December 12, 2003|
No business like shoe business
There is no P&S job title for what Dan White does.
Some call Dan White an "equine podiatrist," others call him a "shoer," but
officially he's a farrier. White custom-builds and fits corrective shoes for
horses at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Photo by Bob Elbert.
Yet his job descends from a trade as old as metal itself, a craft handed
down from medieval to modern, from master to apprentice.
White is a farrier. In some circles, he's called an equine podiatrist. In
others, he's known as a "shoer."
White custom-builds and fits corrective shoes for horses at the Veterinary
Teaching Hospital. Only a handful of veterinary colleges have farriers on
staff, which is one reason White's clients come from throughout the country.
The other reason?
"Dan is one in a million," said Diane Grossman, whose race horse Captain
Fina traveled from Texas for hoof care from White.
"I won't take my horse to another farrier. Not all farriers specialize in
therapeutic work," Grossman said. "Captain Fina is an extremely talented
race horse. If his shoeing isn't done right, it could end his career."
The profession of farriery nearly disappeared with the advent of automobiles
and tractors. It has experienced a revival over the past
50 years, however, with the increasing popularity of horses in sports and
shows. White's clients are racehorses, barrel horses, trail horses and
"People use horses for sports, and, like human athletes, their anatomy wears
out. It takes a toll," White said.
And it keeps White busy. Much of the year, he treats and shoes an average of
nine horses a day. His day can start as early as 6 a.m. and ends whenever
he's finished -- as late as 9 or 10 p.m. He participates in rounds with
equine clinicians and students, and sees horses the rest of the day.
White spends from 15 minutes to six hours with a horse. Most are shoed in
the stall next to his shop; others are treated in surgery while
Some days his patient load necessitates extra help from one of the 50 other
farriers in Iowa. During two weeks each year, he teaches equine podiatry to
fourth-year veterinary students.
Farriery requires skills that don't come easily. White attended farrier
school in Kentucky, then apprenticed for three years. He's a certified
journeyman farrier, the highest level of certification available. He's been
with Iowa State for five years.
"When I grew up, we could never touch a horse's feet. We always had to
consult with the farrier. Even our vet had to consult with the farrier! I
never would have guessed I'd grow up to be one," White said.
"I just wanted to learn how to
do my own horse and I kind of got carried away with it," he chuckled.
White tends to horses with laminitis (a painful disease that affects horses'
feet) lameness problems, fractures and navicular syndrome
(a common degenerative disease of
a bone inside the hoof). Each case is different and requires a distinctive
"It's a creative job. The equine clinicians and I put our heads together and
usually we can determine the best therapy and type of shoe for the horse,"
White takes the idea into his workshop and fires up a gas forge
the size of a microwave. Although the small shop houses a grinder-buffer,
drill, bench sander and electric saw, most of the tools are primitive
looking hammers, mallets and anvils.
"Many tools look the same as they did 100 years ago. The profession really
hasn't changed much," White said.
Nailing shoe is a crucial time
White begins the actual shoemaking with a lengthy, thin bar of steel or
aluminum. Using long-handled tongs, he holds the metal in the forge until it
heats to a dull red or straw color, then quickly moves it to the anvil. With
a hammer, he shapes the glowing metal into a curve the shape of the horse's
foot. He repeats the process several times -- back and forth between forge
and anvil --refining curves, punching in ridges
or hammering the crease in the shoe. The nail holes are punched last.
Nailing the shoe onto the horse is among the farrier's most crucial jobs.
Farriers are trained to know precisely where to place the nail within
an area of the hoof wall that is no wider than one-eighth of an inch. White
performs the task with confidence and skill.
White expects to be a farrier for as long as he can. Much like jumpers and
racehorses, farriers pay a price for doing what they love.
"This is a physically demanding job. Once a horse threw me down and I landed
in physical therapy," he said.
"But I really like it. There's a new challenge everyday and sometimes it's
tough to figure out," he said.
"It's pretty exciting when a horse that can't stand up when it comes in,
eventually walks and performs again because of something I did."