SHOEING VETERAN. Don Richardson, a farrier from Urbana, Ohio, has been shoeing horses since 1957. He shoes out of this truck, which includes a Monetta shoeing body. Richardson is a big fan of the fiberglass body. He says itʼs easy to keep clean, durable and weighs less than many metal shoeing bodies.
The sun is shining brightly on what promises to be a hot July day as Don Richardson drives his shoeing rig through the Ohio countryside near Urbana, a small town located a short distance north of Dayton.
The fields are green with high-standing corn and soybeans. Summer is passing quickly, meaning it won’t be long until county fairs begin, bringing with them 4-H horse shows. It’ll be a busy time of year for the retired police officer — who actually started shoeing horses long before he ever donned a police uniform.
“There hasn’t been a year since 1957 that I haven’t at least worked on a few horses,” says Richardson. “Even during the 3 years I was in the service in the ’60s, I’d be home on leave for a few days and someone would call and need a horse’s hooves trimmed or a shoe fixed.”
10 a.m. Richardson starts his shoeing day later than some farriers. It gets him to the barns after some of the morning chores are done and after the horses have been fed, but he admits it has as much to do with the time he spent as a police officer as anything else. Years spent patrolling on the night shift turned him into something of a night owl.
“Even though I’ve been retired for quite a while, I still can never get to bed until after midnight or 1 a.m.,” he says. “So I don’t like to get started on my shoeing too early.”
Richardson does his shoeing solo now, but you sense the presence of another farrier as he goes about his work; his teacher, mentor and father, the late Ed Richardson.
“He taught me everything,” says Richardson of his father, who passed away not long ago. “I think about him and miss him every day.”
10:12 a.m. Today’s first stop is one that Richardson has been making for a number of years. But things are about to change.
“This may be the last time I ever come here,” Richardson remarks as he pulls into a long driveway and starts up towards a picturesque farm house with a red barn. “These folks are getting ready to move to Texas and they just may be gone before our next appointment comes around.”
PATIENCE AS A VIRTUE. Richardson takes his time approaching a horse. He believes that being patient with a horse pays off in saved time in the long run.
10:16 a.m. Richardson backs his truck up to an airy, well-lit stable, where four horses are stalled. As he opens the doors to the shoeing body, he’s joined by Jinx Pomroy, the woman who owns, trains and shows the horses. She tells him that, as he suspected, by the time the horses are due for their next trimming, they’ll be in Texas.
“I know the people who are buying the farm don’t have horses now, but they say they’re going to get them,” she tells Richardson. “So I’ve given them your name and phone number.”
Pomroy is a big fan of Richardson’s work.
“Since we’ve worked with Don, our horses have always been sound,” she says. “And it’s more than just his trimming and shoeing skills. He’s great with horses.
10:19 a.m. Pooh-Bear, the first horse Richardson goes to work on, is a good example, Pomroy says.
“Pooh-Bear had been abused before we got her,” she explains. “She didn’t like men. She didn’t like to stand for any period of time, but with Don, she’s OK.”
10:23 a.m. Richardson goes to work on the horse. It doesn’t take long to see that his shoeing techniques are rooted in the twin principles of patience and efficiency. While those concepts might seem contradictory to some, Richardson seems able to join them seamlessly.
For one thing, while he’s working, he stays very close to the horse. As he moves from a front hoof to a hind one, he keeps a hand on the horse’s back or flank, stroking it while also letting the animal know exactly where he is. He stays within a few inches of the horse at all times.
“Staying close to the horse saves steps,” he explains. “Maybe only a few steps on each horse, but they add up over time.”
TRICKS IN TIME. Richardson saves time by knowing what he needs when he works on a horse. Here, he uses a rasp while his nippers lay on the ground close at hand. His hoof knife is in the pocket at his hip. He says this saves time in loading and unloading his truck and also keeps his shoeing box from being in the way if a horse becomes agitated.
Richardson is very patient. As he works, he keeps up a soothing conversation with the horse, almost massaging it with his voice. When horses are reluctant to let their feet be picked up, Richardson doesn’t force the issue.
“Are you going to give me this?” he’ll ask the horse, laying his palm flat against the ankle, but not grabbing it. “Can you pick this up for me?”
Eventually, the horse cooperates. Being patient may mean the farrier actually starts trimming or cleaning the hoof a few seconds later, but Richardson is firmly convinced it pays off in the long run.
“Why fight with the horse? Why wrestle with him?” he asks. “You’re not going to win that fight. The horse will be mad and you’ll be all worn out. You’ve got to protect your body.”
10:31 a.m. Pooh-Bear is finished up quickly and Pomroy quickly brings out Khedina Aman, better know as Khedi.
Khedi proves very cooperative. Like Pooh-Bear, she’s only due for a trim and Richardson is able to get to work on her quickly.
Another work habit that Richardson says increases his efficiency is being aware of what a particular horse needs and keeping that in mind when he unloads his truck at a stop.
“I don’t carry anything more than what I’m going to need,” Richardson explains. “If I know I’m just going to trim horses, I’m not going to get out too many tools. I may not even carry my shoeing box.”
In this case, Richardson has carried just a hoof knife, nippers and a rasp to the horse. His hoof knife goes into a pocket of the apron when he’s not using it, and he lays the other tools on the ground, close at hand, as he works. It not only saves time, but also prevents possible accidents from a horse kicking or becoming entangled in his shoeing box.
10:49 a.m. After Khedi is finished, Richardson goes to work on Meadow Lark, or Lark for short. She’s a mare with some Saddlebred in her ancestry and is a little fussier than some of the other horses in the barn.
Lark is reluctant to have her feet handled, so Richardson waits calmly. Eventually, she lifts her feet and he’s able to go to work. Richardson is careful to keep her feet near the ground as he trims her hooves and when, after two of her feet have been trimmed, she begins acting up a little, he steps away from her and lets her “work it out of her system.”
Pomroy says the work that Richardson has done on Lark over the years is another example of why she appreciates the farrier.
“Don really works with the owners,” he says. “He doesn’t come in and try to make big changes in how a horse has been trimmed or shod. He makes gradual changes and lets you know what the horse needs, not what he needs.”
10:54 a.m. The last horse at this stop is Fireshine or “Shine,” a 19-year-old roan horse who’s used in hunter and jumper competitions. Shine has been shod for those competitions, but Pomroy tells Richardson the horse won’t be competing for some time until after she gets settled in Texas. They agree it’s best to remove the shoes. Richardson returns to his shoeing box for his pulloffs and quickly eases the shoes off the hooves. He inspects them, cleans them up quickly and gives them to Pomroy, telling her they have plenty of wear left in them. She sets them aside to take along to Texas.
LISTENING TO THE HORSE. These are the feet of a Tennessee Walker that Don Richardson has been taking care of. Richardson trimmed a lot of the horseʼs toe, but didnʼt see much of a change in the horseʼs angles. A veterinarians attempts at raising the horseʼs heels with heel pads and swelled heeled shoes were also unsuccessful. Richardson found that leaving the angles as they are worked best. The horse goes well and isnʼt sore.
11 a.m. After removing the shoes, Richardson goes back and trims Shine’s hooves. He spends a little extra time with his rasp, carefully smoothing out a couple of ragged spots on the hoof wall.
11:12 a.m. In less than an hour, Richardson has finished all four of Pomroy’s horses. Just as he begins repacking his shoeing box in his truck, another truck arrives. It’s a longtime customer of Richardson, and horse trainer, Lori Archer and her husband, Ron. They’re calling on Pomroy, but take a few minutes to talk with Richardson. Ron helps out at a couple of barns where Richardson shoes and the farrier asks him if he’s found time to work with a foal that was recently born at one barn. When Ron responds that he hasn’t, Richardson somewhat playfully, puts his hands on Ron’s shoulders and looks him right in the eyes.
“Now you have got to get over there and work with that baby,” he tells him. “It isn’t going to be long until I’m going to have to start working on his feet and I don’t want to be wrestling with him.”
Richardson’s tone and approach is relaxed and friendly, but there’s no doubt that he’s also trying to make sure he gets his message across.
“It’s important to start working with young horses as soon as possible,” he says later. “It can make a big difference down the road.”
11:21 a.m. As Richardson pilots his truck back out onto the road, he gives his head a rueful shake and remarks that he’s been shoeing in the area for a long time.
“I see someone like Lori training horses now and I remember when she was just starting. I started shoeing for Lori when she was only 8,” he says. “Her daddy wanted her to learn responsibility, so he’d tell her she’d have to pay to have her pony’s feet trimmed. I’d stop there to shoe his horses and she’d come up and say, ‘Mr. Richardson, would you have time to trim my pony today?’ I’d say sure, and she’d say, ‘How much would that cost me?’ I knew she used to ride her pony down into the fields and pick raspberries, so I’d tell her, ‘You get me some of those raspberries you pick and 50 cents and we’ll call it even.’ ”
Richardson started shoeing horses while he was still in high school, learning under the guidance of his father.
“I started shoeing with my dad,” he says. “He was a racetrack shoer and did the circuits up in Michigan. During the summer when I was in high school, I’d go up and work with him.”
Richardson says that eventually, the father-and-son team ran into trouble with the horseshoer’s union.
“My dad’s idea was to teach me something and also to make more money,” he says. “He had a big family to support. He and I working together could shoe a horse in 30 minutes. Dad working by himself could shoe a horse in 50. He could make more money with the two of us working together.”
When the youner Richardson’s shoeing with his father first came up at a union meeting, other union members said that if Don wanted to continue shoeing at the tracks, he’d have to serve an apprenticeship.
“Dad suggested I take the apprentice’s test right away,” recalls Richardson. “He said, ‘I know the boy knows how to shoe a horse.’ But the union wouldn’t allow it.”
So Don’s father continued traveling north to Michigan to shoe at the unionized tracks. Don stayed in Ohio, shoeing around home and at the racetracks that were once a staple at county fairgrounds. Those tracks were not unionized. Don would also spend a lot of his time making horseshoes in the shop.
CAREFUL TRIM. When trimming a horse, Richardson tries to make changes gradually. He also doesnʼt believe in trimming out too much sole or frog.
“That was in the 1950s and only one company was making racing plates,” he recalls. “We made most of our own shoes. Dad decided that worked out pretty well. I’d spend a whole day making shoes, then he’d come and take most of them with him.”
But don’t get the idea that Richardson resented his father appropriating the lion’s share of the shoes he made. He makes it clear that his father was also his mentor and that his efficiency and horse sense are a product of his father’s teaching.
“He was a lot smaller than I was, but he didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t get down as low as he did. He’d put his hands on my shoulders and push down and say, ‘That’s where you need to be.’
”But while he was teaching his son to work low, the older farrier was also showing him how to move and save his body.
“He’d have me crouch rather than bend,” Richardson says. “He’d have me turn and twist through my knees and thighs, rather than twisting my back. I’ve been doing this for years and have never had real back problems.”
12:38 p.m. Richardson’s next stop is at one of his longest-standing clients. She’s a horse owner and breeder named Vivian Calland, who he started shoeing for during 1957, his first year of shoeing.
“When I went off to the service, I made sure Vivian was set up with a farrier who would do a good job,” he says. “I was gone for 3 years and as soon as I got back, she called me and asked when I could come over and shoe her horses. I said, ‘But Mrs. Calland, you’ve got a different shoer now.’ She said, ‘But Don, he was just the fill-in.’ I’ve been shoeing her horses ever since.”
12:42 p.m. Calland accompanies Richardson to the barn and holds the horses as he works. She’s scheduled him to trim four of her horses today, but after looking at the hooves of the first one, Richardson decides the particular horse can wait until his next visit.
LOOK BEFORE YOU START. Richardson believes in taking a good look at a foot before he starts working at it. He says how the foot had worn since the last time he worked on it will determine how he trims today.
“There’s no sense in doing work we don’t have to do,” he says.
12:46 p.m. Richardson is very careful and gentle while trimming the next horse, who is named “Shine.” She injured one of her hind legs recently and Richardson is careful to keep the hoof low as he works on it. He takes care of the hoof on the injured leg first, and while Shine tries to pull the foot away once or twice, she’s cooperative for the most part.
“The first thing I do when I pick up a foot is just take a good look at it,” he explains. “How that hoof has worn since the last time I trimmed it will guide how I trim it today. I also let the foot hang and see how it moves. You can’t just grab the hoof right away, because then you are controlling it. You won’t see how it moves in the horse’s natural motion.”
12:55 p.m. April, a 26-year-old Arabian is next. Vivian mentions that he has a mild founder problem in one of her front hooves. Richardson inspects the hoof carefully. While he will sometimes use the nippers to take a little sole from a healthy hoof, he doesn’t do it here. In fact, he prefers not to take much sole at all.
“I don’t believe in trimming out a lot of sole. A horse needs some of that sole to protect the inner parts of its hoof,” he says. “Same thing with the frog. Don’t go chopping out all of that frog. It’s there for a purpose.”
1:11 p.m. After he’s finished trimming the horses, Calland invites Richardson into the kitchen for a glass of iced tea. Sitting at the kitchen table, Richardson writes up a bill for the work and Calland writes him a check to cover it. The two also compare calendars and schedule Richardson’s next visit.
1:36 p.m. During the drive to the next stop, Richardson explains that his clientele is a varied one. He says the market niche that makes up a lot of his book probably exists in almost any area, but is one many farriers don’t want to serve.
“I make money on horses that other guys don’t want to do,” he explains. “A lot of guys want the big barns. They don’t want to do the places that have three or four horses. But those horses need doing too, and I don’t mind doing them.”
Richardson says there are plenty of places in that “three or four horse” class in the area; enough that he can dedicate a sizeable chunk of his practice to them. They are also close enough that he can limit his driving time. During today’s three stops, he drives about 50 miles, but he’s never more than 10 miles or so from Urbana.
Richardson says this approach also means he gets to do different kinds of shoeing.
“I like that variety,” he says. “You get to do a lot of different things. You don’t get into a rut of always doing things the same way. It helps you to keep your mind open to new things.”
WORKING LOW. Don Richardson tries to stay low as he works on the feet of a Palomino. Richardson was taught how to shoe by his father, a much smaller man, who believed it keeping a horseʼs feet close to the ground so the horse could be comfortable. “He didnʼt see any reason why I shouldnʼt get as low as he did,” Richardson says.
Richardson shoes Quarter Horses, Arabians, Tennessee Walkers, miniature horses and even a few donkeys. He also sees plenty of crosses of various types.
1:53 p.m. Richardson’s next stop is another such client, a small farm where the Dillehey family keeps four horses for trail riding, 4-H events and the like. As Richardson climbs out of his truck, he’s greeted by the entire family and a number of the children accompany him to the barn.
One of the girls, Kristen, grabs a box of horse treats. She takes a station at the head of the horses as Richardson works. It’s soon obvious that she’s worked with the farrier before. The horses clearly understand there’s just one way to get a carrot-flavored snack today; be cooperative while being shod.
2:07 p.m. Richardson goes to work on Amigo, a Tennessee Walker-cross. Amigo grows a lot of toe, Richardson points out, and is also a good example of the results he gets from paying attention to “what the horse wants.”
“When I started working with him, the vet had him up on heel pads with a raised shoe, trying to get his angles raised and it just didn’t work,” Richardson says. “He didn’t go well. So about 2 years ago, we took them off and started trimming him the way he seemed to want to go. The angles may look a little funny, but he moves well and isn’t sore.”
The owner says Amigo was used on a 10-mile trail ride a few days earlier and had done fine.
“We were sore, but he wasn’t,” he says with a laugh.
Richardson holds up a thick piece of hoof wall he’s just nipped off.
“You take that much toe and you still don’t change his angles much,” he says. “He wants his angles just about where they are. You need to listen to the horse and he’ll let you know what you’ve got to do for him.”
2:23 p.m. As Richardson gets ready to work on the next horse, the owner points out a small hoof crack on one of the rear hooves. Richardson inspects it carefully. He tells the owner that it is a surface crack. He says it will grow out and should be watched to make sure it doesn’t become any worse.
2:29 p.m. As Richardson trims the horse, the owner mentions that he had used a rasp Richardson left with him to clean up an area where the hoof wall had taken a small nick. Richardson looks at the area and says it looks fine.
FINDING HIS NICHE. Richardson says much of his book consists of smaller barns that have three or four horses. While many farriers donʼt want to do that type of barn, Richardson says there are enough of them that he can make a good living off of them. He also enjoys the variety of shoeing the practice lets him do.
Richardson later says he’s given a number of his clients older rasps. He feels he benefits in a number of ways.
“If I give someone a rasp, it’s more likely that their horses are having their feet picked up between calls,” he says. “They also find out that taking care of their horses feet isn’t quite as simple as it looks.”
2:47 p.m. Richardson finished up the stop by trimming Sue, a Palomino who is a little fidgety. Once again, he patiently waits for the horse to cooperate. It doesn’t take long and the work is finished. Once he’s done, the farrier pulls out his appointment book, writes up a bill and is paid, and also schedules the next shoeing appointment.
“My son tells me he could set up my records on a computer and everything would be there for me as soon as I click it on,” says Richardson. “I tell him I’ve got an appointment book out in my truck and everything is there for me as soon as I open the cover.”
3 p.m. As he turns his truck toward home, Richardson says he’s fortunate that most of his clients understand the importance of healthy feet and regular farrier care. But like every farrier, sometimes he runs into situations where that’s not the case.
“I had one call not long ago from someone about a Tennessee Walker that I do,” he says, shaking his head. “That horse has never had any problems and all the sudden they call me and tell me it’s sore. I asked if they’d been doing anything different with it. ‘Jumping it,’ they said. I told them that horse isn’t built for that. They say, ‘Oh, but you should see him go.’ And they wonder why he’s sore.”
Richardson believes that a good farrier has to care about horses more than anything else.
“You have to care about horses and enjoy them,” he says. “A few years ago, there were a lot of articles written about how much money you could make shoeing. A lot of guys read that, went to school and started shoeing, but they didn’t last. You have to have a feel for and care about horses.”
Richardson notes that most of the horses he’s doing today aren’t shod. He says that’s not unusual in this area.
“With the ground around here and the amount a lot of these horses are ridden, a lot of them don’t need shoes,” he says. “Now in the next few weeks, I’ll actually start putting shoes on more often. A lot of these 4-H kids want shoes on their horses for their county fair horse shows. So I’ll put the shoes on and in a lot of cases, take them back off again right after the fair.”
3:20 p.m. Richardson arrives back at the home where he and his wife, Becky, have raised their family, including their son, Kris and daughters, Michele and Megan.Richardson’s usual day is 8 to 10 horses, depending on what those horses need done. While he hopes he’s done for the day, he knows he may also find his answering machine filled with calls from people who need a shoe tacked back on or have some other shoeing emergency.
“I’ll try to help my regular customers, but it’s amazing how many people will call and ask if I can come out that same day because they’re going to be in a show the next day or this weekend. Now they must have known about the show before today, didn’t they?”
Richardson recalls one particular time when he agreed to drive out late one afternoon and shoe a horse for a client at a show being held at a county fairgrounds.
“I got there, set up and started working on the horse,” he says. “Someone else came up and asked if when I was done, I could tack a lost shoe on for them. I said OK. Next thing I knew, I looked up and I had a whole line of horses waiting for me. I didn’t get home until something like 10:30 that night.”
HEʼS A COAL MAN. Richardson packs a coal forge in his shoeing rig, in addition to a propane one. If heʼs going to be working in one barn for most of a day, heʼll set up his coal forge because he prefers the deep heat of coal, plus the fact that it costs less than propane.
3:35 p.m. Richardson’s shoes out of a pick-up truck with a Monetta shoeing body mounted on the back. He’s a big fan of the fiberglass shoeing body, believing it’s lighter weight puts less strain on the suspension of his truck. He also loves the fact that it’s quick to clean up.
The shoeing body is well-equipped and carefully stored, but the ultra-modern body also holds some tools it’s unusual to see in a shoeing rig today. While it’s equipped with a modern propane forge, one side is also packed with a coal forge, including a firebox and hand-cranked bellows. A couple of bags of coal are also stored with it.
“If I’m going to be in a barn and shoeing several horses, I still set up my coal forge,” he says. “I’ll shoe all day on just a bucket of coal that will cost me a lot less than propane.
He says the deep heat provided by a coal fire is simply better for many shoeing and blacksmithing tasks.“Propane is fine. Actually, it’s great if you’re just shoeing one horse or need to shape a keg shoe. But this,” he says, tapping on the stored coal forge, “this is the berries.”
“For welding, you can’t beat coal,” he says.
One of Richardson’s most cherished memories comes from a few years ago when he and his father took part in a historical event where they set up his coal forge and demonstrated blacksmithing techniques that were in common use 100 years ago.
“Being there and working with my father and seeing him enjoying himself,” he says. “It was a great day.”
The affable former cop shakes his head again, as he recalls his father.
“I think about him every day,” he says. “There isn’t a day passes when I’m working and I think that I’d like to talk to Dad about some problem, because I know he must have run into it at some time or another.
“He’d probably even know what to do about that Tennessee Walker jumping horse.”