The setting looks about right for a blacksmith’s shop – a white outbuilding behind an old farmhouse on a tiny gravel road in rural Wells County outside Uniondale.
Cornfields, with rustling dried stalks quite a bit higher than an elephant’s eye, flank the place on two sides. The only other sound is the occasional call of a hawk.
But if you’re expecting a stooped-over old-timer with a grizzled beard and leather apron to be the smith inside – well, that’s not what you’ll find.
Troy Price – trim, clean-shaven and dressed in jeans and a crisp shirt – looks more like the guy sent over from the technology department to fix a recalcitrant printer than someone who has decided to go into business shoeing horses, and also start a new school to train future farriers.
Farrier – that’s the term Price prefers, because unlike some blacksmiths, he doesn’t do ornamental ironwork, signs and hinges, candleholders and whatnot. Just horses, he says.
Which makes him something of a 21st-century anomaly. But Price, 42, says there’s plenty of demand for what he does and that he didn’t really consider doing anything else.
When I was young we lived on a farm, and I found I really liked to handle horses, he says. I noticed the guy we had to shoe our horses always seemed in good spirits, and I thought it looked like a pretty good job.
By the time he was a teenager, Price was involved in a 4-H Club showing horses – incidentally meeting his future wife, Jennifer, who was similarly smitten by equines.
And by 10th or 11th grade, when they were pressuring you in school to think about careers and college, he adds, I thought I’d better get serious about it.
Price started out working with a nearby farrier, Ted Graft of Uniondale. Then he went on to the Kentucky Horseshoeing School, now in Richmond, Ky., where he completed a master’s course in 1993. He kept going to specialized classes, becoming a certified journeyman farrier in 1999.
Along the way, he learned to make horseshoes himself and got involved in horseshoeing contests, where masters of the trade compete in timed events. Five times, he’s been on the American Farriers Association’s national team, composed of the nation’s top five competitors, and represented the United States at events in Canada, England, Scotland and the Netherlands.
He’s also been in the top 10 finalists at the World Championship Blacksmith Competition in Calgary, Alberta, five times, and in the final five once.
Getting to work
Although he’s become known within the profession recently for teaching and as a competition judge, on a recent chilly fall morning, Price was set up at his portable forge, about the size of a space heater and operated by propane, at Shannon Hughes’ boarding barn and training stable outside Roanoke.
While a couple of gray geese waddle across the driveway and inquisitive goats peek over the rim of their nearby stall, Price gets to work. Standing in front of him is a gentle, brown American quarter horse named Cruise, a 14-year-old rescue animal adopted by his sister-in-law, Shelly Chavis of Fort Wayne.
Because of his previous situation, Cruise hasn’t had his feet worked on for a while and was lame when he was rescued, Chavis says. His right front foot still has a horizontal crack in it from an abscess from which he has recovered.
But today he’ll get his hoofs cleaned and trimmed and two front shoes installed. It’s a common practice, Price says, because that’s where horses bear 60 percent of their weight and are more likely to develop hoof problems.
Price first uses a foot-long metal file to shape the hoofs – It’s just like doing your fingernails, he says. Then he goes to shaping a red-hot metal bar he’s just pulled from the forge, hammering it into a flat arc on an anvil. He works quickly, because he has only a few minutes before the metal will turn rigid again.
Price says horses have feet of differing shapes and sizes, and while ready-made shoes are available, a custom-made shoe tends to perform better.
There are as many types of shoes as there are styles of blue jeans, he explains. This horse, his right foot is a little larger than the left.
Cruise also will get a toe clip on his shoes for stability and to take stress off the nails. After making nail holes around the edge of the shoe, Price seats it using heat, burning off a bit of the hoof, a process that produces puffs of acrid white smoke but does not hurt the horse, he says.
Then comes the actual shoeing, when Price bends the horse’s leg at the knee and places it between his own knees, quickly hammering in six square nails (square instead of round because they disturb less of the hoof) around the edge of the shoe. A farrier has to be careful with positioning a nail, because the foot’s blood supply is just a fraction of an inch away, Price says.
Then he cuts, bends and files as finishing touches, and Cruise starts a bit as he puts some, then all, of his weight on his newly shod foot.
I think being a horseshoer is one of the hardest things, says Chavis, a veterinarian. I had to take a farrier’s short course for vet school to learn how to pull off a shoe, and, oh my gosh, I couldn’t get it off, let alone put a shoe on. It’s really a specialty.
Teaching the trade
This year, Price started the Troy Price Horseshoeing School, which he says is the only horseshoeing school in northeast Indiana. It has received its preliminary accreditation from the state’s Office for Career and Technical Schools in the Department of Workforce Development.
Beginning in the spring, he’ll offer a basic two-week course and a six-week course – for horse owners who want to know what to do if, for example, a shoe comes off and learn to trim hoofs or do some basic forge work – as well as 12-, 24- and 36-week courses for those seeking a career.
Those courses will cover horse anatomy and physiology as well as how to recognize hoof anomalies and build therapeutic shoes to running an equine business. About 70 percent will be hands-on. The school will have free housing available if students need it.
Part of the reason for starting the school is to meet demand, he says, as well as to increase professionalism within the field. Estimates of the number of horses in Indiana vary, with a 2011 Purdue University study on the economic impact of the horse industry citing a 2005 estimate of more than 200,000 horses. That places Indiana ninth in the nation.
Ideally, horses should be shod every six to eight weeks, Price says, and should have their hoofs trimmed to stay in balance.
Farriers can find work in the horse racing industry, although Price currently does not. Most are in independent business, he says. Being a farrier typically has been relatively unregulated. Individuals often apprentice one-on-one, he notes.
The Purdue study places farriers’ average income at around $33,000 annually, with a range from $5,500 to $85,000.
Price calls his job low-stress because he has long-term relationships with most of his clients. But the job does have hazards, he notes – having to corral a horse, or having one spook and knock over, step on or fall on a smith. But he has avoided such accidents and has never been hurt in 20 years. Generally, as a horse gets used to being shoed, it calms down, he says.
I like to do horses that don’t fuss, he says. Either they don’t fuss, or you teach them how not to fuss. They don’t typically get soured from shoeing, like they can from the ring. They can get a little antsy by the end, but it usually doesn’t get worse over the years.
It’s important, he adds, to teach other people how to do this kind of work, because they need to do it right. It’s easy to shoe a horse wrong and cause all kinds of problems. You do need to do it right.