Colby and Jess Smith of Alpine, Texas, met in New Mexico at Sul Ross State University in 2011. Colby did rodeo while studying farrier science, and Jess was a goat-tying and breakaway-roping competitor in school on a rodeo scholarship. After graduating, they went on the road and started their own farriery business, reports Texas Monthly.
“I am solid labor, and she is definitely the brains,” Colby says of their duo.
Colby started working as a farrier while he was still in college and maintained his practice throughout his academic career and after graduation. Jess joined him in the business after completing graduate school at Sul Ross. Now, they work as a team. Colby handles the routine farrier work and Jess assists by finishing horses’ feet, interacting with clients, passing tools to Colby and pulling shoes.
The way Colby and Jess complement one another in the business allows them to handle large or difficult jobs with ease. In a recent job, they teamed up to shoe 49 horses in 4 days. They ended up running out of horseshoes and had to postpone another client until they received more in the mail. Another job consisted of an old, weathered mare in need of a trim. One of the women who brought the horse out knew little about equine feet.
“I never knew a horse’s feet were made out of wood,” she remarked as Colby trimmed the horse’s feet.
Nearly every horse Colby works on for the first time has some sort of deformity or problem that needs to be worked out.
“It takes a shoeing or two, but we can get it,” says Colby. “You need to be savvy about what’s going on not just in the foot but all the way up the leg. What’s his ankle doing, what’s his knee or shoulder doing? Is he cow-hocked or arthritic? Shoeing can make exceptions for all kinds of injuries or conformation faults.”
It's not just the horses that need fixing. After bending down all day, Colby straightens up and has to work out the kinks with a side-to-side walk. His back and hips take the brunt of it, but he can have problems with his hands as well. A lot of hammering can cause a ringing in his hands or carpal tunnel syndrome if tools are gripped too tightly. Sometimes, in freak occurrences, farriers happen to drive a nail into their hand and not the hoof.
The horses can misbehave too, but Colby isn’t afraid. He hasn’t been seriously injured in the years he’s been a farrier. There was the occasional time he had to get out of the way and the one time he caught a kick to the hip, but none of it was critical.
“There’s no reason to be scared,” Colby says. “I can feel when they’re fixing to do something, and I can almost always get out of the way.”
In one day, Colby and Jess trimmed and shod 11 horses in 10 hours across 150 miles. As for plans for the future, Colby hopes to retire when he’s 45. He’ll still shoe his own horses in retirement.
“At that point, I will have been 32 years on the job,” says Colby. “I’ll still have half a body to use, and there’s a big old world to see.”