Daniel Puckett is a guy who shoes horses. But spend a little time with him, and you'll understand that the abilities he brings to the stable are as much art as they are science.
The Perryville farrier has a working knowledge of equine anatomy. He knows the biomechanics of the animal's gait. He is a specialist in equine hoof care — trimming a hoof and balancing a foot.
And he knows how to work an anvil, taking 18 inches of white-hot steel and fashioning it into a custom shoe. And he's a bit of a horse whisperer — convincing a 1,000-pound animal that what he's doing isn't going to hurt and is actually going to be good for it.
Puckett is a 2009 graduate of the Kentucky Horseshoeing School's 24-week farrier training — farrier is the term for a specialist in equine foot care — and certified by the American Farrier's Association, Puckett says the vocation comes to him quite naturally.
"I had shod my own horse a time or two, under the supervision of a farrier at the time. I enjoy working with my hands, and I enjoy working with horses, so being a farrier is a good way to put the two together," Puckett explains. "I was raised by a single mother, and we had horses as far back as I can remember. We used the horses for working the cattle. I've been around horses my entire life.
"It originally was a hair-brained idea. I was in college, studying animal science — pre-vet — at Mizzou. I had to quit because of financial reasons; I would have had to live on Raman noodles and bologna all the time," Puckett says. "I did some research, and I liked the appeal of having my own business and setting my own hours. Ten years later, I went to the Kentucky school."
Now, Puckett travels with his 100-pound anvil and propane-fueled forge in the back of his truck, taking care of horses from Ste. Genevieve to Poplar Bluff, and into the Missouri Bootheel and Southern Illinois. He says he's one of eight or so farriers in the area, and, he's the "only one doing it full-time and as in-depth."
His clientele ranges from performance horses, such as barrel racers, to family pets.
"It's a 50-50 balance. Around here we have backyard horses that are ridden three times a year by the grandkids, trail horses, performance horses and gaited horses like Missouri fox trotters, Tennessee walking horses and Rocky Mountain horses, which are getting pretty popular," Puckett says.
A frequent challenge, Puckett explained, is gaining the trust of the horse.
"A Belgian [draft horse] weighs 1,800 pounds, and her foot can weigh 100 pounds, and she may lean on me a bit," the 6-1, 240-pound Puckett says. "I have to convince them, 'I'm not going to hurt you by picking up your foot.' They have a strong fight-or-flight instinct, and a foot in the air puts them in jeopardy. Horses may have been abused in the past by a previous shoer. Horses remember that stuff, so, to me, there is an element of danger. Part of my job is to convince them that the guy who shows up with the truck is their friend."
Puckett looks back with pride and forward with ambition.
"I feel I've accomplished quite a bit, and I'm happy to be doing the horseshoeing thing full-time. For a while, I drove a truck full-time in the evening and did the shoeing during the day. God blessed me with incredible talent, and I want to make it to the International Horseshoeing Hall Of Fame," Puckett says.
"I like working with my hands and there's a lot of that in it. You've got anatomical structures, distortions from the so-called 'ideal.' You've got to be a bit artistic to get to what 'ideal' is. There's a lot of science behind it; it's half science and half art."