Age-Old Honor - Associate With the Best

by Dawn Jenkins

Published in the May 2001 Issue of Anvil Magazine

I look around to see nature in her rawest state. A seemingly endless blue canopy stretches to the Tehachapi Mountains in the backdrop. The great Mojave desert, barren bane of emigrants from wagon trains of old, paints the foreground. The vastness fills me with quiet awe as I go about my work: catching horses, paring out dead sole, nipping overgrown hoof wall and rasping off flares. As a farrier in Southern California, this is my day-to-day reality: relating to the environment, the horse, and the human who owns the horse.

Horsehandling. Horsetrimming. Horse-shoeing. Not to mention running the business. That's what it's all about. But how do we enrich our knowledge and skill level? How can we best acquire the inspiration, camaraderie, or honing of our skills?

As farriers, we are "one of the last bastions of American entrepreneurship," one of the few remaining remnants of the Old Wild West. For the most part, we are independent. Like the pony express riders of old, we work on our own, braving the wind, rain and elements, delivering our services regardless of age, weather, or temperament. As there is no official apprenticeship program in this country, our education is left to our own devices. Are we content with what we know now, or do we endeavor to learn more? Is it the science behind the practice that is more important to us, or is it the practical aspect itself that we crave?

Image: Bruce Daniels at shoeing demonstration

"Why is there so much emphasis on the lectures, the science, at the Convention?" came the question at the American Farriers general membership meeting. "We want to see more good, old-fashioned horseshoeing at the event." This year's convention strove to showcase more old-fashioned horseshoeing by offering a live demonstration by Myron McLane and Bruce Daniels in the exhibition hall Saturday afternoon. Hopefully, the tradition will continue, and that more of our most beloved and respected professionals will be given the chance to impart the insights of their hard-earned years of experience. For many of us these demonstrations are part of our apprenticeship, and one of the reasons we attend AFA events. After all, the AFA is just a bunch of us: American farriers, East Coast to West, and everything in between, including Alaska, Hawaii and all the international folks, as well, all associating and interacting with each other.

Associate: To connect, combine, join; to join as a companion, partner, colleague, friend; united or related by the same interests, purposes (from Webster's Dictionary). This means we share something in common with one another, like the elation of getting the job done, the frustration of working with a sour horse, and the exhaustion of a sore back and tired bones at the end of a long day. It is also sharing joy when things go right and anger when things go wrong.

I enjoyed meeting some of the more seasoned farriers at the convention, the ones who have been shoeing horses and survived, and who have somehow made the exhausting work of farriery their lifelong profession. They `walk the walk,' and have beaten the odds of attrition. It is gratifying to seek them out and learn from them; they are the heroes of our field-the top of the heap-and their knowledge of the craft is unparalleled.

Image: Myron McLane at shoeing demonstration

One of these is Henry C. "Arky" Pillsbury from Florida. He is 84 years old and still shoeing horses. His eyes sparkle and his kind manner and interest in life belie his age. I was fortunate enough to meet Arky on the shuttle bus, by chance, on the way from the arena after viewing the shoeing contest. Fate put us together again at both the banquet and on the airport bus as we left Kansas City, and I now count Arky as a friend and an associate on a par with my uncle, Ink Knudson, of California, to whom I owe my shoeing career. Ink is 75 and has shod horses for over 50 years. I would have never succeeded in this business without Ink's patient tutelage. He is always a phone call away, as Arky is now.

Arky, who was honored with his recent induction to the International Horsehoeing Hall of Fame, was in the audience and proudly stood and beamed his broad smile to the crowd's applause as Myron McLane, from the front of the exhibit hall, acknowledged his accomplishments. Bruce Daniels, a long-time farrier, was also there. When asked how it is to shoe when growing older, Bruce Daniels, age 69, replied with a wry smile: "You just shoe fewer horses and get better looking!" Myron, age 56, added with humor, "Hopefully, you get more efficient-you finally figure it out, and then you can't do it anymore!"

Bruce explained how he "worked in his own little world" until he started contesting, and inferred that his work became more fulfilling as a result. What did he do? He associated. He suggested that the older shoers take on a younger farrier for a month to train, in order to pass on the knowledge they have garnered. "The goal is to be able to be proud of your work," said Myron. "I never shod a horse I was really happy with," Bruce remarked. "You have to watch out going around and swelling up [about yourself]."

Shoeing Tips from Bruce Daniels and Myron McLane

 Preparing the foot, sight from above and look for a concentric circle within a circle (coronet band within circle of hoof wall).

 Bruce suggests, when holding the horse's leg, start out where the horse is comfortable and `sneak up' to where you are comfortable. (Bribes work, too.)

 Before doing anything,, look carefully at the foot! That little piece which you think is high might be the only good piece of wall to nail into.

 Consider the shape and characteristics of the foot. Toe: pointy or not? Quarters: straight? Remember in your mind where the bends are, e.g., lateral side bend is forward of medial side.

 Two men (or gals) working together can shoe more horses (and it's more fun!).

 To save a step, use your hammer at the anvil while the shoe is hot to box the lateral heels, rather than rasp or grind.

 Don't knock your clip back; instead, knock the outside corners in, at the base of the clip, while hot. Then look for the burn mark of the clip all the way up.

 Use a stall jack for quick adjustment while under the horse to save time and trips to the anvil-Myron uses one daily.

 Keep it HOT! Always have hot material to work with-not cold! (Over the years you'll appreciate this.)

 Bruce reminds us to clean the holes out of the shoes before going to the horse- you don't want to discover a hole is plugged after you have five nails in.

 Myron draws his clips staggered, with medial clip between holes one and two, lateral between holes two and three. This way the shoe grabs onto the foot and stays on better for nailing.

 Bruce doesn't like using a gouge: he used one on some carriage horses and they looked great, but the next time he went to shoe them he couldn't get the shoes off and "the holes in the hoof walls looked like the horses had termites."

 Placing your pritchel in the left side of the shoe leaves your right hand free when carrying the shoe to the horse.

 If you need to set a hot shoe on the ground, stand it up with the heels on the ground, propped up using the pritchel (which makes a triangle and is stable).

 Gently scorch or singe the shoe; don't burn it in.

 Beware of synthetic hoof repair material. Don't grind, or the residue will hurt your lungs. Don't hot fit or the fumes can cause you to pass out.

 Box the shoe if the fit is full. (Myron likes a full fit, especially on the lateral side.)

 When hot rasping, use the whole file, and keep your tongs in your hand for efficiency.

 "If six nails won't hold `em, neither will ten nails." Often five are enough, especially with clips. (Myron rarely hammers a heel nail on any foot.)

 Hammer the nail near the side clip first. Don't drive the first nail all the way home, in case you have to change something.

 Be sure to stock lots of varieties of shoes in order to fit horses properly. Be prepared to modify keg shoes with extra nail holes.

 When doing a shoeing demonstration out of town, be sure to bring your own driving hammer, apron, and hoof knife. It's awkward using someone else's tools, especially the driving hammer.

 Younger farriers: work with an older, more-experienced farrier for a month to learn as much as you can from him.

 When things go wrong, there is almost always a way to fix them.

Remember to keep your sense of humor, as Bruce and Myron have. One of them even broke into a cheerful whistle. Take a moment to stop, look, and appreciate your surroundings and the freedom you enjoy as a farrier. Remember, there are farriers working this very day with substandard tools, crafting shoes out of scrap bits of steel and pieces of rebar. Some of them are so poor that they work in their bare feet. As for those of us more fortunate, enjoy it, and make the most you can from the many and varied resources available.

Captions Bruce Daniels at shoeing demonstration Myron McLane at shoeing demonstration

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