Farriers make sure local horses get the right touch for their hooves
Tom Crader and Jerry Volk think they have the perfect job. The Oregon City men shoe horses for a living.
Crader went to school for a year and a half to learn the trade. Volk is self-taught.
Crader said he had ridden bulls for 15 years and traveled around the country with rodeos. Then he heard about horse shoeing, thought it sounded interesting and attended farrier school in Southern California. He returned to Oregon City, his hometown, and has been plying his trade for the past 20 years.
Farrier is the technical name for those who trim hooves and shoe horses, Crader said. The word comes from the Latin word ferrum, or iron, because originally farriers were also blacksmiths, making horseshoes from scratch.
Farriers buy ready made shoes now, but otherwise, 'things haven't changed in 300 years,' Crader said.
'I learned in the barn by starting out doing my own horses,' Volk said. 'I had friends who were farriers and they showed me how to do it. Then people started calling me up asking me to shoe their horses. I've been at this about 20 years.'
Both men said they enjoy being self-employed and working outdoors with horses and their owners.
'I like the freedom of going from one place to another and most of my customers I've had for 18 to 20 years, so I visit with friends all day long,' Crader said.
'I like the satisfaction I get from doing a good job on a horse,' Volk said. 'I grew up around horses.'
The summer months are their busiest time, when most people put horseshoes on for riding, but the men stay active year round, since horses' hooves need trimming every six to eight weeks.
'People who ride pull the shoes off in the winter, it saves money and lets the foot grow back to its normal state,' Volk said.
Horses often wear shoes to protect their feet, but in some cases the animals wear shoes for corrective measures, due to illness or sickness, he said.
Crader works exclusively on horses, while Volk has shod donkeys and mules, and has trimmed the hooves of goats and llamas.
Trimming and filing
Last week, both men were lucky to be working outside on cool but sunny days. They donned their leather aprons, set up their anvils and pulled out large rasps and huge plier-like nail cutters to file, trim and even up the hooves.
Crader stopped at Jay Main's place on Ferguson Road in Oregon City to get JR, a quarter horse, ready to accompany his owner on a hunting expedition.
'JR is 16 years old and when we go elk hunting, he packs out what we get,' Main said.
It is important to trim the horse's hooves regularly, Crader said, 'because it balances their feet and keeps them nice and level; it also keeps their bones in line. We start trimming them as babies, so they get used to it.'
He added that he does nail the shoe onto the hoof, but this does not hurt the horse, because the hoof is made from fiber; it is similar to trimming a toenail.
'He never flinches, so it can't hurt him,' Main said, noting that he's known Crader for many years, and he likes working with him because 'the shoes stay on and the horse is not lame when he's done.'
Volk was called to a farm that was also on Ferguson Road, but owner Claudia McAllister did not plan to take 14-year-old Synamin hunting.
The pinto, half-Arab horse simply needed her front hooves trimmed and reshod, she said.
'She's barefoot in back, because she is not being used a lot. She does have shoes on her front feet, because she has a condition; the soles of her front feet are pretty thin and she would be uncomfortable without shoes,' Volk said, adding that horses carry 60 to 70 percent of their weight on their front feet.
Volk removed about half an inch of excess hoof. Horses' hooves grow about a quarter of an inch in two months.
'The hoof is a marvel of mechanical wonder,' he said, as he filed Synamin's front hooves, to make them even, before nailing on her new shoes.
A PVC pipe splint
At their busiest times, the men can work on four or five horses a day, more if they need to. So in 20 years, Crader and Volk have experienced 'a lot of bad horses that don't want shoes put on - it can be knock down, drag out,' Crader said.
He isn't kidding, recalling one horse that made its anger known by knocking down some board fences.
'A crowd came around; they knew something was up. That horse was difficult to shoe,' he said.
He has fond memories of shoeing horses that were in Pasadena's Tournament of Roses Parade and Portland's Rose Festival Parade.
Volk also has a memorable story, and his only regret is that he did not get photos of the process he used to help a colt with a broken leg. One of his customers bought some hackney ponies that are traditionally used to pull four-wheel buggies - they are high-stepping horses with long necks, Volk said.
One of the mares arrived with a baby with a broken leg.
'He was just the cutest, but he was walking on the side of his hoof, and it had rotated. I asked her what she wanted to do about it, and she said the vet had advised her to put the horse down, but she did not want to. She said he was a good horse with good bloodlines,' Volk said.
So he came up with a program to keep the horse sound as he grew up.
'I built a splint out of PVC pipe and put a tiny shoe on him, made from plywood. I came back once a week to readjust the plywood, trying to get him to walk on the bottom of his hoof. He kept getting better, and she eventually sold him,' Volk said.
'He was a wonderful horse to work with, and the last time I saw him he was running around like a mad man - he probably still is.'