The autumn air is crisp as Keith Mizer leaves the Shoney’s restaurant in his home town of Lebanon, Mo. He fires up his truck and gets ready to do what he’s done just about every day for more than 40 years — go out and shoe horses.
8:40 a.m. But not just any horses. Mizer is a specialist and has spent the vast majority of his time during those years working on Missouri Fox Trotters.
“Probably two-thirds of the horses I see are Fox Trotters,” the 63-year-old Mizer explains. “I’ve got a lot of older clients, trainers and owners and I’ve been shoeing for them for a lot of years. I do shoe some barrel racers and some reining horses, but Fox Trotters are the real backbone of my business.”
Even when he first started shoeing, he already had his eye on the breed for which his home state is known. Mizer lost his mother when he was 16 and his father just 7 months later.
“I had to make up my mind when I was pretty young,” he says. “I decided this was what I wanted to do.”
Having made his decision, Mizer went looking for a mentor and found him in the person of a farrier who was widely regarded as one of the top shoers of the breed anywhere.
“I started working with Lloyd Bell when I first started shoeing,” Mizer recalls. “Fox Trotters were all he ever shod, all he really worked on. I rode with him for 6 years and when he passed on from leukemia, I decided to really throw myself into shoeing Fox Trotters.”
He remembers Bell as a great teacher, but a stern taskmaster.
“When I first started, he’d tell me what he wanted done, then sit back and watch me do it,” he says with a wry grin and a shake of his head. “Then he’d inspect my work, show me what I’d done wrong and have me pull it all off and do it again, the right way.”
It was a tough way to learn, but it also helped him come to appreciate the subtleties of shoeing the breed.
It also fed Mizer’s obvious love of learning his craft, something he’s made as much a part of his approach to his art as shaping a shoe or driving a nail.
CAREFULLY SET. Keith Mizer drives home a nail on a hind foot. The farrier says he’s particularly careful about properly setting his shoes. It’s not unusual for him to drive 2 nails, check the fit, then remove the shoe and reset it to get it exactly where he wants it.
CALKS BEHIND. Missouri Fox Trotters are often shod with heel calks on their hind feet. The calks cause an earlier breakover and add animation to the horse’s gait.
TOE-WEIGHTED SHOES. The front feet of Missouri Fox Trotters are most often shod with toe-weighted shoes, where the additional weight is carried in a broader web at the toe.
“You never want to miss any opportunity to learn something new,” he says. “You can never stop learning.”
He got involved early with the Missouri Farriers Association (recently renamed the Missouri Association of Professional Farriers), is a voracious reader of American Farriers Journal and other publications and tries to never miss an opportunity to work with other farriers.
“I’m a big believer in clinics, too,” he says. “Even if you just stand there and watch, you can come away with such knowledge.”
He also is constantly learning from his clients — especially the 4-footed ones.
“There is a real art to shoeing Fox Trotters — and it’s becoming a lost art,” he says. “No two Fox Trotters travel exactly the same way. You have to shoe each horse individually. Being off in your shoeing just the tiniest bit can throw the whole horse out of time.”
Mizer’s obviously mastered those subtleties. He’s in great demand, regularly traveling far from his central Missouri home to see to the footcare needs of Fox Trotters in other states as well as overseas.
“It’s been an interesting career,” he says. “I’ve been in every state. I’ve been the official farrier for the Missouri Fox Trotters Horse Show since 1969 and I’ve traveled to the World Show and to the European Fox Trotters Show in Germany.”
In 1999, Mizer was inducted into the Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Breeder Association’s (MFTBA) Hall Of Fame. The Hall is a family affair, as his wife, Iva Lou, a trainer who has ridden 8 world champions, is also a member.
The job keeps him busy. He claims that he’s slowed down following a heart attack about a year ago, but he still talks about shoeing 6 or 7 days a week. In fact, he says the only days he regularly takes off are Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
It’s also not unusual during the busy summer season for him to get up at 2:30 a.m. to start shoeing at 3, or to shoe 14 to 17 horses in a single day.
One shudders to think how much he was working before he had his heart problems.
“I usually go out on the road and shoe Monday through Friday,” he says. “On Saturday, people trailer their horses to my workshop. On Sundays, we go to church in the morning and in the afternoon, there’s usually people who bring their horses over.”
FINE-TUNING A FRONT. Keith Mizer uses a hoof stand as he carefully rasps the hoof of a Missouri Fox Trotter handled by trainer Mike Owens. Mizer says no two Fox Trotters move exactly alike, meaning each one must be shod with minute individual differences in mind.
8:53 a.m. During today’s “Shoeing For A Living,” his schedule is relatively light. Usually, during winter months, he’ll shoe 6 or 7 horses a day. Today’s book only calls for about 3 stops and work on 5 horses, but you quickly get the impression Mizer could make his day a far busier one with just a few calls on his cell phone.
As already noted, the shoer is in demand.
He’ll be trekking down to Arkansas to a vet clinic tomorrow, and next week will be headed for the Scottsdale, Ariz., area, a regular stop in his travels, where he’ll look after horses at Big Sky Fox Trotters, getting the ranch’s horses ready for a big show.
“I’ll be there for 8 to 10 days, then come back here and go back to a full schedule,” he says.
9:15 a.m. Mizer’s first stop is at Owens Stables, where he’s met by trainer and owner Mike Owens. He’ll start the day on Corkey Lee, a 10-year-old mare who he explains is a good example of the importance of getting the right shoeing job for a Fox Trotter.
“You don’t just throw a shoe on her, she won’t work.” Mizer explains. “You have to get her just right.”
Owens explains that originally not much was expected of Corkey Lee.
“She had the big motion that you like and seemed to have a lot of heart, but she couldn’t take the pressure in the ring,” he says. “Part of it was there was a less-experienced rider on an amateur horse. The rider didn’t know the breed. But it turned out her big problem was that she just wasn’t shod right.”
“Each of her feet is a little bit different than any of the others,” Mizer says. “I need to keep her lined up just right.”
After Mizer took over Corkey Lee’s shoeing, she and her rider won a Youth Class World Championship and followed it up with Senior Breeder’s Cup championships in 2002 and 2004. She’s been in training recently, and Owens says he would like to enter her in one more show to see how she’d go in an open class.
9:21 a.m. Even though he’s very familiar with the mare’s feet, Mizer takes his time in trimming her front feet. He carries a regular hoof knife in his right apron pocket and a loop knife in the left, using the latter to clean out the sulcuses and commisures. In Corkey Lee’s case, he gets by with relatively light trimming, as he has the horse on a regular schedule.
Mizer explains that Fox Trotters can sometimes be shod with regular horseshoes in the front, but that more often, toe-weighted shoes are used.
“You’re not allowed to exceed 21 ounces in weight and most often we use Diamond toe-weight shoes,” he says. “Trainers depend on me to get the right shoe on their horse and set it up right so that the horse travels the way they want it to.”
It can be a complex job and depends on a lot of careful observation.
“I know this horse’s needs pretty well,” he says. “But with a new horse, it’s not unusual for me to shoe the horse behind first, then watch him being ridden before I shoe the fronts. Or we might shoe the fronts first, watch him being ridden and then shoe the hinds. It all depends on the needs of that particular horse.”
Fox Trotters are known for their smooth gaits, particularly the fox trot itself, a broken diagonal gait in which the supporting legs are on opposite quarters. It’s the only diagonal gait among gaited horses and Mizer says essentially, a fox-trotting horse is “walking in the front and trotting in the back.”
9:37 a.m. According to information on the Missouri Fox Trotting Horse Breeding Association’s Web site (www.mfthba.com), the fox trot gets its rhythmic smoothness because the horse moves its front foot a split second before the opposite hind. A horse that is fox trotting correctly will never have more than two feet off the ground at any time. On both the front and back ends, the horse will set one foot down just as it picks the other foot up, meaning that for just an instant, both feet will be touching the ground.
LONG-FOOTED HORSE. The feet on this Fox Trotter had been a long time between trims. At left are the fronts before trimming. In the center is a basal look at one of the hooves and at right are the same fronts after farrier Keith Mizer had removed about 1 1/2 inches of hoof wall.
If that sounds as if it might be a little hard to shoe for, it can be — at least until you learn the subtleties.
“I’ve been doing these horses for 40 years and there are still a lot of times when I have to back up, scratch my head and put my mind to work on what I need to do for this particular horse,” Mizer says.
9:42 a.m. The extra weight in the toe-weight shoes Mizer is using on Corkey Lee’s fronts is located in a wider web area in the toe of the shoe. Mizer says the most common shoe modification he has to make with the shoes is to open up the heels a little and sometimes flatten out the arc or bow of the toe, particularly for young horses. It’s something he can usually do cold, with just a few blows from his rounding hammer.
MFTHBA shoeing rules discourage the use of non-standard shoes. As Mizer noted, shoes cannot exceed 21 ounces and farriers are not allowed to add weight to a shoe — hence the use of manufactured toe-weight shoes to help add animation to the gait (See MFTHBA Shoeing Rules on Page 54).
Mizer is very particular about the fit of his shoes. He sets the first one with 2 nails, then sights down it and gives his head a shake. He pulls the shoe off, makes a very minute adjustment in how it sits on the hoof, then — now satisfied — nails it home.
“When I first set it, I was just off dead center,” he explains. “But because she’s just a little bit off in her conformation, I want the shoe set right on dead center.”
9:53 a.m. Before he nails on any shoe, Mizer likes to smooth the foot surface of the shoe with a hand-held power grinder.
“I want a totally flat surface against that hoof so that I can get the right fit,” he explains. “This takes off any bumps or slight burrs that might make the horse uncomfortable.”
9:58 a.m. Hinds on Fox Trotters are often shod with heel calks. Mizer says he most often uses St. Croix shoes for the hinds. The calks help get the extension in the hinds that trainers and show judges are looking for.
“With these shoes, the calks hit the ground first,” he says. “That makes the horse break over earlier and it will extend out more.”
With Corkey Lee, Mizer says it’s important to get the hinds fit properly.
“If you don’t get her just right, she’ll touch herself,” he explains.
Mizer also backs Corky Lee’s toe up a bit to get her angles up so she’ll be stood up more in the hinds. He says he wants her back angles set at 56 degrees and her fronts at 53 degrees.
10:09 a.m. After finishing up Corky Lee’s shoeing, Owens wants Mizer to evaluate two other Fox Trotters while they’re being ridden around the arena. One isn’t due for a shoeing right away, but the other will probably need to have new shoes put on her fronts.
CHECKING THE SHAPE. Keith Mizer checks the shape of a front shoe after cold shaping it at his anvil. Mizer says the most common modification he has to make on the toe-weight front shoes Fox Trotters often wear is to open the heels up a bit and soften the bow of the shoe. He says this is particularly true when working with younger horses.
Owens saddles up the first horse, Luv Ya’ Man and puts him through his paces in the ring as Mizer explains what he’s looking for.
“You don’t have big front end action. Fox Trotters don’t lift their front feet as much as some breeds do, so if he’s off just a little bit, not lifting one foot as high as the other, it can be hard to spot,” he explains. “In the front end, I’m looking for extension and I’m envisioning a straight line from the point of his shoulder to the point of his toe. If I can get that, I get what I want from the front end without putting too much stress on his structure.”
In the back, or trotting end of the horse, Mizer wants to see more “snap.”
“I’m watching the trot, concentrating from the hip to the ankle,” he explains. “You want to see some snap as he brings the leg forward. You’re also watching for where the landing takes place and where the foot leaves the ground,” he says. “In a show ring, the rider will put more pressure on the horse to get more snap and animation.”
Besides the calks mentioned earlier, Mizer says Fox Trotters may be shod with rolled toes behind if he wants quicker action, or with a square toe if the horse is “clicking” or interfering.
10:17 a.m. As he watches, Mizer says he thinks Luv Ya’ Man is off just a little bit.
“He probably has just a little too much toe for his fox trot to be just right, but you might not want to change anything,” he says.
Mizer explains that’s because the extra toe might be needed to make his canter right. One of the challenges in shoeing Fox Trotters for the ring involves getting a sort of happy-medium shoeing job that will enable the horse to maximize its scores in three different gaits — the fox trot, the flat foot walk and the canter. (See “Tale of Three Gaits” on Page 50.)
10:26 a.m. Another challenge in shoeing Fox Trotters is that the breed is used in so many different disciplines and types of riding, in addition to competing in Fox Trotter shows.
“If a Fox Trotter is going to be used for trail riding, they need to be shod correctly for that,” explains Mizer. “Some of these horses are really tedious to shoe to keep them going the way people want them to. You also have to keep up on their shoeing, because a Fox Trotter can get out of whack so quickly.”
10:33 a.m. Owens has returned Luv Ya’ Man to his stall and is now riding a mare named Nikki around the ring. Nikki is a mare out of Corkey Lee and has already also won a World Championship.
Mizer points out that Nikki is clearly stiffer in the back knees than Luv Ya’ Man was in the same gait. Mizer says that’s partly because her angles are off since her last shoeing and partly because her conformation is different.
“She’s a little too steep in front right now,” he explains. “She’s lifting one too high and keeping one too low. That’s the difference between a world champion horse or one that’s standing out in the grass.”
Mizer has come up with a shoeing prescription for Nikki that involves shoeing her every 4 weeks, keeping her toes trimmed short and setting her front hoof angles at 54 degrees.
Owens says it’s made all the difference for the horse.
“As long as we do her that way, she’s a world champion,” he says. “Otherwise, she’s just a damn field horse.”
11:05 a.m. Owens brings Nikki over to the shoeing area and Mizer quickly goes to work on her fronts, cleaning the hooves and pulling her shoes. He does most of the trimming on her heels, checking his work with his hoof gauge as he goes.
“Her angles were way off,” he says. “Her right front foot is a little upright, so we have to take some of the heel off and back the toe up a little on the other side to get her to line up right.”
Angles play a big role in Mizer’s shoeing. One strict rule he has is that he won’t change the angles of a horse’s hoof more than 3 degrees.
“Plus or minus 3 degrees is all the more I will go,” he explains. “I’ve seen some people change angles by 6 to 8 degrees. If you do that, you have to get something out of line and that horse will have as much as 2,000 pounds coming down on a structure that’s out of line. With a change of 3 degrees or less, you can keep the horse balanced. I’m picky about balance and lining up those structures as close as my eye can see.”
And he doesn’t rely just on his eye. He used a hoof gauge on every horse, to be sure that the angles are where he wants them.
11:18 a.m. Another oddity about angles is that while Mizer uses a hoof gauge to check angles, he never forgets what he’s decided are the proper angles for a given horse.
“It’s a God-given gift,” he says. “I can tell you the angles I did on horses 35 years ago. I’ve gone to the Worlds and had people bring a horse up that I might have done once years ago and I’ll ask them, ‘Are you still keeping him at 54 degrees behind?’ I might forget your name, but if I’ve done your horse, I’ll never forget how I set him up.”
11:27 a.m. The farrier works quickly and soon has Nikki’s fronts reshod. Owens takes her around the ring a couple of more times and both trainer and shoer agree that she’s moving much better now.
“We’ve got her front end following her nose,” Mizer says.
Mizer sometimes uses as much of his time in evaluating a horse to decide what it needs and how it should be trimmed and shod as he does in its actual shoeing. It’s that ability to watch a Fox Trotter in motion and make the minute adjustments to its feet and shoeing to improve that motion that has him in such demand in the Fox Trotter community.
11:39 a.m. Mizer has spent a little longer than 2 hours at the barn and has actually shod 1 1/2 horses. But he stresses that he also bills for his expertise and the time he’s spent observing the horses under rider.
“You have got to get paid for your time,” he says. “Shoeing these horses the right way takes a little longer. My clients understand that. They know I’m thinking about their horse’s strides, where the breakover point needs to be, how the hoof needs to be balanced. They know I’m thinking about how to keep their horse traveling right, even before I get there. That time is just as important as anything else. You can’t just nail on four shoes and go.
“It may take me two or three shoeings to get a horse figured out, but I’ll do it.”
Mizer also says he takes pride in maintaining high standards of shoeing, no matter what the value of the horse or what its being used for.
“I’ll do just as good a job on a $50,000 horse or a $50 pony,” he says. “If your horse is in World Championships or just being ridden 5 miles down the road, he’s going to go good.”
12:03 p.m. As he packs up his shoeing rig, Mizer does note that one concession he did make following his heart attack was to change anvils. He had used a 125 lb. anvil for years, but following his surgery, found lifting it in and out of his truck was too much for him. He switched to the 83 lb. JHM Bruce Daniels model and immediately became a fan.
“As soon as I took it out of the package I was sold,” he says. “It’s got a longer horn that’s shaped in a way that’s great for hot shoeing. And the difference in taking it in and out of the truck is really something.”
He does most of his shoe shaping with a Jim Poor Flatland rounding hammer that he was lucky enough to win at a clinic. He says the hammer and the anvil seem to work well together.
“I like the weight of the hammer,” he says. “It’s heavy enough to deliver a blow, but it doesn’t have too much bounce or rebound.”
1:32 p.m. After lunch, Mizer’s day takes an odd twist. He’s scheduled to shoe a stallion at a local Fox Trotter barn. He’s been told there’s a white rope hanging on the horse’s stall and that the owner will be around.
But when he arrives, while there is indeed a white rope hanging on a stall door, the stall is empty. Mizer walks up and down and checks all of the stalls, and while some are occupied, none hold the horse he’s expecting to shoe. What’s more, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around, and a couple of cell phone calls he makes go unanswered.
Mizer goes back to the stall that’s marked and inspects it more closely, then points out that there is what looks like fresh blood on an area between two bars in the upper section of the stall wall.
“It looks like the horse might have gotten caught in there and hurt himself,” he says.
Mizer has just about decided to move on to his next barn when his cell phone buzzes. It’s the owner, who tells him his detective work was right on the money. The horse is bleeding badly, and he’s trailering him to his vet, whose office is a couple of hours away. He apologizes for not calling the farrier earlier. Mizer suggests that if the horse is bleeding profusely, the owner may want to stop at an equine vet’s facility that’s closer by.
Mizer loads what little equipment he’d taken out before he realized the horse was missing and heads back out the driveway. He hasn’t reached the highway yet before his cell phone buzzes again. It’s the injured horse’s owner again, who’s decided to take Mizer’s advice about getting the horse’s bleeding under control before a 2-hour trailer ride. Mizer suggests a nearby equine hospital he frequently works with.
2:03 p.m. Mizer still has one stop left on this day. It’s a new horse, and with a chuckle, he says the owner of the barn has promised him he’ll earn his money on this one.
“He says he’s a long-footed horse,” he says. “Mostly because a farrier hasn’t seen him in something like 6 months.”
2:19 p.m. The barn where the horse is being kept is still under construction, so Mizer has to drive carefully around potholes and equipment and around to a back entrance to get in. There are just a few horses stalled here now and electrical power is not yet available, but Mizer says the new barn will be light years ahead of the one it’s replacing. It’s bright and airy inside, with a wide-open area between lines of stalls along the outside walls.
2:27 p.m. Mizer quickly locates the horse he’s supposed to shoe. Once again, a rope has been used to mark the proper stall door, but a quick look at the horse’s feet probably would have been enough to tell him which horse he was supposed to see.
The feet are indeed long and the hoof wall has overgrown the shoes. Mizer is careful about removing the shoes and steps back and evaluates the horse’s stance before he begins trimming. He points out that allowing the horse’s feet to grow so long has put the horse in the very predicament he’d talked about earlier.
“His tendons and bone structure are in a terrible bind,” he says. “His entire limbs are way out of alignment and all of that weight is on them.”
Once he’s cleaned up the hooves, Mizer goes to work on his trimming. He uses his nippers to remove a lot of hoof wall, working heel to heel and taking off one thick rim of hoof, then taking a second, smaller bite off after that. He repeats the procedure on the other front hoof.
“I’m probably taking a good 1 1/2 inches off each hoof,” he says. “And it’s not too much. I will suggest to the trainer that they take it a little easy with the horse for a couple of days since I’ve taken so much off.”
2:36 p.m. Mizer is able to get the horse back to within what he considers his proper angles for his conformation without breaking his 3 degree limit. He checks the horse and sees he has the fronts at 53 degrees and the hinds at 55. He opens up the heels of the shoes a bit before nailing them in place.
Watching Mizer at work makes it easier to understand how he’s able to handle the volume of work he does. There’s very little wasted motion. He stays close to the horse, and while he has his forge available, he’s often able to adjust the shoes to the fit he wants with just a few blows from his rounding hammer at the anvil.
3:45 p.m. Mizer finishes up the horse, give the trainer his bill, packs up his rig and is homeward bound. He says he ends just about every day the same way. He’ll get back to his workshop and clean his tools, often wiping them down with a little WD-40 to keep them from rusting. He’ll also sharpen his hoof knives and check to replenish any supplies his rig will need.
Today’s an early day for him, but there are several reasons — not all related to having an AFJ editor tagging along. He’ll be getting up very early the next morning and will be on the road by 3 a.m., first stopping at a nearby vet clinic where he’ll lace up a quarter crack and put on an egg bar shoe, then he’ll drive down to Arkansas where he’ll be getting some Fox Trotters ready for a coming show.
He’ll spend a few days down there, then return home for a day or so before he flies to Arizona, where he’ll see to the needs of the Fox Trotters at the Big Sky ranch. While there, he estimates that he’ll take care of 100 to 140 horses over the course of 8 to 10 days. He keeps an extra shoeing trailer in Arizona, so that he doesn’t have to drive his rig all the way every few months.
He also makes regular trips to Utah, typically for 6 to 7 days of work and does therapeutic work for several veterinarians and estimates that he shoes at 14 training barns in his home area, providing footcare for 45 to 50 horses at each one.
Remember, this is the guy who’s slowing down since he had a heart attack.
How does he manage to keep going?
“I don’t need much sleep,” he says with a smile. “During the summer, when it’s hot, a lot of times I’ll start shoeing at 3:30 a.m., then keep going until it gets too hot. Then I’ll go do something else and go back and shoe from 7 or 8 p.m. until midnight.
“I can lay down for a hour or two, get up, take a shower then be off down the road and do it all again.”
4 p.m. Mizner wraps up his day back at the same Shoney’s Restaurant where he started, sipping sweet iced tea. He chats a little about how much he enjoys passing his knowledge along. He’s worked with three different apprentices and says he’s always happy to work with other farriers — especially if they want to draw on his knowledge about Missouri’s namesake horse.
“Shoeing Fox Trotters for the average farrier is a whole different ball game,” he says. “It would be like throwing me in with a bunch of racking horses. I’d have to depend on a farrier who knew something about them.”
Just as much of the Missouri Fox Trotter world depends on a farrier who knows something about them — a farrier named Keith Mizer.