Dickinson, N.D., farrier Lee Hecker believes there are two parts to being a farrier — one part blacksmith and one part horse whisperer.
He has personally forged nearly every tool in his shop at Lee’s Farrier Service and has shod more horses than he cares to estimate, according to AgWeek. After serving in the Vietnam War, Hecker was inspired by his time in Germany where he encountered the European version of the blacksmith farrier — der hufschmied.
“I picked up horseshoeing after getting out of the Army,” Hecker says. “Been shoeing horses ever since. You never stop learning and you can never learn it all.”
When Hecker began shoeing, many forges used coal instead of gas, scaring some farriers with the threat of fire spreading on prairies. While some farriers turned to cold shoeing, Hecker kept up the practice of hot shoeing, believing it is one of the best practices for the horse because it allows farriers to do more extensive alterations on the steel.
“After the foot has been trimmed, rasped and is ready for the new shoe, we heat the shoe in the forge and place it briefly on the foot to sear the path where the shoe will sit,” Hecker says. “It helps make a smooth surface between the hoof and the shoe, and it seals the cut horn tubules, making them less likely to dry out in the summer or take on moisture and soften in the winter.”
The art of blacksmithing and horse whispering isn’t something that can be automated. Despite many professions and trades facing the encroachment of automation and technology, Hecker believes there will be farriers as long as there are horses.
“I believe that with American ingenuity, we could invent a machine that could do all of this for us and wipe out the farrier business in a day,” Hecker says. “I don’t see that happening, though, because we aren’t going to spend billions and billions of dollars to develop such a technology when we have farriers who will do it.”
Horses and their owners both rely on farriers for their services. Wade Entze and his filly Cloudy both rely on Hecker’s services.
“He’s more than just a horseshoe guy, or a blacksmith,” Entze says. “Men like Hecker are basically veterinarians in how they can help a horse. I brought in a lame horse to him years back, and he worked her and fixed her up. By the time we had her back at the farm, she was good as new. He’s a true horse whisperer.”
Hecker is a farrier because he loves what he does, not to get rich, and it shows. He mainly shoes barrel racing and ranch horses.
“There’s never been a rich farrier,” Hecker says. “You don’t get into this trade to be rich; you do it because you love it and there are always benefits to learning a trade.”