TO CELEBRATE 25 YEARS of service to the farrier industry, the American Farriers Journal staff spent several months poring over past issues looking for all of the ways the industry has changed during our publication’s existence.
In every issue since our 1999 March/April issue, we’ve written stories touting the most influential people in the business, highlighted the most innovative products created in the past 25 years and even covered what farriers can expect in the future.
But it’s funny how amongst all of this progress and change, a 25-year-old shoeing business like Lee Hecker’s in Dickinson, N.D., still remains unaffected by most of these so-called “changes.”
A Geography Lesson
Hecker is quick to offer an explanation why his shoeing business hasn’t changed all that much since 1975, the same year American Farriers Journal got its start.
“You have to remember I live in North Dakota,” says Hecker. “My shoeing business is way different than businesses on the East or West Coast or even down South for that matter.”
This is not to say that folks in North Dakota are cut off from the rest of the country when it comes to technological advances. It’s mainly because the populations of both horses and people are so spread out. “I’m the only full-time farrier in the area,” says Hecker. “Other farriers come and go. They last maybe a few years, but then they get fed up with the way things are out here and they pack up and move.”
The northern climate and the way owners care for their horses is another reason Hecker cites for a lack of change.
“Owners around here are behind the rest of the country when it comes to taking care of their horses in the winter,” says Hecker. “Most of these people have been riding horses for four or five generations. They just pull the shoes off their horses in September and turn them out all winter. That’s the way Great-Grandpa did it, so that’s what they do.
“I won’t see these horses again until March or April, so I see lots of horrible feet come spring. I’m seeing more shoeing business in the winter, averaging two to three horses a day. We’re getting the horse owners educated, but it’s slow.”
One Big Change
Although Hecker professes that not much has changed and that “for me it’s still the basics,” one aspect of his operation has changed.
“I used to travel more,” says Hecker. “Now, I’d say 90 percent of my horses come to my shop.”
The reason for the change? Efficiency!
“It’s just so much easier as I can get much more done at my shop,” Hecker maintains. “Most places up here are 75 to 100 miles away, so I’d spend half of my days in the truck driving. Now they bring their horses to me.”
While Hecker’s shop has saved him lots of time and money in rig and travel costs, it does produce one large headache in the spring.
“My toughest job comes in the spring,” says Hecker. “Because they don’t do much trimming or shoeing in the winter around here, my biggest problem is getting them all scheduled in the spring.
“I about fall out of my chair laughing when I read stories in the American Farriers Journal about farriers that can tell you on March 10 where they’ll be shoeing on June 10. I don’t have a schedule like that.”
And don’t talk about cranking out eight to 10 horses per day with Hecker. “I also laugh when I read in the roundtable section about these farriers doing 10 or more horses in a day,” says Hecker.
“They couldn’t do that up here, not with the feet that I deal with.”
Not That Bad
Even though it’s not an ideal situation for a farrier, Hecker would feel funny if his business was different.
“It’s not as bad as everyone thinks,” says Hecker. “I talk to farriers at the American Farrier’s Association convention every year and when I tell them I’m from North Dakota, they look at me like I’m crazy.
“You’d be surprised at the number of horses there are in North Dakota. There’s plenty of work around here for a farrier. There are barns with 50 to 75 horses in them, it’s just that a majority of them don’t even get trimmed,” maintains Hecker.
“Nobody specializes around here. I’ll trim or shoe anything they bring me, draft horses, rodeo horses, colts, mules, minis...anything. But that’s the way I like it.”