June 2 , 2006
This farrier shares these tips for keeping your horse perfectly shod...
By Bobby Horecka
Balance isn't just a handy skill for staying in the saddle. It's also the key to healthy horses, Jack Henderson says.
And he should know.
As a practicing farrier for the last 48 years at his South Texas home near Floresville, Henderson says he's pretty much seen it all when it comes to shoeing horses. But what so many horse owners fail to see, he says, is that so much of an equine's health is entirely dependent on his feet.
"I consider what I do to be little more than preventive maintenancekind of like getting an oil change or new air filter on your car," Henderson said.
And like an automobile, maintaining a horse's hooves needs to be done regularly in order to keep him a fine running machine. Henderson suggests a six week tune-up on most shoeing jobs he does, simply because the hoof grows and will need adjustments by then.
Of course, just like auto mechanics, not all shoe jobs are created equal.
"Having done this so long, I've kind of become a specialist in fixing what others do wrong," he says. "But the key to everything lies in balance."
So Henderson is careful to ensure balance is kept, from measuring the slant of every hoof for the optimal 50 degree slope to callipering the cleft from hoof center to the edge of the horseshoe.
"Even after all these years, I still measure everything I do," Henderson said. "And I encourage owners to do exactly the same any time they get their horse shod. If it's not up to snuff, they should get it fixed immediately."
Although some may say they can eyeball the proper slant to perfection, the only sure method to distinguish the difference between 50 degrees and say, 47, is to actually measure, Henderson says.
By ensuring equality throughout, the horse is able to better balance his weight and maintain his center of balance. Throw the equation offeven by a smidgeand the animal could face serious injury.
Some farriers tend to carve off the heel, and some riders insist on smaller hind shoes for better traction. Neither works, Henderson says. They merely offset the balance.
Near the back wall of his smithy shop, Henderson has what he's dubbed the "Wall of Shame." There he keeps a few mementos from years past, including some truly fine examples of bad horseshoemanship.
Take, for instance, the rounded steel shoe with the thick metal bar welded across the far edge, making it resemble a lady's pump. Or the regular run-of-the-mill version with its ends turned up so that the points were cutting into the horse's foot. Or yet another, that for some reason had two-inch, heavy-gauge washers welded to the side.
"When they brought these horses out here, they could hardly walk," Henderson says, thumbing through the photo evidence of side-turned hooves and near-crippled animals he's kept track of through the years.
But with a little patience and a lot of horse sense, Henderson proudly says he hasn't lost one yet. In fact, some of those same seemingly deformed animals he's photographed years back are still in use today as active work animals at rodeos and round-ups.
Henderson learned his trade as a very young man from a master farrier in the horse-racing mecca of Kentucky. Responding to a classified ad, he scrounged up the necessary funds and wound up being the only graduate of his class of six.
"The old man that was teaching us ran everybody else off," he recalls. "They would just disappear in the night, and before I knew it, I was the only one left."
But in learning his less-than-lenient instruction, Henderson said he walked away with the knowledge that would help him craft a career. He teamed together with Cooperative Extension agents in his area recently to host horse health clinics for new and beginning horse owners.
Even the most untrained eyes can distinguish the marks of good farrier work, Henderson says.
"You just look for consistency," he says. "When I started I was always told that a good shoeing job should be little more than an extension of the horse's foot, and that's what I have tried to accomplish over the last 48 years."
To learn more about horse hoof health and the farrier trade, visit www.horseshoes.com. Included on the website are links to common horse owner questions as well as upcoming events, seminars and research projects and links to where you can locate reputable farrier services in your area.