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Hoof Doctors

(page 3 of 3)

Lonely work

Back at Kammer’s place, Peterson has caught up on what the attentive caretaker has been seeing in his wards. Cotton, one of the recently rescued young mares, is in need of a trim, but won’t let anyone slip a halter on her. Jesse, who Kammer is going to get for Peterson, is sweet and sour as ever.

That is another challenge for farriers who often are forced to work alone. They not only have to go out and catch an unwilling horse, they then must try to find a way to make them behave without the usually calming presence of an owner.

The Romans attempted to protect their horses’ feet with a strap-on, solid-bottomed “hipposandal” that has a slight resemblance to the modern hoof boot. The nailed shoe was a relatively late invaention.

Think of a solo farrier like a daycare provider. You turn your kids over, they can spend the day wreaking havoc on the school, the teacher and the other toddlers, and yet, when mom or dad comes to pick them up, the kids must be returned smarter and unscathed and everyone else alive and unharmed.

The work can be hot as Hades or freezing. When a horse requires shoes, there is no “one size fits all.” Whereas you can decide to squeeze your foot into a half-size smaller set of heels that are well worth the blisters, a horse’s shoe can make or break its ability to function.

Once an assessment is made, the shoer selects the appropriate metal and begins to heat the forge.

The glowing red shoe is banged and bent and manipulated to the desired shape before being plunged into cold water to set the form.

Kammer leads over a beautiful dark horse with a black forelock that is long and wavy between dewy eyes. She looks like the kind of horse a model would ride in a Ralph Lauren ad. But she has a dark side that she saves for times like these.

“She just has her moods,” Kammer says. “One day she’s sweet as pie and the next she’s coming at me with her teeth bared like she wants to kill me. I think in the pasture she’s the low man on the totem pole and when she gets a chance, she picks on someone else to be lower.”

Today, she’s saved her wrath for Peterson, who takes a deep breath before approaching the seemingly calm mare. He coos to her, strokes her, lets her get comfortable with his touch before leaning down to her back feet to coax one up to rest on his bent legs and touching knees.

The other horses watch guardedly. This is because horses are herd animals and need to stay close, but it also lets them see that Peterson is not there to harm anyone.

It starts out fine, everyone seems surprised, but cautiously optimistic. She sniffs Peterson’s back and snuffles the back of his neck, she licks her lips and her ears are neither forward nor pinned back, two signs to anyone who knows horses that she is relaxed.

Come the second foot, the rodeo is on. She snaps her leg away from Peterson and tries to kick him, hard. She bites him, “Ow! Oh yeah, she got me good,” and wrestles Kammer so that they have to walk away. She stamps her feet, her ears are pinned back. She’s over it.

Peterson stands back while Kammer tries to talk her down.

“She’s got a crooked spine and she’s had a hard life so it’s hard to get mad at her,” Peterson explains, “but I’m afraid if we don’t get her done this time, she might succeed at taking my head off.”

As a last resort, Kammer brings in a bucket of oats.

“Oh yeah, just eat, babe, don’t even come up for air,” Peterson says, reaching down for the other back leg again. This time, she relents, and, another trick to dealing with Jesse is noted for return calls.

“Every time you meet up with a horse, it’s a continual effort to gain its trust to make the whole situation better for everyone,” Peterson explains. “It’s important to end things on a good note because trust, just like with people, is the basis that we do our best relationship building around.”

Before Peterson leaves, he will ask Kammer to walk the horse around so he can look for any problems and, if he’s lucky, call it a day. A smelly, sore and wearing day.

So what makes a farrier keep going against the odds?

“I had a choice—leave my dirt poor but happy life as a ranch cowboy and get a job, or try and make a real living working around horses. I might have liked vet work, but I don’t think I could handle those life-and-death decisions every day. Even my parents didn’t always understand, but, this way, I help horses, can be around them every day and support my family. Two dreams in one,” says Peterson.

Ask any farrier and he or she will tell you that working outside is their preference, the money’s not bad, but the bottom line is that there’s nothing like the outside of a horse to heal the inside of a person.

Tom Riney is a certified journeyman farrier originally from Kentucky with 36 of his 39 years of experience shoeing spent here in the Valley. He left the newspaper business, which included covering the Manson murder trial in Los Angeles, after doing a story on farriers and deciding that was a better way of life. Jennifer Liebrum left the newspaper business and ended up married to a farrier.



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