Allen Gideon of Onalaska, Wash., considers himself a simple farrier. He doesn’t believe in bells and whistles. He doesn’t believe in fancy tricks.
What he does believe in is simple, straight shoeing and thinks many farriers “take ten steps to do a job when it should take only two.” Considered to be one of the best, he offers simple shoeing advice that is sure to save time for many farriers willing to give it a shot.
Q: How do you feel about shoeing clinics?
A: “They’re great, but a lot of farriers are missing the boat. They’re working too hard instead of working smart. They go to clinics, then revert back to what they were doing before and make the same mistakes over and over again. The mechanics taught in clinics needs to be practiced.
“Clinics are wonderful. When I first started shoeing, there were no such things as clinics. I was lucky that people helped me along the way. I wish I could have started when there were tremendous opportunities like there are now.”
Q: How about charging and part-time shoeing?
A: “Part-time shoeing is the best part-time job in the world. It will pay the most per hour. The trouble is, most part-timers don’t charge what they should. They are way too cheap.
“The amount varies from area to area, but a person should not get less than $100 a horse. Then again, a person can’t price himself out of business, either. I’m $15 to $25 higher than anyone else in my area. But my clients are glad to pay it.”
Q: What about balance?
A: “My mentor is western Canadian farrier Bob Marshall, probably the best teacher in the world. He said one time at a clinic, ‘If you just balance the foot and cover it with steel, you can cure a lot of ills.’ I really believe that. Too many people try to use this and add that—it’s a crutch.
“You really need to balance the foot. Shoeing isn’t complicated. If it were, I wouldn’t be doing it. Balance isn’t complicated, either, if it’s explained correctly by someone who totally understands it.
“Bob Marshall says, ‘If you’re using all of this garbage on your horses, you are either shoeing nothing but cripples or are making nothing but cripples.’
Q: What about wedge pads?
A: “Wedge pads make great door stops or shims to level your anvil.
“I do not feel wedge pads should be used to raise the angle of the foot. Proper trimming and balance will work better in the long run.
“Wedge pads are used for a totally different reason in gaited horses.”
Q: Even with high-low syndrome?
A: “When you have a horse with high-low syndrome and put a wedge on the low heel, you have just taken a horse with a club foot and given him two club feet. When you go back six weeks later, the low heel is going to be crushed down even more.
“How I treat a horse with high-low syndrome is by first pulling the club foot forward and rasping the dish out of the foot.
“Then, trim the heel, tapering to about two-thirds of the way towards the toe. Then balance the other foot.
“I compare the length of the angle on both feet. You will be amazed that they will be the same length, even though I didn’t trim the ground surface on the club foot.”
Q: How about corrective shoeing?
A: “If you shoe correctly, you won’t need corrective shoeing.”
Q: What if you’re not sure what to do?
A: “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If what you’re doing isn’t working, stop doing it. Don’t be afraid to ask somebody else. If there’s nobody that you respect or people you do ask aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to look in the American Farrier’s Association directory and call somebody.
“Shoers who are at the top of the competition game are probably the better shoers in everyday work. All of these guys will have some advice—they didn’t get where they are without getting input from others. There’s a lot of young shoers who are doing well in competitions and I’m envious of them. If there was ever a mistake that could be made, I’m sure I’ve made it.”
Q: What about handling horses?
A: “I see horseshoers who have trouble with jumpy horses. It’s usually the horseshoer who’s causing it by not getting under the horse properly and making the horse uncomfortable. When you get a horse that’s nervous, the farrier’s usually not taking enough time.
“First, gain the horse’s confidence. Then relax—and then the horse can relax. You’ll both be much better off.
“Sometimes you have to be a contortionist and get where the horse is comfortable. But you still do it and the horse will be a lot easier to manage.
“Just go where the foot wants to go. If you have to hold the foot four inches off the ground for the horse to be comfortable, it’s a lot easier to hold that foot than try to bring the horse’s foot closer to you. He’s a whole lot stronger than you are.”
Q: Do you see any difference in shoeing various horse breeds?
A: “Quarter Horses are great to ride, but a pain to shoe. Arabs are hot, but if you’re relaxed, there’s no problem. Most have good feet and are supple. Quarter Horses aren’t.
“My preferences are Thoroughbreds and Arabians. With hot horses like Thoroughbreds and Arabians, you don’t try to make them do something—you ask them. For cold-blooded horses like Quarter Horses and Appaloosas, you have to get their attention—and I don’t mean slapping them in the ribs with your rasp.”
Q: What’s your feeling about shoeing schools?
A: “I’m not an advocate of schools because most shoeing schools are in the business to get somebody a job. And when I say somebody, I mean the instructors. But there are some very good schools.
“I’m asked fairly often to recommend a school to young farriers and the first one I recommend has a two-year waiting list. I still have a hard time recommending one—it’s easier to tell somebody which schools not to go to.
“I’ve seen ads in magazines that say, ‘Go to school—and in two weeks learn to make $30,000 a year shoeing horses.’
“I’ve been shoeing for 36 years and I’m still learning. There’s no way a person can learn what they need to do in two weeks and be a good horseshoer.
“For the person right out of school, find somebody that’s competent and see if they will let you work with them. Not as an apprenticeship, not for pay, but just so you can learn.
“Not everyone’s business is set up to hire an apprentice. But most graduates should find someone to teach them what it’s like in the real world without receiving compensation.
“First, because they would be a detriment to start with and second, what a person could learn from a qualified farrier would later be used in their own business. In later years, this will amount to more than they could ever get paid in money.”
Q: What about entering shoeing competitions?
A: “Competitions are great. They expose people to good shoeing jobs and what they look like. For example, it takes practice to learn to draw a clip correctly. And there are several different ways to do it right.
“You see how to fit a shoe with a clip, how to burn one in, how to finish it off—it’s a whole lot different than buying a shoe with a clip that’s inappropriate in size and placement and beating a shoe on.
“If someone wants to buy these pre-made clipped and bar shoes, that’s fine. But it’s only fine if they are buying them because they don’t want to make them instead of buying them because they can’t make them.”
Q: What about new products?
A: “Of all the new products that have come out and gone by the wayside, what has worked for centuries is plain basic shoeing. The reason it worked is there was an aspect of craftsmanship when people knew how to balance feet—they couldn’t just buy something and beat it to fit. They would make it from scratch, put it in the forge and modify it as needed.
“When the horse was needed for transportation, they kept these animals sound. There were no shortcuts or crutches. Some shoers were better than others, just like now. They went by soundness. And so should we.”
Q: What’s the secret to shoeing?
A: “Good, basic horsemanship and horseshoeing. You need good basics—you can’t build without them. You have to balance the feet. If your basics aren’t good, whatever you do after that isn’t going to be either.
“It doesn’t matter if you can put on a nice shoe if you can’t trim worth a hoot. Everyone has a strong point and a weak point. Recognize what those points are.
“On the right side of a horse, I can shoe fast. Working on the left side, I usually leave the trim high. It’s something about the way I trim and get under the horse. It’s my weakness. But I’m aware of it, double-check and always rectify it.”
Q: How important are your shoeing tools?
A: “Keep your tools sharp and in good working order. It won’t make the difference between a good and bad shoeing job, but it will make a difference in how easy it is for you to work.
“Learn what your anvil is for. It’s got a round horn so you can make round things to any size you want. It’s got a flat top, so it’s a layout table. Steel bends so much easier and where you want it to bend when it’s hot.”
Q: What about hot shoeing?
A: “Horses will take hot shoeing. There are only a few that won’t. If the horse won’t take it, try something that Bob Marshall showed me.
“Make sure the horse isn’t tied, stand in front of him and burn a piece of hoof. Give him a chance to smell the burning hoof and let him get used to it. It just takes patience. Don’t be in a hurry.”
Q: How about the “late” reputa- tion many farriers have?
A: “We have five time zones in this country, the four that everybody recognizes and farrier standard time. People complain about horseshoers always running late, but you never know what you’re going to run into.
“You should shoe the horse and when the horse is done, go on to the next one. Some will be a piece of cake, but others won’t. When you’re trying to set up a squeamish horse in the same amount of time as an easy one, the job is going to suffer and the horse isn’t going to get better. When you take your time, the horse is going to be better and easier to shoe.”
Q: Does shoeing efficiency really count?
A: “I can trim a horse in 3 minutes and not have to hurry. It’s efficiency of motion. Every motion you make does something. If it’s constructive, do it.
“It’ll save you time, energy and you’ll be able to shoe a dozen horses and not be tired. It’s not working harder —it’s working smarter.”
Q: Do you favor fancy shoeing rigs?
A: “Some shoers have $30,000 worth of stuff in their truck. I think only gaited horseshoers need to have that much equipment.
“The way my vehicle is set up, it would not be efficient to shoe gaited horses. So many rigs are set up with tons of junk in them in that it’s really their shop.
“If you have the ability to forge something or make something out of the ordinary once a year, you won’t need ten year’s worth of supplies in your truck.
“Why have a couple hundred dollars worth of bar shoes? If you’re using that many, you’re either making cripples or shoeing cripples. If you aren’t doing that many, have a few pieces of steel and make your own bar shoes. It’s more efficient.
“To answer your question, your clientele and personal preference will determine the type of rig you choose.”
Q: Do you have any timeless shoeing advice?
A: “Many of the newest techniques don’t work. The ones that do have worked for centuries.
“Learn to improvise. And not just in horseshoeing. In life. Because nothing ever goes as planned.”