By Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Aaron Rome’s mother likes to say her older son was on a horse the day she brought him home from the hospital 32 years ago.

That might be a bit apochryphal. Rome was born on Long Island, about a year before his mother moved to Old Myakka and “went horse crazy,” as he puts it. But it might as well be true.

“Don’t ask me where anything is on Long Island,” says Rome, standing next to Levi, the sorrel-turned-gray gelding who serves as both family pet and his mount for team roping contests. “I grew up with no stoplights. It was wide open.”

It’s not hard to tell Rome is a country boy. He has a plug of chewing tobacco neatly tucked into one cheek, his jeans are long enough for an authentic cowboy’s “stack” — wrinkles of extra material at the ankle that assure a proper length when horseback — and there’s a roping dummy in the shade of the 5-acre lot in Myakka City, about an hour’s drive from downtown Sarasota, he shares with his fiancée, Kelli, and their three children.

Parked alongside a tidy shed that houses a riding tractor and a fishing boat is Rome’s Ford F-150 4x4. He puts anywhere from 300 to 500 miles on it a week, pulling a small, covered trailer with a side that opens up like a lunch stand that holds the tools of his trade — an anvil, a forge, hammers and rows upon rows of pre-formed bar stock.

Rome is a farrier. His four-legged clients come in all sizes and temperaments. He sees most of them every 5 or 6 weeks, more often than he sees many of his friends. He shoes Shetlands and draft horses, 4-H pets and reining horses — even the occasional circus zebra.

Rome can give a racehorse a competitive edge with a high performance shoe or a hunter/jumper extra support to cushion landings. And, “if they can handle it,” as Levi can, he will just let them “go barefoot.”

“Horses were always kinda my thing,” he says. “They’re second nature to me.”

Before he turned 10, Rome and his cousin were regularly tagging along with an uncle, also a farrier, when Tom Lehman set out for a day’s circuit of jobs.

“It was fun, we’d ride in the back of the truck, play in people’s yards with their dogs, just run around,” Rome recalls. “Maybe get to go to McDonald’s or for a soda at the gas station. When you’re a kid, that’s a big deal.”

After graduating from high school, Rome headed off to farrier’s school in Oklahoma. But his real schooling came at the age of 20, when he became Lehman’s apprentice, learning the “old school” way his uncle still practices.

These days he’s adopted a few modernisms, like a hoof stand. But the job still has its hazards.

“Those are the two things I’m always asked,” he says. “’How’s your back holding up?’ and ‘Do you get kicked or bit often?’ Sometimes you do, of course. There’s always a bad apple here and there.”

One of the rewards of the job is being able to set his own schedule, allowing for time to coach soccer teams for Kelli's daughter Rezlyn, 10, and son Ryder, 9; to dote on their 2-year-old daughter together, Regan; or to haul the boat over to Lake Manatee, 18 minutes away, for fishing and camping.

“There’s always stuff to do here,” says Rome. “Being in the country, they get a good sense of the work ethic and they have room to run.”

Once a year, everyone gets in the mobile home and they drive the 11 hours to South Carolina, meeting their remaining Long Island relatives exactly midway. It's about as close to big city life as Rome wants to come these days.

“I've always preferred the country lifestyle,” he says. “It's where I always wanted to be.”

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