(This article appears in Issue #2 of Americana Magazine, The Great Wide Open, written and photographed by Margaret Malandruccolo)
far·ri·er — fere r/ noun: farrier; plural noun: farriers; a craftsman who trims and shoes horses’ hooves.
One day at a friend’s ranch, I was pleasantly surprised when a big white truck showed up, a guy in cool chaps got out and upon opening the side panel of his truck, revealed a large collection of horseshoes. I hadn’t really thought much about the process of horseshoeing, but I was immediately entranced and wanted to know more about the mobile farrier.
Farrier Stephen Senteney describes his truck rig as, “The best innovation they have come up with as far as shoeing horses. It’s labor-intensive work we do, and with these rigs, everything is at your fingertips, making things easier on us. This is an old profession but we have so much new technology.” Shoeing horses began thousands of years ago when horses were domesticated and used as work animals, in order to prevent them from getting sore or lame. It has been hypothesized that the Mongols in the time of Genghis Khan shod their horses, hence allowing them to travel greater distances over diverse terrain and aid in the conquering of new lands. Just from the sheer number of horses used by the Mongol forces, shoeing all the horses may have been unfeasible, but they did regard their horses in the highest esteem and with great spiritual significance. It is known that if their horses were run for great lengths and distances, wearing down their hooves, they would be given months to recover, grazing on the “steppes,” their natural environment of temperate grasslands.
While horses in the wild can run for miles everyday without need of protection on their hooves, a domesticated horse that works or competes and carries the weight of a 40-pound saddle and 150-pound rider needs the safeguard of horseshoes.
Stephen recounts, “In the wild, the hoof trims itself as is needed in its environment. There was this occasion in Oregon where a fire came through and they moved a group of wild mustangs from a soft pasture in the mountains to a lower elevation with lava rock. Taking them out of the area they were accustomed to, the horses all came up sore. They acclimate to their location, and it would take time to adapt to a new terrain.”
The horse’s hooves need to be balanced, measured, and filed down to equal height with a rasp. The hoof is like a fingernail; it grows and needs to be trimmed every 6 weeks. Stephen and fellow farrier, Chuck Esau, designed and developed the “Symetrim,” a multi-functional measurement tool to assist farriers in finding proper balance in a horse’s foot. “It takes the guess-work out of it.”
The farrier needs to have blacksmith’s skills in addition to being very knowledgeable about anatomy and physiology of the lower limbs of the horse. The horse’s job, his overall conformation, and his movement need to be taken into consideration for shaping the hoof and fitting the shoe. If the balancing and shoeing is not done properly, the horse can develop a range of problems in the muscles, joints, and tendons. Hot-shoeing is the process of heating up the horseshoe and pressing it onto the filed hoof for about 4 seconds, creating smoke and heat against the hoof, killing bacteria and getting a really good fit. There’s a lot of smoke but no discomfort to the horse since there are no nerves in that area.
When asked about the mobile aspect of his business, Stephen recounts, “It didn’t used to be like that. In the old days, this was a business where people came to you in your blacksmith shop. I’m based in Burbank, but now I travel everywhere: Malibu, Palos Verdes, Chino Hills. I’m from Montana originally and had horses growing up. I came to California on a fluke and started working with this farrier just to make enough money to get home to Montana. Twenty-seven years later, I’m still here!”