SHOEING EFFICIENTLY, EFFECTIVELY. Drawing on the knowledge of two engineering degrees and many shoeing clinics, Mitch Rawlings takes pride in being an extremely efficient shoer.
On a day when the temperature easily climbs into the triple digits, Illinois farrier Mitch Rawlings, 44, an American Farrier’s Association (AFA) Certified Journeyman Farrier (CJF), only sees one way to shoe a horse — efficiently. Time wasted is more time spent in the tropical conditions that he finds himself in, day in and day out, while working in southern Illinois and just outside of St. Louis, Mo.
This bright but sticky morning finds Rawlings working a full day at one barn near Collinsville, Ill., which is a 30-minute ride into St. Louis. He has already cancelled his late afternoon appointments due to the severe heat but Rawlings, who lives in Woodlawn, Ill., found time during his early-morning, 60-mile ride to Collinsville to take care of a client. Prior to meeting me at 7:45 a.m. in Collinsville, Rawlings started his day by fixing a shoe on a horse that a client needed for a noon trail ride.
“You’ve got to be of service to your good clients when they need it,” Rawlings says. “They needed the shoe fixed right away, so I was there for them.”
7:47 a.m. As he opens up his Stone Well Body rig, the first thing that catches the eye is a large clock with a temperature gauge. It’s not even 8 a.m. and it’s already 79.5 F.
Rawlings, who takes pride in being efficient throughout the day, wastes little time on introductions as he immediately begins setting up fans at three different angles outside the barn. The fans create a wind tunnel for blowing air into the area of the barn where Rawlings spends the day. But, just as he warns me that this is the hottest barn he works at, one of the fans stops spinning.
“There’s very limited electricity at this barn,” Rawlings says with a shrug of the shoulders. “On a day like today, I’m going to need as many of these fans working as I can get.
“The problem is, when I run all of these fans, the circuits need to be broken up because the barn is also using electricity for fans in each of the horse stalls.”
7:53 a.m. Rawlings takes a walk to the back of the barn to find the circuit breaker, which he flips, to get the fans rolling again.
FINALLY GOT IT RIGHT. This is Rawlings fifth rig since he started shoeing more than 25 years ago. He says there isn’t anything he’d change about it.
As he unloads his truck to get ready for the day, he tells me about his impressive Stone Well shoeing rig.
“I’ve had this for 4 years,” Rawlings says. “It’s the best money I ever spent. It’s my fifth version, and finally, my best version. On each of my first four rigs there was always something different I would have done. Now, after 4 years with this one, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The inside of the rig is well organized with a reason for the positioning of each piece of equipment, including a large space in his shoe area.
“Brent (Chidsey) wanted to know why I wanted to have such an open space,” Rawlings explains. “I told him that’s where I store my fans.”
Almost as if it heard his voice, one of the fans dies again, and Rawlings is off to flip the circuit switch.
8:04 a.m. Just before seeing the first horse of the day, Rawlings fills me in on his shoeing background and education.
He didn’t get his introduction to horses until he was a senior in high school. At the time, Rawlings was working for a farmer who became ill and had to go into the hospital. That put Rawlings in charge of 80 horses, 70 sows and 50 cows.
He followed that up by being accepted into Southern Illinois University. After his first year, he learned how to shoe by working for a few farriers. He used this knowledge to shoe horses on the side to make money to pay for college. By his second year of college, he entered the Midwest Horseshoeing School in Macomb, Ill. After 9 years of college and two engineering degrees, all paid for shoeing horses, Rawlings opted to shoe horses for a living instead of entering the workforce.
“I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day for the rest of my life,” he explains. “I wanted to get my hands dirty and I was fortunate to find an occupation where I could work with people and horses. It’s been very fulfilling.”
8:09 a.m. Out steps Shadow, an English jumper that Rawlings has never worked on before. He studies Shadow and notices that the horse has been undershod and that the shoes were not fitted properly. He pulls the shoes, looks at them and shakes his head.
FAN CLUB. On a day when the temperature cracks the 100-degree mark, having this extra space in his rig to store fans is a necessity for Rawlings.
Rawlings immediately goes to work trimming and rasping the front feet. Working efficiently, but not hurriedly, he has the front feet prepared to be shod. Instead of firing up the forge and waiting for it to get hot, Rawlings modifies the shoes cold on his anvil.
“It’s all about efficiency. I can get everything done cold in less time than it takes to turn on the forge, wait for it to heat up, heat the shoes and work them,” he says. “I do the majority of my resets cold.
“My engineering degrees have taught me about effectively using time and motion. I don’t waste any time or motions out here at the barn.”
8:19 a.m. Another pickup truck motors down the driveway and parks outside the barn. Out steps Dave Goedde, a retired accountant who started shoeing 7 years ago. Despite the sizzling forecast, Goedde wears a long-sleeved shirt to every barn.
“I just never got used to working in short sleeves,” Goedde says. “I need something to wipe my brow with.”
He works with Rawlings twice a month to gain first-hand experience from one of the more skilled shoers in the area.
“I don’t usually have a lot of apprentices. I travel too many miles to have them come with me,” Rawlings says. “I don’t want to pay someone for a lot of windshield time.”
8:25 a.m. Rawlings returns to Shadow and realizes the shoe he shaped at the anvil, which is 10 feet away, is a little off from where he wants it to be. Instead of walking back to the anvil, Rawlings hammers out the final touches on his stalljack, which is positioned directly next to the horse.
“Back in 1986 at Centaur Forge, Myron McLane said ‘you can steal my anvil but not my stalljack,’” he quotes. “Don’t get me wrong, I need my anvil, but I really like having this stalljack close by.”
NO TIME TO WASTE. Rawlings bases his day upon time, not the number of horses he wants to do. That’s why he immediately gets started on this horse with the hoof knife after just finishing the last job.
Rawlings finishes tacking on the front shoes. At this point, I see an example of why he always stresses efficiency. Instead of letting the hoof fall back to the ground before Goedde picks it up to finish it, Rawlings hands off the hoof to Goedde, who is in a ready position to receive the pass and begin his work.
“If I put that foot down and Dave picks it up, that will cost us about 45 seconds,” Rawlings explains. “Now, take 45 seconds and multiply it by four feet and you get a few minutes per horse. Take that and multiply it by the number of horses you shoe a day, and you could be looking at losing a half hour or more of your time.”
8:37 a.m. As Rawlings works on the back feet, he tells me that he uses a lot of rim shoes in his business and very few heel calks.
“You get enough traction with the rim shoes without being too aggressive,” he says. “If you give the horse too much traction, it’s going to be harder for him to stay sound for a longer period of time.
“My job is for the longevity of the horse. He should be sound and moving comfortably.”
8:41 a.m. A puddle of sweat forms on the ground as Rawlings talks about how Shadow’s back heels are looking good. He says the heels are not very long and the frog is bearing the ground support.
“I was first taught to leave the bars and cut the frog but now I leave both the bars and the frog,” Rawlings says. “I’m constantly changing the way I approach things because I’m constantly upgrading my knowledge.”
Rawlings goes to a half-dozen clinics and seminars a year and always remembers the first one he attended. The year was 1980, the instructor was Randy Luikart and the place was Springfield, Ill.
“What Randy did that day put my chin on the floor,” Rawlings says. “I realized how much more there is to learn. I was humbled that day and I never got over it.”
8:50 a.m. Shadow is escorted back to his stall and out comes Jack, another first-time horse for Rawlings. Jack only needs a trim and gives Rawlings a little trouble. He handles the young horse with ease though, and never lets go of the foot. Now that Jack has calmed down, Rawlings bevels the toe back and completes the trim.
9:06 a.m. As Rawlings finishes Jack’s trim, Goedde tells me about an AFA pre-certification class he attended a couple of days ago. It was hosted by Mitch Taylor of the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in Mt. Eden, Ky.
“It was a great class. You take a live test and they tell you what your weak points are,” Goedde says. “It was a big help for me because now when I go for certification I won’t be lost.
NOT RUSHED. While he stresses how important it is to be efficient, Rawlings points out that he is never rushed. Being rushed, especially when using the nippers could cause the horse huge problems.
“And Mitch (Taylor) is a great instructor. He brings a lot of dedication and energy to shoeing.”
9:12 a.m. A buckskin named Pontiac is next on the agenda for Rawlings and Goedde. This is another first-time horse for Rawlings and the owners warn him that the last farrier had some trouble controlling Pontiac.
Goedde grabs the fly spray and covers Pontiac from head to foot to provide some comfort. With the odor of the fly spray hanging in the air, Rawlings looks closely at Pontiac for any irregularities. He decides to use rim shoes to back up the toe a little more.
9:25 a.m. Rawlings completes his shoeing tasks of the front left foot and hands it off to Goedde, who will finish the job. Goedde cinches the nails and cleans up the job with the rasp.
After Goedde wraps up his business, he takes a few minutes to praise Rawlings.
“He’s so well organized. One step flows into the next,” Goedde says as Rawlings continues the rest of his shoeing job on Pontiac. “I don’t know of a farrier in the business who works harder than this guy. If I worked as hard as he did, I’d have to take a week off to recoup after just one day of shoeing.”
9:39 a.m. As Goedde finishes the job, Rawlings takes the opportunity to tell me a little more about his shoeing philosophy and his involvement in farrier organizations.
“Even with an ordinary day like today, you can tell there’s no one way to shoe a horse,” he says. “There are multiple ways of shoeing based on use and what the horse needs. That’s why it’s so important to stay educated and up to date.”
Staying educated takes time, as does his term as president of the Land Of Lincoln Horseshoer’s Association. Rawlings is serving his fifth, 2-year term as president, which doesn’t allow him a great deal of time to spend working weekends.
PERFECT POSITION. Rawlings’ grinder stands upright and is easily accessible within his rig.
“I try to avoid working on the weekends. I put in a lot of hours during the week,” he explains. “I go to a lot of shows on weekends and I love to go fox hunting when it’s in season.”
9:47 a.m. A Quarter Horse named Suede takes over the position previously held by Pontiac. Suede is a trail horse and as Rawlings gets the necessary background information, the fuse blows again. The fans stop and the day somehow gets warmer than it already is.
Rawlings decides he will clean up the resets and round off the blunt toe. He explains that he uses a thinner nail, which lets the wall bend the nail. Otherwise, a heavier nail could pop the wall out and the horseshoer will have caused a problem that could have been avoided.
9:55 a.m. The owner of Suede cautions Rawlings that the horse has been sore for up to 2 days following a shoeing from the previous farrier. Rawlings attributes this to the previous farrier removing too much sole. He treats the sole with iodine to toughen it up.
A young red-haired girl approaches Rawlings with a question about her two horses. He talks to her and lets me know that he will be working on her two horses today as well. She wasn’t on the schedule and she can’t stick around to hold them, but he’s trimmed her horses before and they’ll stand in cross-ties for him.
Before I can even ask the question about how he handles ill-tempered horses, Rawlings is offering his answer.
“If they won’t stand to be worked on, I won’t do them,” Rawlings bluntly says, as the temperature has now cracked the 90-degree mark. “I have too much business as it is, I don’t need to be bothering with horses that could get themselves or me hurt.”
10:11 a.m. Needing to move Suede’s breakover on the left front foot closer to the Rawlings’ desired 1 1/4 inches, he plans on putting the shoe back a bit from where the last farrier had it. By moving the shoe back, Suede will also receive more pastern heel support.
10:27 a.m. Rawlings completes the brunt of the work Suede needs, and he hands the horse off to Goedde, again keeping the hoof off the ground the entire time.
Rawlings needs a second to recover from the summer heat, which has reached 94 degrees according to the thermometer on his truck. He take a huge sip of water from his large, blue jug and goes back for one more. Once again, the topic of efficiency is a hot one.
“I rarely take a lunch break, even on these hot days,” he says. “I just drink a couple quarts of Gatorade and the sugar rush keeps me going.
“It’s all about efficiency. I’m constantly looking for ways to better myself and my business. You always have to be one step ahead of the game. It’s not about quickness, but about being efficient at the day-to-day basics. The little things you can pick up at a clinic can really improve your shoeing efficiency. I’ve taken a lot of my ideas straight from people at clinics.”
10:35 a.m. Just as Suede begins the walk back to the stall, Lacey, a smaller Quarter Horse gets ready for a trim. Lacey’s legs look short and stubby, which doesn’t phase Rawlings.
“It’s not about the size of the horse as much as it’s about the muscle,” explains Rawlings. “I can be just as comfortable under a smaller horse as I can under a Thoroughbred.
LIGHT RASPING. Being careful not to damage the hoof wall, Rawlings likes to lightly rasp under the cinched nails.
“Even if you are uncomfortable for the time you’re shoeing a horse, just keep in mind, that if the horse is comfortable, you’ll be better off. You can give up a little of your comfort for the horse’s well-being.”
Rawlings seems very comfortable under Lacey as he wastes no time in finishing the trimming. His next horse is one of the extras he took on for the day.
10:53 a.m. A large, brown Quarter Horse makes its way down to the cross ties and Rawlings begins working while answering my questions about the business side of shoeing.
“Farriers make a lot of mistakes when it comes to the business part of their practice. Overall, farriers are very poor businessmen,” Rawlings says. “I was lucky to start shoeing when I was in college. I made plenty of mistakes, but I didn’t have to worry about having a family to support at the time.
“I realized that I needed to change my prices every year after I did my taxes. If I didn’t raise them, I’d be behind the eight-ball and never be able to make up the lost money. Now my clients expect a rate increase every year, so they don’t complain. If I do good work, they’ll keep coming back. In fact, I have a waiting list of clients now who want me to do their horses. That helps out Dave because I am always handing him off more clients.”
Goedde smiles at Rawlings’ comment and agrees that he is the beneficiary of a good amount of work that Rawlings doesn’t have time for.
Goedde went to the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School in 1995. after the accounting company he worked for decided to restructure.
“Horseshoeing was always a profession I admired,” Goedde says. “I loved the outdoor work and the physical aspects of it. So, I just made the decision that I’d go for it and it has worked out so far.”
11:29 a.m. A good-sized Quarter Horse named Norman steps out of his stall and is ready for Rawlings to reset his shoes.
This is the second time Rawlings has seen this horse and he made sure to let the animal’s young owner know what he sees that is right and wrong with her horse’s feet.
“Owners always have a lot of questions,” Rawlings points out. “They are looking for advice and respect my knowledge. I don’t get too many owners trying to tell me my business anymore.
“I think that’s because I take the time to explain to them why I’m doing something and why a different method wouldn’t work. I’m not just out here shoeing horses, I’m kind of an instructor too, for the owners when they want to know about their horses’ well-being. If I can explain to her why I’m doing something in a way she understands, then she’ll feel much better about the job I’m doing.”
11:39 a.m. Rawlings finishes resetting the first foot and taps away at the clinch block. Goedde knows from the sound that it’s his turn to take over the final rasping duties at this point.
“Hear that sound?” Goedde says about the clinch block as he chuckles. “That’s my pager.”
All joking aside, Rawlings has some strong feelings about clinching nails and the safety of the horse.
NBS OPTIONS. Some shoers aren’t in favor of Natural Balance Shoes, but Rawlings find them an inexpensive way to keep a horse sound.
“When I’m clinching nails, I like to rasp under them just a little,” Rawlings says. “If you rasp too much and remove the wall, you’re weakening that point. By taking away the wall, the clinch is compromised.
“My clinches are still smooth when I’m done but I leave the wall because that is what is holding the clinch in place and keeps the shoes on.”
12:01 p.m. Rawlings continues shoeing Norman’s other feet. However, as the temperature soars to an even 100 F, Norman becomes a little antsy with both Rawlings and Goedde.
“This horse is very musclebound and he’s starting to cramp up,” Rawlings suggests. “He’s just not comfortable now. Being so musclebound, it’s hard for him to stand here patiently for an extended amount of time.”
12:10 p.m. Finally Norman remains calm enough for Rawlings to finish the job. Not stopping for the heat, Rawlings summons the next Quarter Horse. This one is named Chance and is used strictly as a pleasure horse.
As Rawlings takes his customary walk around the horse, he tells me about his future plans for his shoeing business.
“Well, I’m 44 right now and I figure I can keep up my current pace for another 10 years,” he says, letting me know his current pace is to work 60 hours a week for 42 weeks a year. The other 10 weeks are spent showing horses and working at horse shows. He also enjoys going on an extended trail ride every year. “I figure I’ll slow down after another 10 years and shoe into my 60s,” he says.
12:23 p.m. By the time he’s into his 60s, don’t expect Rawlings to be doing the amount of traveling he does now. He averages 35,000 miles a year, but that’s down from his high of 52,000 miles a year.
While driving 35,000 miles in a year may not prove his point about efficiency, Rawlings finds ways to save time before and after he climbs into his truck every day.
“I have my own large capacity propane tank and diesel fuel tank at home,” he says. “I don’t have to stop for anything during the day. When I get home or just before I leave in the morning, I fill up my tank and am ready for another day.”
12:27 p.m. Chance, who once needed a heart bar on his back left foot, is going to be shod with aluminum Natural Balance Shoes (NBS). Rawlings admits that there are some farriers who aren’t fans of the NBS, but he finds the shoes useful in his practice.
“They are a lighter-weight shoe and when the sole needs more protection, this shoe works,” Rawlings says. “I tried standard wide-web aluminum shoes but they didn’t work. The horse couldn’t get out of his own way with a standard shoe, so I went with the NBS.”
PRYING VS. PULLING. Rawlings can pry this shoe off a horse that isn’t experiencing any problems. But on an animal with a sore hoof, he makes sure to pull the nails out first.
Rawlings also explains that Chance is a “classic up and down” horse meaning that the left front foot is underrun and the right front foot has a stacked heel and dished toe. The NBS will accommodate both problems with the feet.
“This is a very misunderstood shoe,” Rawlings says. “Many people think it moves the breakover too far back.”
Rawlings admits it does move the breakover back, but says the true intent of the shoe is to make the horse feel as it would if it was turned out into the wild.
12:45 p.m. The temperature reaches its highest point of the day (102.5 F) as Rawlings continues his defense of NBS. He says he’s experienced a 98 percent success rate with the NBS. Owners are happy with what he’s doing, so he’s not going to be changing anytime soon.
“This is a good way to keep a horse sound,” he explains. “There might be much more expensive ways to fix the horse, but if the owner doesn’t want to spend the money, there’s nothing you can do.
“You’ve got to provide the most economical way to keep the horse sound. You don’t need to be a hero out there. Just treat the owner the way you would want to be treated.”
12:51 p.m. Rawlings grabs his large Gatorade and takes a big sip. Finally, he decides to take a short break and sits on a plastic lawn chair, which is the first time today that he’s letting something other than his legs hold him up.
12:55 p.m. After catching his breath and getting rehydrated, Rawlings pops out of his chair and welcomes J.R., another Quarter Horse that needs a trimming and a shoeing.
Once again Rawlings opts for aluminum NBS. He reiterates that the owner is happy with what he is doing and the horse is in good shape.
1:00 p.m. J.R. doesn’t move a bit, which prompts Rawlings to ask me if I think that the horses have been well-behaved today. From the looks of it, I say that they have and Rawlings agrees.
“This is a typical day with typical horses for me,” he says. “The horses have been on great behavior today.
“Now, Chance, he’ll try you, and Suede and Jack were both nervous. Those are the kind of horses you don’t want to press. You let them know who’s in charge but you don’t go overboard.
“It’s kind of an education process with these animals. For the ones that I worked on for the first time today, once I do them three times, they’ll stand for me and never move. They’ll learn to trust me.”
As Rawlings gives me this explanation, J.R. remains calm. Rawlings doesn’t even need the hoof jack to finish this job. Upon completion, he lets Goedde know they’ll be taking care of the next horse back in its stall.
1:22 p.m. As we walk into the depths of the barn, the air gets heavier and amazingly warmer. Rawlings directs Goedde into the stall where a mare is standing with her foal. The two men enter the stall and want to work quickly.
However, the foal has other ideas as it wedges itself between the mare and the stall door, making it more difficult for Rawlings to get his trim done.
After a couple of nervous moments with the baby, the mare stands still with Goedde holding her. Rawlings’ efficiency and relentless work ethic pay off as he gets in and out of the stall in a short amount of time. His work is flawless despite his efforts to finish quickly.
1:33 p.m. We make the trek back to the barn alley to meet up with Duck, a Quarter Horse with a mild case of laminitis. Rawlings says he’s been using NBS on Duck since his first visit.
Duck, which is also suffering from a bad case of hives, began to show signs of improvement until 3 weeks ago, when she had another laminitic attack.
“I just need to be very careful and not remove a lot of sole,” explains Rawlings. “I also don’t want to just pry the shoes off. This horse is in some pain, so I’m going to pull the nails first.”
He takes off a small amount of heel to back the toe up and removes very little solar arch.
2:05 p.m. A nervous 2-year-old is next on the agenda. Rawlings explains that this horse hasn’t been handled much because its owner has been hurt and unable to make many trips to the barn.
Rawlings doesn’t take any time to talk or rest, as he deals with the fidgety horse and gets out of the trim in 10 minutes.
“He gave me a little bit of a problem but I knew what to expect,” Rawlings says.
2:15 p.m. Kissie, a paint horse, comes out for her trim. This will be the last horse of the day. Rawlings notes the time and and smiles.
“See, I work by time and not by the number of horses,” he says. “I knew that we would be out of here by about 3 today. And I even took on a few extra horses. As long as you are efficient, you can get much more done than you originally thought.
FARRIER PRIDE. It’s easy to see that Rawlings take pride in being a horseshoer.
“That’s why I work by time. If I limit myself to a certain number of shoeings and trims, it’s going to be more of a problem trying to add on a couple more horses. But, if I know I am going to be out of here by 3 and I’m getting my work done in a timely fashion, then it’s no problem to add a few extra horses because I’m not leaving any later than I had planned.”
Rawlings admits at this point that he could have made it to his late afternoon appointments but was glad he cancelled them the day before.
“You never know how you’re going to feel in this kind of heat and humidity,” he says. “I feel good now, but, if I didn’t and I kept those appointments, I’d suffer, and more importantly, the horses would suffer.
“This is my living. I want to do it for a long time, which is why I don’t need to push myself beyond my limits everyday.”
Considering Rawlings shod nine horses, trimmed four more and took care of that sprung shoe before meeting up with me this morning, it would be safe to say he efficiently pushed himself plenty today.