Cowboys must be tough. They must be able to work long days in any conditions. They must be able to work with cattle and livestock.
But Sheridan, Wyo., resident Troy Ehrmantraut believes there is one other requirement for anyone who wants to call themselves a cowboy.
“Any cowboy worth his salt should be able to shoe his own horse,” says Ehrmantraut, who has been a farrier for more than 20 years.
Being a farrier is both an art and a science, Ehrmantraut says. It’s science in that they are working with a live animal and an art in that they have to form the horseshoes just right. Ehrmantraut started horseshoeing when he was younger working as a cowboy. He shod horses for 6 years before he went to formal horseshoeing school.
A farrier is one of the oldest professions in history, dating back as far as the days of the Roman Empire. Many of the skills and techniques of horseshoeing were handed down from generation to generation as young apprentices worked the bellows while the farrier shaped the glowing hot iron into a horseshoe.
“The skills were handed down usually in the family,” Ehrmantraut says. “They passed down the skill from each generation — (farriers) usually raised their replacements.”
But the Industrial Revolution made both smithing and horses less necessary. With the advent of cars and trains, horses were relied on less and less for transportation, dropping from more than 21 million horses in the U.S. in 1900, to slightly more than 3 million in 1960.
As a consequence, the need for horseshoes faded.
“Horseshoeing in this country went out the window with the Industrial Revolution … we lost a lot of that knowledge of horseshoeing,” Ehrmantraut says.
But the horse population has rebounded some since then. Today, there are about 9.5 million horses in the U.S. Thus, the farrier and the value of the work has revived.
“With all of the products that are available today, it’s pretty easy just to go down to the supply store and buy horseshoes and nails and go nail them up,” he says.
He loves making horseshoes, but Ehrmantraut is the first to admit there are few jobs that require more physical endurance. But the ability to turn a simple piece of metal into a work of art — that makes all the pain worth it.
“You know it right away if you are cut out for it or not,” Ehrmantraut says. “It’s tough work, it’s not for everyone.”