The craft of horse shoeing is centuries old and still a skilled profession today requiring considerable study and several years of apprenticeship.
The craftsmen or women that practice this profession are called farriers and their work with horses’ feet includes cleaning, filing and trimming the hooves, checking for cracks, sores or other problems and applying shoes on the horse if required.
Donnie Arnold, of Brooksville, who has been shoeing horses for 20 years explains caring for the hooves of horses is critical for their health and wellbeing.
“My grandfather was a farrier and a blacksmith,” said Arnold, “so I’ve been around farriers and horses my whole life.”
Farriers not only fit and change horseshoes but also make custom horseshoes by forging them from iron so it’s a combination of caring for horses and blacksmithing.
“Although I learned the trade from my grandfather, I also chose to go to The Brotherhood of Working Farriers school in Lafayette, GA because I thought it was important to get certification,” he said.
He is also certified as an expert farrier after training with Cytek, a European company and leader in horse shoeing research and development.
Arnold, married to Kelly, and father to two young boys, begins his rigorous workday at the crack of dawn typically trimming up to 15 horses a day; less if shoeing horses.
Farriers these days usually travel to the horses and Arnold is no exception. He drives from client to client towing an impressive customized farrier trailer behind his truck.
Once on site the trailer opens up a pair of huge gull wing doors allowing easy access to all his tools in minutes — tools like tongs, hammers, clippers, rasps, drill presses and a rack of assorted size horseshoes.
The back of the truck also opens up to reveal a portable forge that can be fired up and ready to use in minutes along with a hoof stand and anvil that looks like a flat-topped tripod.
Arnold said his clients live mostly within a 150-mile radius to his home base and includes Lecanto and St. Augustine on occasion.
Being a farrier is tough, physical work and Arnold spends much of his time stooped over, kneeling, bending and lifting up the legs of horses who often don’t want to be messed with and lean against him or struggle.
He has been kicked by horses several times and couldn’t walk for two weeks last month following a kick to his left leg. But it hasn’t diminished the love he has for horses and for his work.
“I’ve been shoved, stomped on, rolled over,” he chuckled. It’s just part of the job I do.”
Arnold explained that although shoeing a horse sounds fairly straightforward, it’s really not.
“There’s a lot you need to learn and understand like the anatomy of a horse’s leg,” said Arnold. “There’s several hundred pounds of heavy horse flesh resting on those four little hooves.”
Today, Arnold is tending the front hooves of Marlow, a beautiful gray Percheron/Quarter Horse gelding. A gelding is a stallion that has been neutered.
“I’m just doing the front feet today,” said Arnold. “The shoes on the back last longer, because horses put most of their weight on their front feet.”
Horses carry 60 percent or more of their weight on their front legs. Most horses average 800 to 1200 pounds and Marlow weighs about 1500 pounds.
Donning a large leather apron, he deftly lifts up Marlow’s right leg and removes the old shoe with a pair of large pincers, scrapes out any muck that’s gathered and looks for cracks in the hoof or signs of uneven wear.
“There’s a layer of keratin that separates the nonsensitive horn of the hoof from the live sole tissue,” said Arnold. “It's just like human toenails.”
Arnold explained how horses have hooves made of three layers - the hoof capsule is the outer layer, then there’s the sensitive laminae and the sole. The center of the hoof contains the frog or digital cushion that works like a little pump to push blood back up the horse's leg.
While Arnold is busy trimming and filing Marlow’s hoof with a huge rasp, Arnold’s son, Jesse, 11, selects a new shoe from a rack on the trailer and brings it to Arnold to measure against the hoof.
Jesse says he wants to learn the farrier trade just like his father and has already gained some experience helping his father.
Arnold sizes the shoe against Marlow’s hoof and then puts it into the already fired-up mobile forge. Just a few minutes later, the shoe is glowing orange. Arnold grabs the hot metal shoe with a pair of tongs and rests it against the pointed end of his anvil, and starts to pound the metal into the shape he wants using his blacksmith’s hammer.
After plunging the still glowing shoe into a bucket of cool water, he then presses it against Marlow’s hoof. Suddenly, a cloud of smoke rolls out and Marlow’s hoof is singed. The heat helps seal the newly trimmed hoof and Marlow hardly notices. The hot shoeing technique is used to create an even platform on which to place the shoe and it doesn't hurt the horse at all.
Happy with the fit, Arnold nails the shoe on using six special nails making sure the nails are all filed down smoothly and not sticking out from the hoof. Marlow gets a reward to eat from Jesse and trots off very happy.
A farrier plays an important role in a horse’s health. Horses hooves need routine maintenance — hooves trimmed and cleaned and worn shoes removed and replaced — approximately every six weeks. A whole set of shoes comes in about $180 and takes about 45 minutes providing the horse is calm. A horse just having a trim costs $35 and shoes are $90 a pair. Specialty shoes for navicular or laminitis can cost as much as $300.
It’s taken years forArnold to build trust with his clients on the care of their horses.
“All my new clients come entirely from referrals,” he said. “I don’t want someone who calls me just because they need a farrier, I want someone to come to me because they want Donnie Arnold.”