After putting shoes on our three horses earlier this week, my family and I spent some time enjoying the trails of the Black Elk Wilderness near our cabin. The trails of the Black Elk Wilderness are my favorite to train on- I've run over most of these on my own two feet.
However, until now, I haven't been able to share these trails with my family. They are not long distance ultramarathon trail runners like I am.
I believe strongly in wearing the appropriate clothing and gear for the task at hand. Obviously, I wouldn't dress this way going to the office or going for a trail run (it would draw a few stares however). Nor would I dress in slacks and a tie when going to a branding.
Having spent time in Nevada, the gear my horse has, the attire I wear and the style in which I ride is in the tradition of the Great Basin Buckaroo.
Most people, when they think of "cowboys" think of the rodeo or horse show crowd… two-steppers dancing around a dance floor….or "cowboys" portrayed on TV. They also usually think of someone from Texas. Although there is nothing at all incorrect about any of these perceptions- it is not the whole story of the cowboy in America.
Don't make the mistake of calling these men and women from the Great Basin "cowboys." They'll look back at you with contempt: "I'm not a cowboy, I'm a Buckaroo!"
Long before the west was part of the US, it was part of Old Spain. The vacqueros or "Californios" trained their horses in a responsive style of reining well-suited to working cattle. Their tradition had been passed on to them origianlly from the Moors. The modern reining horse is a remnant of this. However, on many ranches in Nevada, parts of California, eastern Oregon and south-west Idaho- the original tradition of the Buckaroo lives on.
In the photo above, you can get a closer look at the "double rein style" I ride in. Horses are started in a woven rawhide bosal which is slowly decreased in size as the horse is trained until it is pencil thin. The horse is introduced to the bit, in Lady's case a custom made silver spade bit.
To ride a horse in this style takes a gentle hand, calm personality and soft touch. Horses trained in this style are among the softest mouth, most responsive you'll ever be around.
No one, but no one rides Lady but me. I'm the one who trained her…so I'm the one who rides her.
Nothing personal- it's just that I trust only a very few others to be able to ride her without abusing or misusing the bit. A spade bit is a tool just like a surgeon's scalpel.In the hands of the skilled and experienced, it can enable one to do some amazing things- but in the hands of someone heavy-handed or inexperienced it could be an instrument of torture.
Nathan has been riding around our place but today was to be his first real all day ride on the trails. I wanted it to be a fun experience for him so he would look forward to doing it again,
His horse was our beloved 20 year old quarter horse gelding, Jezzy. A steady, experienced horse is the best for a young rider. When Jeanne and I spent six months riding up he Continental Divide Trail with horses and pack mules in 1998, often it was Jezzy who was the only animal to remain calm in stressful situations.
Jeanne rode our other horse: Brandy.
Although Brandy is a very good horse, she is still a bit spoiled. Sometimes she doesn't pay attention and will walk right off the trail. However, she is not mean nor does she have any other bad habits. If anything, she is very curious which sometimes causes her to get into trouble. Just like humans, no horse is perfect.
I think she simply needs some more hours in the saddle. We acquired her after our 1998 trail ride so she doesn't have the wealth of experience in the mountains that Lady and Jezzy do.
We parked our truck and trailer at the Iron Creek Trail Head and rode in on the Centennial Trail #89.
As I said, I have run on my own two feet over these trails. What still amazes me is how a trained human can actually go faster and farther than many horses especially over rough ground.
Even a slow human like me.
I could've covered these trails much faster running than riding- but I enjoyed the change of pace and spending time with my family.
We stopped to rest and eat a snack at a place overlooking Mt Rushmore.
If you look carefully, in the photo above you can see Mt. Rushmore in the background. It is the rock outcropping just over Lady's saddle that can be glimpsed between the trees.
Of course the resolution is such that you cannot actually see "George and the Boys" in this photo.
After riding on the Centennial Trail for a few hours, we did a loop back over Horsethief Trail to Grizzly Bear Creek and then back to the truck.
At one point and thunderstorm rumbled overhead. We were fortunate to not get rained or hailed on.
Nathan really impressed me.
As soon as we turned on to Grizzly Creek Trail he said, "Oh, I know this trail!" Even though he had not been within a mile of that particular fork, nevertheless, he reconized immediately what stream drainage we were in and which direction was the way back to the truck. He has an excellent sense of direction. I'd like to think he gets at least some of that from me.
The last three miles, Nathan and Jezzy lead the way. Instead of complaining about how tired he was or how long it was taking, Nathan hummed and singed and pointed out the sights.
Many adults wouldn't have been doing that at that point!
After six hours of riding we finally made it back to the truck. I estimate we went about 12 or 14 miles. It was a great ride and a great way to spend the day.
We look forward to when we can do it again.
I have a number of diverse interests beside running ultramarathons and my career as a physician. I enjoy gardening, playing my musical instruments, brewing beer and wine, fly fishing, other outdoor recreation and horses.
Sometimes, it is difficult to find the time for all of them!
Some years ago, I took a course on horse shoeing and blacksmithing at the Oklahoma Horseshoeing School. It was money well spent. Up until that point, I had ridden, chased cows, roped, and trained horses for years. However, trimming and shoeing them was something I didn't understand. So I took off a few weeks and went to Purcell, Oklahoma to learn how to do it right.
There are many individuals out there who claim to be horse shoers but who learned simply by trial and error, or by watching someone else. This can be a serious problem because unless it is done correctly, poorly done horse shoeing, can injure, or even cripple a horse.
Now that I am a farrier myself, I realize that in the past, some of the "horseshoers" I used to trim/shoe my animals, probably had limited training. Fortunately, no long term harm was done. However, now that I know how to do it myself, I would never let someone else shoe my horses, unless I had first seen their work on someone else's horse and knew they knew what they were doing.
As with any other skill, horseshoeing isn't impossible, once you know how. The key, of course, is in learning "how" and also being aware of your limitations. There is no one who is so experienced that they never have to ask for help or advice.
The following is a step-by-step description of how to trim and shoe a horse. Obviously if you are interested in doing yourself, I strongly encourage you to take a course and/or spend some time wth an experienced farrier to learn how to do it correctly.
The horse to be shod today was Jezzy. He is a 20 year old quarter horse gelding who has been in our family for years. He was my wife's horse when we rode and mule-packed from Mexico almost to Wyoming in 1998 as our 6 month "honeymoon" adventure.
Yeah, that was quite a trip.
Now that our 9 year old son is doing some more riding on his own, Jezzy is the perfect horse for him. Not a mean bone in his body, kind-hearted, calm, and experienced Jezzy is happiest when he gets a soft pat on his neck and some cookies to eat. The oldest horse is often the best for the youngest rider.
I keep most of my shoeing and trimming supplies in a horse shoeing box. Over the years, this box has been kicked, stepped on, broken apart and nailed back together.
As you can see if you look closely, sometime ago the original handle was broken. I replaced it with the most readily available replacement at the time- an old horse shoe!
I hadn't trimmed since last fall so it's a little bit embarrassing to see how badly in need Jezzy's front feet need to be trimmed.
I'm somewhat spoiled with my other horses. They have such good feet that shoeing them is easy. I barely have to take off any hoof. Most of the time, I only have to level their feet, shape a shoe and nail it on.
On the other hand, Jezzy has feet that are challenging. His feet are shaped oddly and he has a low sole, which if you are not careful, is easy to remove too much and cause lameness.
After shoeing him for years, I know exactly how to shoe him. But I'd much rather shoe one of my other horses.
No matter. Even if Jezzy might not be the most straight forward horse to shoe, he makes up for any faults by having a gentle kind heart.
Before doing any trimming, the first task is to remove any manure and debris on the bottom of the hoof with the hoof pick and wire brush.
This is important so you can see what you are dealing with and also to avoid dulling the edge of your hoof knife on stones and sand.
Using the hoof knife, the sole is removed. At first, it is difficult, especially if the weather has been dry. After some sole is removed, it starts to come off like potato peeling.
I keep my hoof knife razor sharp. That makes it work more effectively but means I must be careful to avoid slipping and cutting myself.
Once the sole is removed, it is time to use the hoof nipper to take off excess hoof wall. I trim down to the "white line" so I can see how far to trim down the hoof wall. It is in this white line where the horse shoes nails later will be nailed.
Some farriers remove a large portion of the frog (triangular portion in the middle of the hoof) but I only take off just enough to open it up and prevent thrush (a black foul-smelling hoof infection due to a bacteria). I shoe our horses not for the arena but for the mountains and prairie.
Here in the west, we tend to leave more sole and frog for additional protection on the rocky trails we ride.
Starting at the toe (middle or front part of the hoof) and working back, I take overlapping bites with the nipper, taking special care to keep the nips in a generally straight and even line.
The more accurately this is done, the less work will need to be done with the hoof rasp later.
Once the entire hoof is trimmed, the excess hoof falls off (if you were careful to overlap each nip).
Most dogs love to chew on peices of old hoof. Our dogs are no exception.
Now it's time to take the rasp and level the hoof in preparation to fit and nail on the shoe. Although this looks simple, there is a knack to it.
The heel (back) and the walls (sides) rasp down relatively easy compared to the toe.
It is important to look at your work frequently to make sure your are leveling the foot and/or taking own any excess hoof that need to be removed.
Is it level?
No, it's not!
I tip the hoof over and look down on it from exactly this angle. If you look closely, you can see that the middle is higher and slants down towards the sides. Before fitting and nialing on the shoe, this must be take down so it is completely flat.
When I was first learning to shoe, getting an "eye" for this was one of the more challenging lessons to learn. Even being off as little as a fraction of millimeter could potentially cause problems later.
After the hoof is leveled, it is time to fit the shoe. Some farriers prefer to shape the foot first and then the shoe. However, I prefer to fit the shoe, nail it on and then rasp off any flare (extra hoof wall that "flares" outward) or excess hoof wall later.
It's what works for me.
I prefer the brand St. Croix Extra-EZ horse shoes because I believe they are better made and longer lasting than the more commonly available Diamond and other brands.
The St. Croix Extra-EZ's come in fronts and backs that are already pre-shaped into a general front or back hoof shape- this means I can spend less time shaping the shoes compared to the more common keg shoes that are neither but are shaped somewhere between a front and a back.
Finally, the St. Croix Extra-EZ's are a little bit wider of a shoe than other types. This seems to provide just a little bit more protection, very important when riding over sharp rocks.
I learned how to shape shoes on an anvil, and if necessary, use my propane fired forge.
However, a few years ago I came across a horse shoe shaper called a "Pocket Anvil." Initially, I was very skeptical. I tend to be more of a traditionalist. There is something about the sound and feel of the hammer to the shoe on the anvil and sound of the "hiss" when the shoe is dipped into water to cool it off.
I did purchase a pocket anvil, despite my skepticism, mainly because it is lighter and can be packed into the mountains to shoe if necessary any shoes that are be lost while in the high country (I take special attention when shoeing so this rarely happens to me).
After using the pocket anvil, however, I've now come to prefer it. It's lighter, easier to transport and is certainly quieter than the traditional hammer and anvil.
Of course, if I have any pent-up stresses that need to expend- there's no better therapy than pounding on a cold shoe on the anvil!
I still get my old forge out if I need to make custom hand-made shoes or if I'm doing something special such as forge-welding borium onto my shoes for extra traction on ice or slick rock. I enjoy forge and anvil work.
However, when all I need to do is get my horses shod, I take the easy route. I know, I know- it's not "traditional."
Sometimes, when my goal is to get the job done, I take "easier" over "traditional."
Once the shoe is shaped to fit the foot, the next step is to nail it on. This is one of the tricky parts.
It is important to get at least two nails in to hold the shoe to the foot. If the horse lunges before this is done, the shoe can shift. It will need to be pulled and re-nailed.
I usually put in two or three nails before letting the foot down and putting it up on the hoof stand. The hoof stand is a metal stand for the horse to rest his hoof on while you work on it.
That's much easier than the more "traditional" manner of letting him rest on your knee.
With the hoof on the stand and using the rasp, excess flare and hoof wall is removed before all the other nails are put in.
I find it easier to go down with the rasp parallel to the fibers of the hoof wall instead of perpendicular across them.
After the final shaping of the foot is done, the other nails can be placed.
I usually put three nails on a side or six total and only use all eight nail holes if I need additional strength to hold the shoe on the foot.
I prefer Mustad brand nails than the more commonly available Capewell because they are sharper, softer and more easily respond to my hammer- such as when I want to drive them out of the hoof.
Nailing the shoe onto the foot is a delicate task. Special care must be taken to avoid "pricking" or nailing into a tender part of the foot.
As you can see in the photo of the nail about, one side of the nail tip is slightly slanted. This angle allows the nail to slowly come out of the hoof wall.
The nail must be placed with the angle on the proper side; otherwise it will angle inward and injure the horse than outside where you want it. I made that mistake…once when I was learning… and made a horse lame temporarily. It is a mistake I'll never do again.
Nails are started in the white line. Tap, tap, tap-slowly and carefully the nail is nailed with the shoeing hammer. Then, you can hear this betterthan I can describe it- the sound changes from dull tap to a more brighter tap- this is a signal that the nail is ready to exit the hoof.
Then I TAP, TAP, TAP- I tap harder now to drive the tip of the nail completely out of the hoof wall.
If you don't hear that change in sound when you expect it, you'd be better off to pull it and start over. Perhaps the nail is bending the wrong way and you are about to prick the horse?
As soon as the nail is nailed all the way in, the claw of the hammer is used to bend it over.
This is the part of shoeing where the shoer as well as the horse is most likely to be seriously injured. If the horse suddenly pulls its leg away from you before you have bent the nail over, it could deeply cut you or seriously injure its opposite leg.
Ouch! Those nails are sharp!
I've had nails come through the tough thick protective leather of my shoeing chaps. Thus, I bend them over immediately with a flip of my hammer to avoid injury to me or horse.
Next, using a metal block, I "set" the nails.
I hammer each nail head firmly while the other side rests on the block. This seats the nail heads in the holes on the horse shoe and firmly sets this in place.
This is one of the more enjoyable steps in the process because it is straight forward and means I'm almost done (with that foot anyway)!
The hoof is placed back up on the hoof stand and the sharp long tips of the nails clipped off.
Using a fine file, a small line is filed just under the nails. This allows for a place where the "clinches" can be bent over into.
I've heard it said that the more of a straight line the nails come out of the hoof in, the more skilled the horseshoer. Although nails in a zig-zag line hold as well as those which are straight, it looks better and the filing is easier if they all line up.
As you can see, I did a pretty good job today making them line up!
Then the clincher is used to "clinch" bend the remaining short blunt nail tips over. This is what gives them strength and holds the shoe to the foot.
After the nails are all clinched, I go over them lightly with the fine file to smooth them over and remove any rough spots.
And that's all there is to it! We're done! Or at least we're done with that foot anyway- three more to go.
In six to eight weeks, the shoes will need to be removed, the hoof trimmed and shoes replaced if needed- or left off if not.
I left more hoof wall on the inside of this foot (left side of the photo) than I would have preferred. It's subtle and I'm sure most wouldn't have even noticed it- but I do. I'll fix it next time I trim and shoe in several weeks.