Arnie Gervasio has been shoeing horses since the 1960s. Over those years, he has seen trends come and go, has worked in multiple disciplines and has built a successful multi-farrier practice.
These experiences made him an interesting interviewee for a podcast with Jeremy McGovern back in February 2017. Jeremy chatted with Arnie about shoeing high-end sport horses in Florida and other notable aspects of Gervasio's storied career. If you're aspiring to be a farrier who travels and works with those horses, Arnie shows that it's not all big dollars and glamour. Keeping these horses competing is a tough challenge, and the clients can be even tougher.
Overall, Arnie has a lot of great insight about shoeing sport horses and other farrier issues. We have arranged the transcript of the original podcast by topic in this Web-Exclusive Feature. To read the transcript, please click through to the next page.
Part 1: How Arnie Got Started In The Shoeing Business
ARNIE GERVASIO: I grew up next to an old-time horseman from Virginia that raised fox hunters when I was a kid, and he did his own shoeing. He was his own veterinarian. He was everything. It was pretty impressive. The man couldn't read or write, but he was selling horses in their 50s for $10,000. Workhorses to Thoroughbreds, he stitched his own horses, he castrated them, he shod them. It was a good learning experience, all the way around. But rough horses and young horses.
And then, as I got in my teens, I wanted to be a cowboy, so I started riding and reining horses and I liked that. And I started work apprenticed with a guy in my summers out of school. He was kind of a cowboy guy from California. You know, he was kind of a pretty guy, and played the radio and he was kind of like my hero. He was into Quarter Horses, and I tried to ride reining horses.
I got into that a little bit and then went to the service and came out and started shoeing horses and working part-time jobs. I worked in a factory for 4 years and shod horses during the day and worked the night shift. I did a lot of backyard horses at that time, in the beginning. My first account was a riding academy, and she supplied the shoes and everything and I got $4.00 a horse. I guess that must have been somewhere in the early ‘60s.
From there, I just started shoeing my Quarter Horses, and I was shoeing backyard horses and fox hunters and anything I could shoe. Back in New Jersey in those days, they had a lot of breeding farms, so we did Thoroughbred horses and babies and Quarter Horses and hunters and did all that. And then I started going to the Quarter Horse shows. Every time I was at a show, I’d show my horse to somebody and they’d ask me, "Shoe my horse?" So I got to shoeing them. And that brought me to the Quarter Horse Congress. Basically, I was there for 20-some years. Shoeing reining horses, halter horses, all that. Quarter Horses were big in New Jersey at the time, back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Then it all disappeared, but I used to do a lot of reining horses at one time. And, I designed and made the first commercial sliding plate called “Sure Slide” in the early ‘80s. We had that on the market for a few years. Bob Anthony and I, he was a Hall Of Fame reining horse trainer.
Part 2: Arnie Designs The First Commercial Sliding Plate
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Could you go back and talk about how you conceived of that or designed that [the Sure Slide]?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well, back when I used to do a lot of reining horses, I started out really riding jumpers. But as the time went along, like I said, I got into the Quarter Horses and I was riding reining horses. And I was working for a lot of guys at that time who were the best reining horse trainers in the East coast and Ohio and all over. We used to have to make all our own handmade shoes. When I started shoeing horses, the only keg shoe you could buy was a Diamond or Nordic. We shod a lot of Thoroughbred horses.
And you know, there's a fallacy in this country about toe clips verses quarter clips. And everybody says, "Well, when they come from Europe they've got toe clips, why don't we shoe with toe clips?" But when I grew up, we shod everything with toe clips. And then we had Thoroughbred horses and they had thin walls and they weren't like these warmbloods. So when we put studs in them, the shoe would shift a lot of times. It was just the toe clip and those thin-walled horses, so we started three-clipping in their front. Just so we could hold the shoe on the foot better.
And then, these other companies started clipping them. I think the first clip shoes we got were Baker shoes from England. They used to come in a burlap bag. And the heels were cropped, and we had to crop the heels off and grind them or whatever. But we didn't grind back then, we used grav. We out-ranched everything. Or we made our own shoes.
When I was doing reiners, there wasn't any sliding plates, so if they wanted an inch handmade shoe, slide and plate, we made it. Or if they wanted an inch and a quarter shore them to five eighths in the heels, we did that. So I decided, geez, let me make these shoes. Let me try to manufacture them with a beveled toe and sell them. Well, back then we called it “Sure Slide.” And I think it was costing me, back then, like $4 a pair. And I could only get $5 or $6, so I had a partner, so we were only making $1 a piece.
So then other manufacturers caught a hold of it and started putting them out too. And, my partner was spending all the money, and I was doing all the work. So, we kind of quit that.
Part 3: How Arnie Started Shoeing In Florida
ARNIE GERVASIO: I used to do an article in The Reiner for a few years on sliding horses and sliding, you know, horses sliding or if they splayed out or if they skipped in a stop, different things like that. Was kind of a question/answer deal in The Reiner magazine.
Quarter Horses, it was getting a little tough, and I always wanted to get into the hunters and jumpers because that's where the country was going, especially back on the East Coast. The Quarter Horse and breeding farms were slowly leaving, and I started with one account at a time, basically. And it took a long time. I got one account that went to Florida. I started going down to Florida, probably when I was in my forties or late thirties, not like a lot of these kids that are bachelors that are in Florida in their early twenties. And they’re getting that experience.
One account, I'd come down once a month, then it was 2 weeks a month. Then, if you did a good job, they'd tell their friends and you would get another account. And, pretty much, that's how it's evolved to where I'm at now. Where I'm down here 6, 7 months.
I've been all over the world shoeing horses. Florida, the Olympics, WEG Games. Had a world champion jumping horse, number one in the world. And world champion driving horses. So, I shod horses, basically, in a lot of different disciplines.
Part 4: Transitioning From Quarter Horses To Hunter/Jumper Horses
JEREMY MCGOVERN: When did the transition sort of go from the public liking the Quarter Horses to the hunter/jumpers?
ARNIE GERVASIO: I think it was back in the ‘80s when the economy went a little bad. A lot of the Quarter Horse places were trainers trying to run their own operation and breeding their own horses. And it took a lot of money, and there wasn't any money to win … Then different disciplines started to break away, the reigners and the pleasure horses, and pleasure horse, and your hunters, and then you had your cutters. It was all away from the American Quarter Horse that we knew growing up that could do everything. Now they were specializing. And, there wasn't, I can't remember exactly, but I remember breeding Quarter Horses. And you could take a baby to a sale and get $2500-$3000 for him. And, you know, if it wasn't a great one or one you could take to show, you could always, you know, get your money out of it by breeding your mare and doing what you were doing. But then it got to a point where they were only bringing a few hundred dollars.
It's really gotten bad today. Unless it's an exceptional horse. The good ones are really selling, but there isn't any middle road in the Quarter Horses anymore. And the small shows in all the different states are small, unlike the jumpers. There's so much money in it. I mean down here in Florida, you used to have to be a billion, a millionaire to be down here. Now it's billionaires. You got the best horses in the world. You got the best trainers. And it just started evaporating. That's when I started to push to get into the jumpers and the hunters. And I started —
JEREMY MCGOVERN: — You could see that writing on the wall.
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well, I did, because what was happening with me was, I was shoeing for a lot of Quarter Horses that were paying me. And I'm not trying to talk bad about anybody, but a lot of people didn't have the money. And they might owe you $1500, and you go back and shoe, and maybe you do another $600-$700. Well, all they could give you was $200. So, you kept getting in deeper and deeper. And it was hard to grow.
You know when I started shoeing jumpers, automatically it was like $50 more a horse. So, it just was a whole big step. But it was a big step getting those customers back then cause back then all the horses in New Jersey and around there, Seamus Brady did most of the jumpers and hunters, the good horses. And George Fitzgerald did a lot of them up in Connecticut and all. There wasn't very much room for anybody else.
Part 5: The Importance Of Mentorship In Farriery
JEREMY MCGOVERN: A lot of listeners have probably heard the name Seamus Brady, and he passed away back in 2009. What was he like? Can you tell us little bit more about him?
ARNIE GERVASIO: I knew Seamus because we only lived about 20 minutes apart. And you can learn something off anybody, but Seamus was an influence to me because he had all the good accounts, he did the Olympics and everything else. And I kind of looked up to that.
When I left the Quarter Horses, started shoeing hunters and jumpers, he told me, "Well it's a big difference between shoeing these horses and those Quarter Horses." And I kind of thought to myself, well, a horse is a horse. I can shoe a Quarter Horse, I can shoe anything, you know. But there is a big difference, because it's different disciplines. They're jumping. They're landing on their front feet. They never stop. And today, a horse doesn't get a break. Years ago, they would quit showing in like November and they wouldn't go back to showing ‘til January or February, so the horse would get 3 or 4 months’ rest. Today, these horses don't get any rest, so you have to stay ahead of them and ahead of a problem to keep them going.
But there's been a lot of mentors for me. I never went to horseshoeing school. It's all trial and error. I grew up with them, that's all I've ever done is horses. The old man where I grew up was a big influence on me, because we took horses that weren't real good horses and made them into something. You know, shoeing the backyard horses, you just went and put shoes on them and that was pretty much it. But when we started going to Congress and the Quarter Horses, shoeing the holler horses, we had to turn their legs and do different things to make them stand up straight. So it taught you a lot, what you could do and what you couldn't do. We made mistakes and then putting in mistakes, you learn. So that's how that all came about.
Hanging out around the Congress for 2 weeks with a bunch of good horseshoers like, Lee Liles and Terry Stever. You know, we all played off each other. We all learned from each other. We were all in competition with each other. It was a kind of funny, but we played a lot of jokes on each other and we learned from each other. And when we didn't shoe horses, we made things. We made belt buckles, spurs, bits.
So, all those things add up to your knowledge over the years. And then when I got down here with these jumpers, all that knowledge that I had all my life all came to play. I could do what I needed to do to keep these horses going.
Part 6: How Florida Has Changed In The Shoeing Business
JEREMY MCGOVERN: You're going down there. You're going down to Florida early on in that time. How has Wellington changed over the years?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Oh gosh, when I first started going down here, the two top horseshoers were probably Seamus Brady and George Fitzgerald. I think Brady probably did the most he got recognition from. He was a team farrier for years and he had a lot of creative accounts. He traveled a lot more than George.
It was small back then. There were only seven or eight horseshoers down here, shoeing these horses. Now there's a couple hundred. It's gotten so big. It's just incredible. Like most of my accounts are 40 to 50 horses apiece. So it's constant everyday now. Something’s happening, you have to go get this one an MRI, this one got vetted. So I've got two full-time guys working for me plus two part-time in New Jersey now, and another part-time down here. So I got almost five people. And every day it changes. And every day, we've got six to ten horses done if everything goes right.
But they all have prescriptions now, you can't just can't go in and jerk the shoes off, throw a pair of shoes on them. This horse has got low heels. This one's got a high heel. This one's flat-footed. This one's this.
I think the jumpers and the equitation horses, and maybe the dressage horses are the best; but the hunters are tough because they get, they're always attentive on their forehand, and their trying to get as much straw as they can at them. Their head and neck blow, and they lunge them a lot. And it shows in their feet.
Part 7: Hoof Care Maintenance For Different Sport Horses
JEREMY MCGOVERN: What are some of the things you have to do to maintain that [keep hooves in good condition]?
ARNIE GERVASIO: We usually do these horses every 4 weeks down here, which doesn't give you a lot of time for growth. And I think the problem with a lot of the hunters is, they lunge them so much to get them quiet enough for the hunter classes. Plus you're always bathing them, and they're running soap, and water. And down here, the sand gets in their feet under the shoes and it stays damp, and you have aluminum shoes on everything, so they never really dry out like if you were in a muddier climate. So I try to tell my customers, the least amount of water is better. Stop giving so many baths if you can. And some of them we put pads on, and some we don't.
I don't do a lot of hunters anymore. I used to do a lot of them. I did Scott Steward's for 25 years. He's probably the best in the country. He's got the best hunters. It's kind of gotten, the hunters are going to different shows than the jumpers. It's kind of gotten like the Quarter Horses a little. Everything is different now. If you're going to do the jumpers, they're going one place and the hunters are going another. So it's hard to keep up with it.
I like the jumpers better myself, and dressage horses.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Why's that?
ARNIE GERVASIO: I think the jumpers, and the dressage, and the equitation horses and all, I don't think they go through what a hunter does. A hunter, they've got to lunge them to get them a little tired so they go quiet, go with their head down and stride out. Where a jumper or dressage horse, they want them to be up a little bit, a little fire in them. They take ahold of them. It's a whole different way of riding so they're not on their forehand all the time. So they're not loading their song and their feet as much as a hunter is. And, like I said before, the jumpers are all going to certain shows and the hunters aren't going to that many shows. And they do a lot of Kentucky stuff and things like that, and I don't go to Kentucky.
And I did Chester Levers and Ocala for 8 years, his driving horses. They were world champion. They were fun. They were different. It was an experience. Trying to get all those horses moving the same so when in the dressage element they all kind of went the same with their legs, and the same heights.
I did a lot of world champions, and I'm not trying to say anything negative about them, I just like shoeing the other horses better.
Part 8: Why Farriers Charge Differently For The Same Shoeing Job
JEREMY MCGOVERN: A few weeks ago, you sent me a picture of one of your bills from 1968 when you got a shoeing job for $14?
ARNIE GERVASIO: When I was getting $14 to shoe a horse, Seamus Brady was probably getting $75. You know what I mean? And, those gave a young guy an incentive to get better so he could get more money.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: That's such a stark difference in pricing, and we’re talking about 1968. What was it about his work, or what was it about the clients where they were incredibly different, almost five times as much?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well, I would say $50 anyway. Seamus, he's the one that basically brought the horseshoeing prices up for everybody. He always was a guy that wanted to get paid for his services and wanted to get paid well. He’d always reached for the moon. And, he thought he was worth it, and he was doing the best horses around at the time. And he was Irish and he had a little of that Irish brogue. So he had all the right ingredients to charge more money. Plus he came over with a team. Arthur McCashin at the time was running the U.S. team, the jumping horses, and Seamus came over from Ireland with him and started shoeing horses. So right away he was in a great position to shoe some of the better horses over here, because the team brought him over. It was kind of an in, you follow me?
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Sure.
ARNIE GERVASIO: He always asked more. If you were asking $100 to shoe a horse, he was getting $150. And when you were shoeing Quarter Horses compared to jumpers or hunters or show horses, they always, the hunter/jumper world always brought more money than the Quarter Horse world when it comes to horseshoeing, when it comes to anything. You take a Quarter Horse trainer, they might get $1000 a month to train a horse, or $1200 a month. You'll take a hunter/jumper guy will get a couple thousand. That's the whole big spread.
Down here it costs you, $2000 a month just for a dry stall if you're in the circuit. That's not counting you chaises. Not counting your feed. Just the stall, $2000 a month.
Part 9: Working With High-End Clients
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Is the money still in with hunter/jumpers or have you seen the economy change at all with it?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Nothing changes down here. They're tearing houses down and building big farms on three acres. They're paying.
I had a big customer of mine who just bought the adjoining place next to him. It's three acres and has a beautiful ranch on it. I mean beautiful, with a little barn. I think he gave three million for it. Tearing it all down and putting a covered indoor arena there, next to his place. He spent three million dollars for three acres that he's gonna tear the whole building down, all the houses and everything one it.
It's just incredible. And you would think, so one of these days it's going to end. It just gets bigger and bigger and there's more horses. You know, years ago, when we had all Americans here and we had a few people from Europe, but now we've got them from Venezuela, Argentina, France, all over the world, they're here. So, it's an international thing here.
And all the horses fly here like you would put them in a trailer and drive them around the corner. And I've got customers that'll take their horses and fly to California to squeak in this week for a show and then fly back. We've got horses flying over here all the time.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Yeah, that goes back to what you were saying earlier. For a sport horse farrier, there's a lot of pressure on you when you're in this high-end world, when they have this much money involved.
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well this is tremendous... Here it's a service business. You have to be good, but you have to give service. I mean, on any given day, I've got my day planned for tomorrow. Now I'll start off tomorrow, say I'm gonna go to Joe Blow's and I've got six horses to do or so. Well I'll start out at eight o'clock to go over there, and at eight o'clock, or eight-thirty, I get a phone call, "I need these" from another account. Put two shoes one, the horse just got back from an MRI and we've got a rotting to set. So now how will I go to that place and shoe six horses when Joe Blow wants me to run over here and put two shoes. So I basically, have to have somebody that works for me with a second truck to run around and put a shoe on or put two shoes back on. Or horses getting vetted to do something, so it's constant. And every day it changes. They lose a shoe at ten o'clock jumping, they expect a shoe to be on in an hour or so, 2 hours. I can't say, well I'll come tomorrow or 2 days from now. I have to be there.
It's a lot of stress. And then, what you have also, you have horses that leave on Tuesday. By eleven o'clock Tuesday they have to be in an FEI tent. That's the horse they're jumping in the Grand Prix’s. So they come back Sunday night. They're there Sunday night, Monday, and Tuesday morning. Any horse you've got going to the FEI tent the following week has to be shod that day and a half because you can't go in the FEI tent.
It would add a lot of aggravation.
I used to shoe on the showgrounds a lot when they had tents and all. But now that's all changed. All my barns and all my horses are outside the showgrounds and they just get trailered to the show grounds or hand walked. You know they all have their little farms now.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: How have you learned to manage those expectations over the years? In some ways, it sounds like you just have to accept it and say, if you want to be in this world, this type of horse, like you said, you have to deliver that service.
ARNIE GERVASIO: When you work for the best in the hunter/jumper world and shoeing these top show horses like I do. You're on call 24/7. It's hard to plan your weekends. You can't. I'm working down here 7 days a week. If I can get a Sunday off now and then, I do. If you have a backyard business, you have some leeway there. You can tell them you'll be there Thursday. They say, "Okay." You go there Thursday. You can work hard, you want the weekend off. You can plan it. You can get your weekend off. You can take a week's vacation.
When you're in this business that I'm in, there's no such thing as a week's vacation unless you've got somebody good working for you who can cover that week, that the people know and feel comfortable with. You just can't call Joe Blow up and say, "Hey, go shoe these horses for me." It just doesn't work that way. They develop a trust in you. And it takes me, really, a couple years with an apprentice for clients to trust them. But the funny thing about it is, if you don't give them service, I don't care how good you are, they'll find somebody else. And that person might not be as good as you, but as long as the shoes are on, and the horses are sound, they're okay with it. So it's basically a service business. You have to keep them going, but you have to give service.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: What advice do you have for building that trust with the owner and your guys and your helpers?
ARNIE GERVASIO: I probably have had more people working for me than anybody in the horseshoeing business. And a lot of them, I can say, are out in business for themselves and are doing pretty darn good. But I try to hire clean-cut guys that don't have drinking problems and are responsible and represent you in a nice way. You know, you can't have anybody that drinks at night and comes in looking like he's all beat up or whatever. Not in this world. You can't do that.
And that's a bad thing with horseshoers. So many people decide they want to be horseshoers. In order to shoe here, you've got to have, I hate to say the word, a little class. You have to look good. And you have to represent yourself well, because you're dealing with wealthy people. You're dealing with the best in the world. I mean, I do like Bruce Springsteen's horses. I do Tom Selleck's daughter's horses. Terry Bradshaw's horses. I mean, the list, I used to shoe Jackie Onassis' horses. You have to represent yourself the right way. I think that's a big key to it.
You have to have a clean truck. You have to sweep the floor when you're done. You have to not smoke in somebody's barn. I mean, all these little things play a big part in it. And you have to do a good job on the horse. You can't rush in there, and ... Some people go in there and rush and see how many they can get done. Well, you go into a place, you rush through and do ten, eleven horses. Pretty soon they're gonna be looking at you saying, "Hey. How could you do a good job if you ran through eleven horses? What did the last one look like?" In a lot of cases it didn't look like the first one, you know. Every horse is different. It takes time.
Part 10: Working Outside Of A Rotation
JEREMY MCGOVERN: How do you plan out your day? Or how do you, I guess, schedule those clients on the 4-week schedule?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Most horseshoers have what they call a rotation. They do the horse on the first of the month, they’ll go to an account, pick up five horses, they'll do it on the first of the month. They'll write down on their calendar the first of next month. And they plan to go, they don't have that many customers.
But when you're doing 300-400 horses a month like I do down here, you can't do that because every day, something changes. I work for all professionals. People that buy and sell horses all the time. The best in the world. So they've got everything changing every other day. I might go to Beacon Hill this week, and I've got seven horses to do. But after I do the seven horses, 2 days later when I'm supposed to be at Laura Kraft's or Lauren Huff's or Jane Clark's, Beacon Hill will call me up and say, “We've got two new horses and our one horse got better. This horse is lame. The vet wants to meet you here.” I’ve got to rush over there and squeeze them in. So, I'm running around every day. I don't have a rotation because I have too big of a business.
They call me up. They get frustrated with me. I tell them, “Look. I'll send somebody over,” or “I'll be there tomorrow.” Or, “I can do this.” Or, “I'll squeeze you in.” And that, everyday you've got to deal with that stress. I mean that's the long and the short of it. Anybody that's got a big business, you've got to deal with that.
I have friends that do horses on a rotation, but they're only shoeing 20 to 60, 70 horses a month.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: How might your numbers change over a month?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well, down here, like I said, they're coming and going. And like I said, a lot of these barns are sale barns and they sell horses. Some months more than others. But, a lot of them are getting new horses in every week. Or something like that. Or they're sending a horse out on trial, and then I've got to do this or that. My numbers get a little less in the summertime because I have about 90 horses that are here that go to Europe for the summer. So that's 90 I don't have to do once they get out of here in April.
But I used to be down here, like 4 months a year. Now I'm down here almost 6 months, 7 months a year. And now we've got the Tryon Horse Show in the Carolinas. They're going there before they come here. Then from here, they're going there. Then you've got, they're building a 1000-acre place in Ocala now that’s supposed to be fantastic. They guy's got another big show grounds in Ohio. I got horses going to Nebraska in a month for the World Games. I mean, it's unbelievable. They're flying horses all around. Everything's changing.
You know, there's so many horse shows now. Then you get up north and you've got Salem and you’ve got Socrates and then Kentucky. They've got to go for points. So these horses all have to be ready to go to these shows. And then you've got all the indoors coming up at the end of the summer. But the future of the horseshoer is going to be shoeing show horses like I do. It's gonna be a life of living on the road pretty much, with these people going all over the place.
I'm fortunate enough, and Brady was too, and George, that we lived up there in the New Jersey/New York/Connecticut area. There's a lot of horses and a lot of people go up there cause it's close to New York City. And a lot of owners live in New York and they go there a lot. So we're right in the heart of it. You know, I tell a lot of horseshoers, you know they say to me, "Well how do I start a business?" Young guys. And they say, “Well, I want to live in Florida or I want to live in Montana. Well in Florida, down here there aren’t any horses in the winter to shoe. So if you get clients in Florida during the winter circuit, and they go home, where's home? It could be Illinois. It could be Indiana. It could be anywhere, they all come here for the winter. So that means, in the summer months, you’ve got to travel to all these places. All these horses I do are all from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, right around there. So I don't have to get on the road and drive more than a couple hours or something here or there.
I tell them to move to a state where there's a lot of horses. Where you can grow and have your own home there too. And you'll be home at night. You can have a family. You can try to enjoy life a little, rather than sitting in a pickup truck 7 days a week.
Part 11: Advice For New Farriers On Establishing A Practice
JEREMY MCGOVERN: What other advice do you have for breaking into it? Say you're starting out. You establish, or you want to establish yourself in an area. What advice do you have for building that career?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well I think as a young guy, I think these horseshoeing schools are a lot better today than they used to be. But you know, they teach you a lot of theory, and all the muscles and different tendons and, but you need experience on horses. And a lot of guys don't have it. I grew up with that experience. A lot of us old-timers grew up doing that. We didn't have drugs. We didn't have tranquilizers. We twitched horses if we had to. They didn't inject joints. They didn't inject coffin joints. They didn't do any. We had to figure out what type of shoe to use, what we could do to make that horse sounder. You don't have that today. The vets inject them. They go sound. The horseshoer just puts shoes on their feet for a lot of them. You know, the vet says, "I want a bar shoe." The horseshoer puts a bar shoe on. A lot of these guys, don't have the opportunity to think and use some common sense when they're shoeing horses and read a horse. Look at a horse. Look at his conformation. Look how he hits the ground. All those things are important.
I think they should go to horseshoeing school if they haven't had any experience at all. And then I think you need to get what a good horseshoer does for good horses so they learn the right way the first time. The hardest thing I have over the years with apprentices or help is getting things out of their head that other people have put into them. That's not the right way to do things. You understand what I'm saying? I mean, if they get with somebody that doesn't have a lot of experience and isn't a really good horseshoer, they learn those ways. Now when you get them, you've got to take all that out of them. You've got to wipe their brain clean and start them again. And that's a little hard, because they're very impressionable in the beginning and they have their heroes that they listen to. So I think it's important to get with somebody that's good.
Now you take these boys who work for me. I mean, a lot of them are in business now that have worked for me in their late twenties down here in Florida. It took me till I was in my late thirties/forties to get here. I got here one account at a time. Just on my merits and the work I did and people seeing it. These youngsters come down here and they've got the benefit of meeting all these people at an early age and it's like somebody opened a door for them. So, that's a great opportunity. They’re being seen. They meet people. And it's a good start for them.
You get what I'm talking about?
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Yeah. Is it easier for a young guy to go on down there in Wellington and break into it compared to 30 or 40 years?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well, I'll give you an example. I think it’s easier if they spend time with a good horseshoer down here and get to meet these people. And then they can get one account at a time or they get introduced to somebody to pick up a couple horses after work. Or they get a horse on a weekend. And a lot of guys have done that with me.
I had one boy, John Gonzort, that worked for me for 4 or 5 years and he was as good a help and apprentice as I've had. And he wanted to move to Florida and live here. It took him, oh I'd say, a few years to get a business going. But now he's got a business going that's pretty good work. Where he goofed up was, when he got down here, he took and started a business. He got accounts that were, like I said before, Indiana, and all over the place. In the summers, he had to travel all the time when he really didn't want to travel. He had family and a wife. Now he's trying to get everything back to where it's in Florida most of the time of the year, and he does less traveling. But, by meeting people, that's how you get accounts. People see your work. People get to know you. And one thing leads to another.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Okay.
ARNIE GERVASIO: That's how I would do it. If you think you're gonna shoe in Milwaukee, Wis., and get six horses that come to Florida and they say to you, "Well, hey can you come shoe my horses in Florida?" Well by the time you get down here and shoe those six horses you're not making much money. And you're going back home to Milwaukee. So, you have to keep doing that ‘til you get more accounts, more accounts, more accounts. It's not easy to do now because you've got, like I said, there's 150, 200 horseshoers down here now. It wasn't like it was when I grew up.
Part 12: Tips On Reading And Shoeing Horses
JEREMY MCGOVERN: A lot of the stuff I was thinking about sort of comes from our conversation over dinner, too. On the world. And in fact I've thought of some different ways to approach the questions in the magazine on reading a horse. But that's one topic I want to talk about, especially with sport horses, is what your process is. Could you explain your process for reading a horse when you're going to work with it?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Yeah, I'll give you basics on it. You know, when I go to shoe a horse, I'll look at his front, I'll look at the horse. And I'll look at his legs and I'll look at his conformation. I'll look at whether he toes out or whether he's pinched in the chest and he's base wide or base narrow and pigeon toed, or he's long pastern or he's short pastern. Then I'll look behind him, and I'll look through his back legs. And I'll look at his feet and I'll say, “Geez, he's low on the medial side of his front feet and he's high on the outside or lateral side of his front feet.” Or the same with the back feet. And then that'll give me a basic idea of where I'm going. But first, is he a jumper? Or is he a hunter? Is he a dressage horse? You know, each one of those horses you would shoe differently.
A hunter, you're concerned about length of stride up front. They go in the hack class, they have to move low and long. And then a lot of times, they'll get some forging, the back feet will hit the front feet. So, you have to either square their toes off or set them back a little bit in their back feet, the shoe. And the front foot, basically. It's balance them and trimming.
Now the jumpers, you would shoe them a little shorter so they don't grab the front shoe. And you would try to get as much heel on them as you could.
Dressage horses, the shoe's a little longer to support them when they rock back on their rear end on the hind shoes and the front shoes. They want more support. They're not running around a 100 miles an hour jumping fences.
When you read these horses and you pick the leg up and you hang it and you look at it, is it level? Is it high on one side? Is it high on the other side? How much foot is on there? Can you take more off the high side and get it as level as you can? So that's another thing you look for, front and back.
And then, shoe the foot to where the shoe's full. And it fits the foot, and it's not pinched. The jumpers you've got to watch your toenails on, where the hunters and the dressage horses you don't so much, because they're not jumping over big fences and landing on their front end. If you put a toe clip in with too-tight front toenails, you could make a horse lame when he jumps those big fences, especially on the synthetic footing we have down here. Synthetic footing is not deep. They don't break through it, but they don't need caulks. They can run around with caulks on their shoes and don't slip.
There are a lot of different things to know about each horse you shoe. What is his job? Do they turn him out in the field? Does he stay in the stall? If they turn him out in the field, you wouldn't want to shoe him as long and full because he'd probably rip his shoe off, especially down here when the sand is 6 inches thick or deeper. A lot of people get crazy with all this stuff. You know I think a good balance foot and grinding the edges of these shoes, and maybe semi-rolling the front toes or drawing them out a little bit so they can break over is a good way to go, kind of a mutual way of going.
There are some people that roll all four toes, which I think is not thinking about what your horse does. You know, it might be a good way of looking at it to where the horse can breakover in all four feet, for the horse — but is he a hunter? You know, if he's a hunter, you don't want to roll the back feet, cause if you roll the back toe you're going to make him hockier. And they don't want the hunter to be hocky, they want him to move low to the ground. So you wouldn't do that on a hunter. A jumper, you could get away with it.
These are all little things you should, being a horseman and knowing the business like … There's a lot of horseshoers that'll shoe every horse the same. I don't know where they get it, whether they get it from the Journal or they get it from these clinics. But I don't do that. I look at every horse for what he is. And I try to shoe for the job he does. I wouldn't shoe a barrel racer like I shoe a sport horse. I wouldn't shoe a cutting horse like I shoe a hauler horse. I wouldn't shoe horses 40 years ago in New Jersey that were foxhunters living out in the snow and the mud like I'm shoeing these horses. I think it’s this synthetic footing that we've got.
Part 13: Changes In Diagnosing Hoof Problems
ARNIE GERVASIO: Years ago, when I grew up we had navicular horses. We shod them for navicular. That's all they said, he's got navicular disease. Today, I never hear of navicular disease. It's all coffin joints, usually down here. A horse gets coffin joint soreness. They inject their coffin joints. And I think a lot of it is because of the synthetic footing: there's not enough give in it. But it's really strange, years ago, we had a lot of horses that the vets were calling it sore coffin joints. Then it wasn't coffin joints anymore and all the vets were on to collateral ligaments. Then it wasn't these. So now you don't even hear collateral ligaments. You still hear coffin joints. But now all we hear is suspensors. This horse has got suspensors behind.
Now, with one vet that I do, that's a prominent veterinarian I work for, he likes his suspensory shoe behind on them. Years ago when a horse had suspensory problems, we'd put a bar shoe on them behind. Now, I say to them, well, if a horse has got a high suspensory, a low suspensory, or he’s got a long sloping pastern behind and no heel on a long toe, why do you shoe him the same as if you had a horse that had a straight-up pastern, short toe and high heel and a low or high suspension? Why is the same shoe good for everything?
Well, they don't want it. When I went to the Summit, it was interesting to listen to that lecture from the lady from Germany.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Jenny Hagen
ARNIE GERVASIO: Yeah. The problem I had with that, explaining where all the tendons were, and all the ligaments and the superficial inflexor and the flexor, I think it was good to see where all the tendons were in the leg. I though she did an excellent job with all that. But my question was just like I said to you. What's the difference? How would you shoe a horse with a high/low suspensory, different pastern angle or different foot? So I was trying to understand what she was saying, but it was hard because of the broken English.
So afterwards, I went over to Werkman and it was interesting to see that new 3D program that they have. It shows the different loading of a bar shoe versus a suspensory shoe on a hind foot. And you could put any kind of shoe on that limb you wanted and you could see which tendon lit up from the pressure of the foot compressing on the ground. Well, I saw that, and so, then I finally got a chance to talk to Jenny. I kind of asked her the same question, because I can't really get a straight answer from a lot of veterinarians about that. So I asked her what she thought about it. And her explanation was that she thought an egg bar shoe was better on the horse with firm footing, harder footing. The suspensory shoe on the back of a horse was better for a horse on soft footing.
So, there you go. You've got all different surfaces in these rings. What's soft? What's hard? You know this synthetic footing down here, I don't know if they even go in an inch. And it's hard. But we're putting suspensory shoes on most of these horses. I ask the riders what they think. The horses are going, so they say they’re fine. So it must be working, I guess. It's hard to get a clear explanation of that. I mean that's a very interesting point, suspensories on a horse.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Do you see a lot of trends, or would you consider them fads that you get from vets? Or is there something else going on too, like you take our advanced diagnostics now that maybe weren't around 10, 20 years ago?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well I think this advanced diagnostics is a great start. I think it's great. I think there's a lot more that has to be done. These horses are going all the time, and they’re jumping all the time, so it's hard on any horse regardless of how sound it is. So you're going to have problems. Most of these horses have issues. You're dealing with something different with every horse. You've kind of got to stay ahead of the problem, like good hoof balance and not too long a toe and all that kind of stuff. But, the problem is they never get a rest. And the vets are trying to hold them together. And they’re injecting. And they’re doing this and they’re doing that. Well, how long can they keep doing that? You know that only goes so far.
I don't know whether some of the vets are just buying more time by saying one thing and it gives the horse a little more of a rest. But I see all suspensories the last 3 years down here, that's all we've had a stop for. The worst problem has been suspensories. So whether it's coming from this footing, I don't know. But if it was, you'd think they'd change the footing.
Part 14: Differences Between American And European Horsemanship
ARNIE GERVASIO: In Europe, I don't think you have as much. I don't think they work horses on the softest ground as we do in this country. I think the ground is harder. They do a lot of road work.
Years ago, I did five dressage horses here in Florida. Their feet were a nightmare. Okay. Just keeping them going. They were big horses. They were always breaking up. They were this and that. They went to England, were supposed to go for 2 months, they went for 2 years. I went over for a year straight. I shod the horses in England with the same shoes, the same nails as I did in Florida. Every time I went to England, it rained. Okay, so you can't say it was the water. Okay, because they got as much water there as they did here or more. But their feet were better. Why? Not as much humidity, I guess. It was more mud that dried in their feet, it wasn't this wet sand that got under the shoes and just kept grinding and staying damp.
So, there's a lot of things like that that really could be answered. But you think, if the footing was causing the suspensories, they'd change the footing. But down here, this footing, you don't need screw caulks in them anymore. You can go in the Grand Prix class, you don't need to put caulks. They don't slip in it, or anything, so it's got to grab somewhere. Most of the trend in shoeing here, that when the front toe of the show horse breaks over better because they're not sinking in this footing and breaking over the toe. They kind of hit, and it goes down maybe an inch and they've got to break over. By drawing that toe out, it gives you your breakover back further and helps send a horse forward.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Are you seeing more sore horses today than you did maybe 40 years ago?
ARNIE GERVASIO: Not really. I think it was different soreness 40 years ago. It was more coffin joints. There were hardly any suspensories 40 years ago. Now it's all suspensories. Even up front now, we're seeing suspensories. And coffin joints, they inject a lot of coffin joints. And we have suspensory problems.
But I don't hear collateral ligament. I don't hear navicular. I don't see any bowed tendons or anything like that. Just suspensories.
Now I don't know if the suspensories are coming from the footing or too much jumping. I don't think you see that many suspensories in the hunters. As much as you do in the jumpers or dressage horses. You’ve got to remember the jumper’s jumping a big fence and landing on its front feet and jumping off its hind end. A dressage horse is being pulled back on its hind and it’s working off its hind end all the time. It’s putting a lot of stress and strain on there. That’s why we shoe them a little longer behind just to give them a little more support, and up front too. I see a lot of suspensors in the jumpers more than anything.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Earlier you had mentioned learning horsemanship as a farrier. How would you rate horsemanship, even among those high-end clients?
ARNIE GERVASIO: It's not like Europe. When you go to Europe, you’ve got young kids starting out training horses and getting on horses that are colts that aren't broke. And they learn from the very beginning how to ride one, how to be around a horse that's a little bit ornery, or bucks or does whatever. In the Quarter Horse world, you've got the same thing in this country. Somebody's got to train them. They have all these futurities for younger horses. So they're starting young horses, and they're training them and breaking them.
In this world, where I'm at, they're just buying the very best horses in the world. They're already trained. They're already broke. Most of the trainers, all they’ve got to do is keep them together and go around the ring. A lot of the trainers aren't real trainers. And the kids are just wealthy kids whose parents have bought them great horses. And they get one their horse, and shout, “Hey.” It's a whole different deal. They don't know how to train one to be a jumper or be a hunter or anything like that. It's just, they're buying good horses and they're getting on them and somebody’s prepping them for them. And they just go in the ring and show, so it's a whole different deal that way.
JEREMY MCGOVERN: Yeah, I think I've heard you describe that before as making a horse versus a made horse.
ARNIE GERVASIO: Well, I'm being honest with you. You know, I might not be politically correct and a lot of people say, “Why's he talking like that?” But, I kind of say it the way it is. You know, I mean, that's the way it is really. These are wealthy people that can afford expensive horses. I mean, some of these horses are three million dollars, four or five million dollars and more. You know there was a jumper just sold here the other day for three million dollars. I mean, when you think about that, that's a lot of money.
And not only that, all these places down here, and everything else, it's a hobby. It's not a business. The only ones that are in it for the business are the veterinarians and the trainers and the horseshoers. I was at one big place today. Every Tuesday, the vet goes there. There's 20 horses. Every Tuesday that I'm there, he shows up. And every horse gets taken out, gets flexed, gets jogged, gets circled on blacktop, looking for something. That's a lot of vet. And these horses are gone over constantly by vets, chiropractors, massage therapists. I mean, they've got all sorts of walkers and different things to stand on to stimulate blood supply to their feet. It's a big business down here. It's the biggest horse show in the world and the best horses in the world.
Part 15: Common Sense Advice From A Seasoned Farrier
JEREMY MCGOVERN: For one final question, let me ask you. So one of the words you used with me before, and I've heard you say before, is common sense. Looking back over your career, can you give me one of the best pieces of common sense advice that you'd have for other horseshoers?
ARNIE GERVASIO: As far as just shoeing horses, you know being around horses, I think, one of the most important things is to be aware of your surroundings. Always not having your tool boxes laying around the horse. Not having cross ties too tight. Not having dogs around your horse when you're shoeing. That kind of stuff. Be aware of what you're doing. Make sure your horse knows you're coming to him. Walk around him, don't walk straight up on him. Don't take it for granted. We always take this for granted. Touch him before you pick a leg up. Those types of things.
I think they're all basics, but it’s good, common-sense horsemanship. Because you get complacent. I do myself. We all do. And I’ve got young kids that the horses are quiet and they just grab a leg … Well, they take a chance of the horse flying back. They don't know the horse. Anything could spook a horse. There was a girl, just to give you a quick story, a couple weeks ago down here. that a veterinarian, I don't know how long she was out of school, but she tranquilized a horse. And she was going to inject a hock. And she went to scrub the hock before she injected it. You know, she went back to the horse and she touched the hock, and the horse kicked her, double-barreled her and broke her back and punctured both lungs.
We're in a dangerous business, and we all take it for granted. So, I think it's good to use good common sense when you're working around horses just as a basic. Common sense and just basics, because you could get kicked in a heartbeat and you have to be aware of everything. Nobody wants to know. The owner doesn't want to know your tool box was lying next to the horse and he stepped in it and cut his deep flexor tendon. I've seen things like that happen. I've seen a horse rear up and fall on a hoof stand and puncture his side. I mean I've seen all sorts of things over the years. I keep the floor swept up and I keep all the tools, tool boxes and everything away from the horse at all times, unless you're working on it. People just take everything for granted.