this provides extra grip for winter shoes).

A small cart is easily taken from the rear of the truck to the horse. The cart contains various tools needed to work on the horses' hooves, a leather cutter (for horses that need pads for support), and hoof medications. "I carry an array of different shoes, in different metals and different sizes, for different applications," said Klein. There are also horse shoe nails for fastening them on. Last but not least are Klein's leather work apron and a hoof stand for the horse to rest its foot while it is being worked on.

Heavy Lifting

Klein's average day lasts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. including travel. During that time he normally works on 4-to-10 horses per day.

His clientele includes all breeds of horses, but he's been working on a barn with Clydesdales for 30 years. Each Clydesdale weighs nearly 2,000 pounds and it takes about 45 minutes to trim and shape its hooves. These are the largest of the horses among his approximately 100 human clients – and most own more than one horse.

Watch and Learn!

Click the link below to watch Klein demonstrate how to trim and shoe a horse's hoof!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUpDpFoSegw

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#1

Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/21/2010 7:03 AM

" ... the link below ..."

????

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#2
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/21/2010 7:38 AM

My apologies - the video is coming! YouTube isn't being the most cooperative.

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#6
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/22/2010 5:51 AM
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#7
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/22/2010 8:58 AM

Never saw anything like that. It was like watching a very patient Bomber getting a pedicure.

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#8
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/22/2010 9:27 AM

Bomber is a VERY good boy. Unfortunately, there are a lot of owners who don't train their horses to stand nicely. Some bad habits include leaning on the farrier, yanking a hoof away, dancing around (refusal to stand still), and of course general bad habits like kicking and biting.

Farrier work is pretty hazardous! That farrier has had surgery a few times for wear and tear but hasn't had a lot of major injuries over the years.

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#12
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/23/2010 8:08 PM

When I still associated with my half brother I was looking into learning how to shoe his horses. I found a book written by an old farrier who described how to re-train a horse who was tough to shoe.

The first thing you had to learn was how to shoe without hurting the horse, then convince the horse to trust you.

One story in the book where the owner said to shoe one horse, they had to pretty much tie it up completely. They said it wouldn't come near enough to catch if it thought it was getting shod. The old farrier took all this in, left most of his tools in the truck and went into the horse pen...and ignored the horse. The farrier explained later that being very proud but also inquisitive, being ignored would surely pique the curiosity of the horse. When it finally came over to check the farrier out, he talked to it and calmed it then started checking out it's hooves gently and tapped lightly with the hammer. By then, the horse was curious enough to see what the guy was going to do, so he used the tools to clean up the hooves then went away. Because the experience was pleasant for the horse, it was not skittish when the farrier returned later and he wound up shoeing it with no problems. He taught the owner to make sure that horse only experienced good farriers and he would have no more problems.

I have not had too much experience with horses, but I have seen that inquisitive nature when I have been working or looking around their pens.

Drew

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#13
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/25/2010 2:15 PM

Great story Drew. These are some of the keys to "natural horsemanship" - some theories that are used in training horses.

Horses are very curious. I'm not sure if you watched the video I posted but that horse kept trying to nibble on the hoof stand and sniff the farrier's tools. (Despite the fact that the farrier is his owner and he's very well accustomed to all of that equipment!)

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#3

Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/21/2010 9:44 AM

Hi Savvy,

I find this very interesting since the topic is totally new to me. So I have some questions, which I hope aren't too elemental for the equine ethusiasts on CR4.

applying tungsten carbide (this provides extra grip for winter shoes).

What is he applying the tungsten carbide to? Is the basic footwear metal always the same?

array of different shoes, in different metals and different sizes, for different applications

Can you give some examples? How would you shoe a horse for, say, work or riding in the desert vs. temperate vs. tropical area? Obviously a racing thoroughbred would be shoed differently than a Clydesdale or a quarterhorse---can you touch on that too?

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#4
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/21/2010 12:50 PM

Tungsten carbide, known to horse owners as Borium, is what gives winter shoes their grip and traction. This helps horses avoid slipping on ice and other slick conditions. (It is not meant to be used in non-winter conditions.) It is applied to regular steel horse shoes.

The most common materials for shoes are steel (most horses) and aluminum (some performance horses and race horses). Aluminum shoes are more lightweight. Some horses also use glue-on plastic shoes; these are reserved for cases where nails cannot be driven through a fragile hoof wall.

Since I've never lived in the desert I can't say how shoeing is different there. In NY, we take a few approaches to shoeing:

  • Shoe as needed for summer based on what type of work the horse does as well as its conformational needs:
    • No shoes (barefoot) if simply turned out to pasture or the horse has great, strong hooves
    • Steel shoes in front for basic work
    • Steel shoes all around for normal work
    • Steel shoes with pads or clips for corrective/supportive purposes
  • Shoe or leave barefoot as needed for winter:
    • Barefoot if it's safe
    • Steel shoes with tungsten carbide (Borium) if turned out and/or ridden in icy conditions
      • Add pads to pop out snowballs if conditions warrant it
      • It's not safe to leave regular steel shoes on if the horse goes outside

I've already touched on shoeing for different types of horses a little bit. Here are a few more notes:

  • Racehorses are re-shod (known in the equine world as "re-set") more frequently than the average horse. Most get a new set of shoes on race day. They usually wear aluminum shoes and there are various configurations depending on race-day conditions.
  • Draft horses wear shoes depending on the type of work they do, just like any other horses. If they are just hanging around the farm they may not need shoes. If they are in parades orworking over pavement they will need shoes to protect their hooves. Draft horse shoes obviously come in much, much larger sizes. To give you an idea - my pony wore size 000 and my Quarter Horse wore size 3; drafts often wear sizes 4 - 8.
  • The average riding horse gets a new pair of shoes every four to six weeks. Some horses only need shoes in the front; others need them all around. I had one horse (the Quarter Horse) that needed eggbar shoes in the front with pads beneath them because he had a condition called navicular. He wore regular shoes on his rear hooves.

Wow, I practically wrote a second blog entry here! If there's enough interest I can write another part to this.

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#5

Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/21/2010 2:52 PM

I have done a lot of riding back in my school days, but never knew that horses got new shoes so frequently.

We were taught to inspect the shoes though, and groom the hooves with a brush to get mud out of the middle. We used the same position that I've seen a farrier use, the horse's knee held in your lap or against your thigh, so the hoof is turned upward.

I guess the frequent new shoes also explains why I always found a half dozen horseshoes in the pickup loads of stable manure I used to buy when I was farming. Those shoes appeared to be iron though - they were certainly well rusted.

I did find an aluminum one once, but I thought it was some kind of a joke - an ornament or something. Now I realize the guy who sold me the manure wasn't kidding: he claimed it would make things grow really fast, because it was racehorse manure!

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#14
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/25/2010 2:17 PM

That cleaning is called "picking out" the horses' hooves and the tool used is a hoof pick. Sometimes you use a small brush to clear out the extra dust/mud. This cleaning is usually done at least once a day to check for missing or loose shoes. It is also done to remove stones that may be lodged beneath the edges of a shoe. Once when I was cleaning a horse's hooves, I discovered that HALF of one of his shoes was missing! That was pretty strange.

Shoes can be reused (reset) on a horse's hooves once or twice. Once they show signs of uneven wear they must be replaced. Racehorses almost always get brand new shoes.

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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/22/2010 12:12 PM

Back when I first started beating on iron I looked into the farrier trade by helping a buddy of mine shoe a few horses. Most of those horses did pretty good and did not act up but there was one that was crazy as a bed bug. My buddy has shooed horses forever and is very good with horses but he had his hand full with this idiot.

That horse tried everything on my buddy he crapped on him, bit him and kicked him at least 3 times before my buddy calmly put his tools down and called the owner over and discussed the situation with him. He told the owner the horse was useless and wasn't worth the labor and materials it takes to shoe him and it would cost more if he kept on going. The owner said something that I didn't hear and my buddy went back to work so I assumed he said ok about the extra charge.

Well sure enough the horse tried to kick my buddy right off and when he did my buddy drew back and kicked that horse so hard I think it hurt me. By buddy pick up a pc of 2x4 and showed it to the horse. tapped him on the forehead and told him one more time and he would use it on him, and I think the horse understood him because he settled down and got his shoes after that.

It takes a special person to make a horse mind and many people say they can that really do not have a clue. The smart horses are easy to work with, it is the half wit horses that can spot this a mile away and although they may be stupid they will test a farriers skill. It was this day when I decided to become a welder and do a little blacksmithing on the side as long as it doesn't envolve shoeing a horse.

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#10

Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/22/2010 3:37 PM

Yes, this is interesting.

I recently have been reading a book about a "famous" horse that most people have never heard of. The book is entitled, "Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America." If it weren't for a couple of talented farrier/blacksmiths (this seemed to be combined talents in some cases), Dan Patch might never have achieved what he did. I won't spoil the book for anyone who might have an interest in this. You may find it in a local library or through inter-library loan. I also saw it for sale for $0.01 via Amazon.com sellers. Even if you don't have an interest in horses, per se, it's still a good read.

I think we've lost a lot in our culture by letting knowledge of older crafts and trades slip into the past. Developing a physical skill, such as this, brings a satisfaction that mastery of bookish "knowledge" can't equal. The older I get the more I'd rather have the "older" times vs. modern times. I think since the industrial revolution, each generation begins to feel this way as they age because the simpler life is the more you are in touch with the earth and nature. This is what many people find by taking camping vacations in our national parks. The more you are in touch with your environment, the better chance you will respect and care for all life forms in it.

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#11
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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/22/2010 6:24 PM

Being involved with blacksmithing and modern welding most of my life I have equal respect for the old time blacksmith that had to do everything by hand in the old days as well as the modern day welder and guys like myself who will use about anything I can get my hands on to make working iron easier.

What tends to make me mad is a smith that gets all upset to see me weld with an arc welder, use a grinder or drill press or any other modern tool along with a hammer and a forge to create a piece instead of spending hours to beat the hell out of it and get the same results. To me there is no other two trades that compliment each other better than modern welding with power tools and old time blacksmithing hammering at the anvil/forge as long as the end result is good quality.

I have had some pretty heated conversations after some new wave smith tries to say something I created is inferior to their's because I did not forge weld two parts together but chose to arc weld it instead or if I drill a hole instead of beat a darn hole into it piece. The thing is that welding, grinders and other power tools were developed IMO because blacksmiths needed better ways to do their job and make a decent living.

I only knew one or two real old time blacksmiths that did the trade to make a living and these guys used anything they could get that would make work easier. These smiths were not worried about art (although they were true artists)or what anyone would think but more about creating a quality item so they could feed their families.

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Re: The Life of a Farrier: Physically Challenging; Mentally Rewarding

06/25/2010 2:20 PM

I had a Dan Patch Breyer horse growing up. I know something of the story but not being a fan of Standardbreds, I hadn't read the book. Maybe I will this summer...

I agree with you about the older trades - although I doubt farrier work will slip away. The horse industry will always need someone to work on equine hooves.

But many these trades require a lot of time and practice to learn the necessary skills. Some people would rather go to college (if required) for a few years, "learn" the minimum, and get a job where they can get by doing the minimum until retirement.

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