Vern Olinger was committed to sharing farrier knowledge and providing educational opportunities, a calling that he pursued throughout his career as a renowned farrier and educator. Today, his legacy is carried on through the business that started out as the Hillcraft School of Shoeing and was transformed into Oleo Acres Farrier & Blacksmith Supply in Berthoud, Colo.
From the 1960s to 1980s, Olinger taught students who would come to him from all over the country to learn the skills of the trade.
“Back then, the selection of horseshoes wasn’t there,” Rob Michel, the fourth-generation family member in the business, told The Fence Post. “There were only a few manufacturers that made horseshoes. Most shoes had to be built by hand. The school used coal forges, and we still have the original shoeboard in the Littleton store. The students had to make all of the different types of shoes on the board in order to graduate from the school,” he says.
In the 1980s, the Hillcraft School of Shoeing became a full-line farrier supply store after Michel’s grandfather took over. Because he wasn’t a farrier, he decided to keep the company moving forward by focusing on its supply business, rather than the school. Michel’s grandfather gave his son an opportunity to buy into the family business in 1998, which led to the opening of Oleo Acres’ second location. After Michel himself joined the business, a third location opened its doors in 2006 in Elbert, Colo.
The availability of pre-made horseshoes has since increased, Michel adds. Farriers can choose from hundreds of types of horseshoes for all disciplines. Today, Oleo Acres serves a wide market, and recently updated its image to better reflect its clientele. The business sees customers from other states come through its doors to research products and talk to its expert staff.
“We service all of Colorado, but we have walk-in traffic from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs. There is nothing like us in the Dakotas, Nebraska or Wyoming, so we do a lot of shipping into those states,” says Michel.
“Most of our shipping is to farriers. We walk through products with them because they are seeking our expertise. All our employees know our product lines, what we stock and how it is used. We also have in-house farriers that can answer the more difficult questions, like how therapeutic shoes should be applied. Our main focus is to make the farrier more productive and profitable, and keep them happy.”
Besides supplying a wide range of products, Oleo Acres continues its legacy of farrier education by offering workshops during the slow winter season, and has plans to expand its educational opportunities in the future.
Michel says that one of the business’s goals is to build a 10,000-square-foot retail store and a 5,000-square-foot shop that will include gas and coal forges, power hammers and presses and animal stations. Professionals will be brought in to give demonstrations on horseshoeing, blacksmithing and bladesmithing.
“Our ultimate goal is to build a facility that is a destination people can come to for education,” says Michel.