Even now, nearly 20 years after Elvis Presley’s death, the talented singer who changed music and haircuts forever is known quite simply as the King of rock ‘n roll.
Presley enjoyed a fabulous career before he died at the age of 42 on Aug. 16, 1977.
While Presley’s music success is legendary, few people know of his keen interest in horses and the fact that a number of horses, including several older ones that Elvis purchased himself, still live at Graceland. This mansion and the Graceland grounds are a living legacy to Elvis Presley and attract hundreds of thousands of tourists and fans each year to his former home in Memphis, Tenn.
Presley started with the Graceland horses in 1966 when he bought Priscilla a black horse with a white spot on one leg. Less than a year later, they were married.
Just as Elvis is a legend in rock ‘n roll, Lim Couch, Jr., of Hernando, Miss., is known around Graceland as a horseshoeing legend. Ever since Elvis bought that first horse nearly 30 years ago, Lim has shod the horses at Graceland. There are now seven horses at Graceland, but there were times when as many as 30 grazed the 14-acre grounds.
GRACELAND HORSESHOEING LEGEND. Lim Couch shod the horses and ponies at Graceland for over three decades. While there are still a few horses kept at the Elvis Presley memorial, there were as many as 30 horses grazing here at one time.
He fondly recalls when Elvis used to come down to the barn and talk for hours while Lim was shoeing. There were many card games in the tack room and visits to Lim’s stables during the years when Elvis reigned supreme over rock ‘n roll.
During my “Shoeing For A Living” day spent with Lim, I not only got the Elvis Presley treatment, but watched as he trimmed and shod horses for other customers in Tennessee and Mississippi. Based on the afternoon spent shoeing the Elvis Presley horses at Graceland, I learned a great deal about shoeing older horses, such as those kept at Graceland, which are over 30 years old.
1:46 p.m. While eating a late lunch, Lim tells me he was on a first-name basis with Elvis and often played cards with him in the Graceland tack room. Elvis visited Lim’s stables three times during his singing career.
“Elvis was a night person,” recalls Lim. “I’d sometimes get a call at 6 a.m. from an owner who had sold a dozen horses to Elvis during the night and wanted me to shoe them right away.”
BIG ON HOOF PROTECTION. Lim Couch uses a hoof sealer on all shoeings and most trimming work. He finds it helps seal the hoof around the nails and hold the shoe tight to the hoof.
2:14 p.m. Lim recalls the time he was called out of bed around midnight by the folks at Graceland. They had a foundered horse and wanted Lim and the vet to come right away.
“We went out to Graceland and worked on the horse from 1 to 7 a.m.,” says Lim. “We got the horse fixed and she is still in the barn at Graceland.
“They told me they wanted the horse saved and it didn’t matter what it cost. I told them we’d work on the horse anyway even if they were someone who couldn’t pay. The horse’s health was much more important to us than the money.”
2:30 p.m. Cleared by the security guards at Graceland, Lim pulls his shoeing rig up next to the door of the barn located at the back of the property.
2:35 p.m. Lim takes me on a quick tour of the barn. In the tack room, he points out the painted names on the wall of the original Elvis horses. “Note how they’ve always gone around those old names when they paint,” he says.
2:40 p.m. As we take Ebony’s Double out for a trim, Lim tells me to take a close look at the stall floors. They’re covered with rubber mats with limestone mixed with wood shavings.
“Even with these precautions, we still have thrush problems,” he says. “We trim the hooves often, the ground here is clean, we medicate the hooves, the vet works with us and we still can’t get rid of the thrush.”
SHOE THE HORSE, NOT THE FOOT. The Hernando, Miss., shoer maintains this philosophy is very important, especially with the vast styles of horses he shoes.
GRACELAND IS BEAUTIFUL. After being shod, the horses are turned out to graze the Graceland grounds and to be photographed by the thousands of tourists who make the pilgrimage to Memphis.
3:10 p.m. The next horse out, New Ebony, has similar thrush concerns. “He used to wear pads and was shod for Tennessee Walking Horse classes,” says Lim. “I’ve recently cut back the frogs and opened them up.”
He tells me Elvis used to keep as many as 30 horses here on the Graceland property. “People stand up there by the fence behind the mansion and snap photos of me working out here,” says Lim. “Sometimes I think I’m the world’s most photographed shoer.”
Visitors to Graceland can only see the barn and the horses in the distance. I ask why they still keep the horses.
“It’s because Elvis always kept horses at Graceland,” he says. “They are keeping everything the same way it was when the King was living here.”
3:25 p.m. Lim tells me how he started shoeing at Graceland around 1966 before Presley married Priscilla.
“My sister lived next to the Graceland property and their next-door neighbor was Vernon Presley, the father of Elvis. I told Vernon one day I would like to shoe the Graceland horses for Elvis. He didn’t say anything and I figured my chances weren’t good.
“About a month later, I got a call to shoe the horses at Graceland. Then a week later, they had 30 more horses to shoe. I’ve been shoeing at Graceland ever since.”
3:35 p.m. The next horse out of the stalls is Beauty, a horse Lim shod long before it came to Graceland. He pulls the shoes and gives the horse a trim.
“His hooves and frogs have collapsed in just a month’s time,” Lim says. “They look worse than ever.
VETERAN SHOER. Lim Couch has shod horses for 31 years and ran his own shoeing school for a number of years. He remembers when Elvis used to come down to the Graceland barn and talk for several hours while Lim was working.
“The left front foot is broken back so far that it would be difficult to shoe. The hoof is peeling off the side and these big frogs look like they have been soaked in water.
“These horses run outside most of the time and graze here in the yards at Graceland. They are hardly ever ridden, so shoes aren’t important for most of them.”
4:10 p.m. Lim fondly recalls a pony Elvis bought in the late 1960s for his only child, Lisa Marie. “That pony finally died of natural causes a few years back at 33 years of age,” he says. “We’d kept her trimmed all the time she was here at Graceland.”
4:15 p.m. Lim brings out a palomino named Sun Reflector who is wearing shoes. There’s little new hoof growth on the back feet, so Lim trims the frog without removing the shoes.
But the front feet are so weak that he takes the shoes off to trim the feet properly. After nailing the shoes back on, he applies ThrushBuster and Tuff Stuff to all four feet.
“Because of his white hooves, this horse simply won’t stay sound when left barefoot,” says Lim.
4:40 p.m. As Lim brings out the next mare, Ingram, he explains how he learned to keep all of a horse’s halter snaps fastened when shoeing. “One day I was shoeing alone and was trimming an Arabian mare in the stall and somehow left a halter snap loose,” he says. “Somehow that loose snap got hooked on my belt loop.
“Every time I raised my hand to take off the halter, the horse would snap her head up and leave me dangling. Finally, I reached back and ripped the belt loop buckle off my pants. Now I always fasten all the halter snaps on every horse.”
4:42 p.m. This 30-plus-year-old mare knows all of the ropes of trimming and shoeing. As Lim approaches, she raises her foot for him.
“Look at how thin this horse is,” says Lim. “It’s not because she is neglected because she gets the best care in the world. But she has arthritis and you really have to go slow when you pick up her leg.
“Because of her condition, I’m going to cut the heels back slightly to keep them from drawing up under her and contracting even if they are left a little long.”
4:57 p.m. With Ingram back in her stall, Lim brings out the sixth horse, a big horse called Sir Patrick.
“He tends to have a slight foot problem,” says Lim. “But his feet stay in better shape and he doesn’t limp if we keep him shod. He has foundered in the past, but still gets around well without medication or limping.”
SHOEING OLDER HORSES. Couch says a shoer needs to keep these horses in as natural a condition as you can. Changing the way they are shod often leads to problems.
5:19 p.m. After examining Sir Patrick, Lim leads him back to his stall without doing any trimming. “He has a pad on the front feet, still has a good hoof angle and is looking much better,” Lim says.
“But his back feet are a different story. See how the hooves are spared out and separate. The hooves don’t grow down, but tend to grow straight out. But I’m not going to do anything this time.”
5:46 p.m. The last horse of the day is a warmblood. Once again, Lim decides his feet are fine and walks him back to the stall without having to get out the nippers.
6:02 p.m. Since these Graceland horses are getting up in age, I ask Lim for some tips to share when shoeing older horses.
“Leave them in a condition that is as natural to them as you can,” he says. “Their joints get set in a certain way and ligaments tend to lose elasticity. So leave them alone as much as you can and shoe them the same way as you have done in the past.
“In over 30 years of shoeing, I have found that if you try to change the way you shoe older horses, you usually create additional problems.”
A SPECIAL GIFT FROM LIM COUCH. Hanging on the office wall of American Farriers Journal Editor Frank Lessiter, this egg bar shoe was worn by one of the horses kept at Graceland.
6:20 p.m. With the tools packed up, Lim tells me the Presley people are ideal clients.
“They treat me great,” he says. “I am always happy to do shoeing and trimming work for them.
“I write my own schedule for checking the horses on a regular basis, make the decision on what needs to be done and decide which horses should be shod and which should be left barefoot.
“They call only when there is an unexpected problem or they need a question answered about the horses. These Graceland people are exceptional folks to work with.”
For me, it’s been another super “Shoeing For A Living” day spent with a shoeing legend in his own right, the past and present shoer for Elvis Presley and the Graceland horses. Plus, I’ve learned a great deal about the important techniques in shoeing older horses.And before you ask — no, I didn't see Elvis during my afternoon spent shoeing at Graceland.