I was twenty-five when I started shoeing. After getting laid off my factory job seven times in three years after returning from the Army, I jumped ship and drove to Sunland Park, New Mexico and worked the Winter as a groom at a racetrack. Every afternoon I held horses for the farrier. When I returned home in the Spring, my Dad had bought two race horses and we had a pony horse. The closest farrier was forty miles away. When I finally got a hold of him, he said he needed six to shoe to make his trip worthwhile. We set up a date and time. He was an hour late, first stop in the morning. He shod our three head, and then I had him follow me to two more stops to shoe three more. On the way we stopped in town where he ate and drank his lunch and I got the tab. Within five days I had three shoes off, one on each horse. When I finally got a hold of him, he said I’d have to haul to his place. I said I don’t have a trailer, yet. He said I guess you’re just SOL boy. I then bought some tools from Stuntzman’s Buggy Shop and with the late Doyle Johnson’s help, I started shoeing my own horses. Word of mouth slowly picked up business for me. I was always on time, would replace a cast shoe within twenty-four hours without charge for six weeks, and if I made a mistake, I didn’t charge. When I didn’t know how to do something, I’d tell the client. I believe they will respect you more for being honest than trying to BS your way through. That will always come back to bite you.
I didn’t go to a horseshoeing school or apprentice under anyone. When I look back, I should have done both. I heard about a shoeing association in Wisconsin through the five page American Farrier’s Journal I was getting back in 1977. I then starting making the five and a half hour trip up there every month to their workshops. They also had two clinics and contests every year. There I met several seasoned farriers I could call when I needed information. I also met Duke Snyder and Bob and Jon Urich there at a contest and the wheels got rolling to start an Iowa Association. I attended my first AFA Convention in 1979 in Fresno, California. I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years going to clinics, conventions, and DVM lectures all over the United States. I would hate to guess how much I’ve spent in dollars, but it was more than worth it. I’ve never walked away from any farrier or DVM function without learning something.
I shod for five years before I had enough business to make a living just shoeing. Up until then, I painted barns and houses, pitched calf pen manure at so much per spreader load, did mechanic work all the time, and just about anything that paid a buck to stay solvent. Once I got rolling, I was shoeing mostly running Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, and Standardbreds that were bush trackers. There was the trail and back yard horses that I had been shoeing all along. Once the bush trackers dried up, Saddle Clubs were on the rise, so there was more halter, pleasure, and performance horses to shoe. I also picked up a couple big Arabian barns about this time, so things got very busy. I was also doing more than my share of draft horses at this time.
My worst experience of shoeing over the years, was the horse that flipped over and cracked her skull. We called the local vet and she took four shots to the brain before she died. Not a good day. The whole story is in my book, “Tails of a Horseshoer”. The most rewarding part of my career is what I think most of us strive for. If we can retire and still be able to stand somewhat upright, have the respect of our peers and customers, that’s about as good as it gets. I have met a lot of very nice and super good shoers over the years. I was totally surprised, honored, and humbled, to say the least, to be inducted into the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame in 2009 along with Dr. Phil Edler getting inducted into the International Equine Veterinarian Hall of Fame.
Unbeknownst to me, Roger and Carrie Alston, Dick and Jean Harris, and many of my peers in the Iowa Professional Farriers Association(IPFA), went above and beyond to get me inducted. I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for all you did for me. I am the world’s worst businessman. If someone had some bad luck, I’d shoe their horse for nothing. It’s okay to be friendly with your customers, but not friends. It’s hard to raise your rates on friends. If I had charged just one dollar more for a trim or shoe job, I’d have an extra $100,000.00 today. And if you think a customer can’t get along without you, think again. I was thirty-eight when I bulged two discs in my back after trimming seventeen draft horses one forenoon. I didn’t turn a wheel for thirty-three days. I had 224 customers on the books at that time. Not one called to see how I was going to make payments and feed the family. All I heard was, “Oh my gosh, who can I call. I have a show next weekend”. I made it through the rest of the Summer taking pain pills. I knew this was not a good thing, so come January, I made out a list of my customers and what farrier they might be compatible with, so when they called, the wife could refer them to someone. I packed up my van and moved to Texas, where horses are a business, not a hobby, and they show year round. I rented a little trailer in a trailer park, and then went job hunting. Within a week I had 275 head at the Carol Rose ranch and two other, fifty horse cutting barns, to more than keep me busy. I shod mostly cutters, ropers, and reining horses down there. Later on, customers would haul in corrective shoeing from Northern Texas and Southern Oklahoma. It was quite a change in Texas. No phone calls and not once did I get accused of anyone not placing in a contest because of my shoeing job. That was one of my pet peeves here in Iowa, every Sunday night and Monday I would get calls, “Joe Blow at the show said, if I’d shoe their horse this way or that, he might have won. When can you come reset him that way?”. That crap I didn’t miss at all. If I could rewind my life, I’d still choose shoeing for a career. Hindsight is always 20/20. I would just do a lot of things differently to save the body, and increase the savings account at retirement time.
The IPFA has to be one of the best farrier groups in the country. I’m proud to be just a small part of such a great group of guys and gals. With all the clinics we’ve had, starting with the annual South English All Around Championship with Dick and Jean Harris, clinicians from all over the country, and in house demonstrations by our members, and Tuesday Night Mini-Clinics at Roger’s, I have never stopped learning. The IPFA has helped make me as good as I can be. If I had a son or daughter that wanted to be a farrier, before I gave them advice, I’d send him to a shrink to have them evaluated. (Just kidding!) I would tell them to work hard, but smart, stay humble, and do the best you can on every hoof you pick up. God first, family second, horses last. There will always be horses, but there is only one God and one family. Unfortunately, I had these things out of order until I bulged those two discs and got a reality check on life.
The thing I liked least about shoeing was bad working conditions, cold, wet weather, and the fact that there are very few horse owners that are really horsemen. This leads to an accident just waiting to happen. People don’t realize that as much as a horse can be broke to lead, they can also learn to pick up their hoof on command. I did get a butt chewing one Sunday morning a few days after I had had a “come to Jesus meeting” with a paint horse that didn’t think she wanted shoes nailed on. The lady was getting ready for a horse show. Apparently, whenever she stooped over to apply hoof black, the horse would pick up its foot. She said, “The SOB has hoof black from her hoof to her knee. Thanks a lot.” Oh well.
I guess the thing I have enjoyed most about shoeing, was the everyday challenge of getting the most talent out of every horse I shod, whether backyard or high end. I also enjoyed trying to help lame horses become sound. I was so fortunate to have Doc Phil Edler for my ace in the hole to help and guide me along the way for the last thirty years. That makes shoeing a whole lot easier. Thank you Doc!!
There’s not a whole lot more I can tell the reader about myself, because most of you have read my book. I’ve been extremely blessed over the years and I thank God for that! Maybe someday I’ll publish, “The Rest of the Story.” Thank you!!