Shoeing for one of the top barrel racing competitors in the country can certainly be very rewarding. But as Tab Pigg knows, it’s very demanding, highly stressful, time-consuming and requires plenty of careful scheduling.
Besides shoeing full-time, Pigg and his wife, Lisa, operate the Across The Anvil farrier supply shop in Azle, Texas. This gives him a unique perspective on the farrier industry from both sides of the anvil.
For several years, Pigg has shod the barrel racing horses ridden by 17-year-old Fallon Taylor of Ponder, Texas. She completed in her first professional rodeo when she was 7 years old and earned a spot in the National Finals Rodeo before entering high school.
Taylor is ranked among the world’s top barrel racers and money-winners, has earned three straight trips to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, has won more than $300,000 and competes in more than 60 professional rodeos a year.
Pigg handles all of the footwork on Taylor’s competition horses. This also means traveling to meet the horses at other locations as needed.
Besides barrel racers, Pigg shoes mainly combined training and dressage horses.
While we visited Taylor’s barn during yesterday’s “Shoeing For A Living,” I didn’t get to meet her as she was barrel racing in northern California. Here’s how our “Shoeing For A Living Day” went.
8:01 a.m. I arrive at the shop and Pigg gives me a quick tour. After talking for a few minutes with his wife, Lisa, who runs the supply side of the operation, we’re ready to go to work.
8:25 a.m. Along with Mike Wilbur, who’s worked with Pigg for nearly 3 years, we hit the road for the 45-minute trip to Ponder. They tell me a normal shoeing day is a half-dozen horses. “I’ve got a bad back, so I normally don’t shoe too many horses in a day’s time,” Pigg adds.
8:33 a.m. While doing carpentry work in 1983, Pigg started riding with a friend who shod nights and weekends. “I started trimming and nailing on shoes and soon felt I knew it all,” says Pigg. “With Diamond shoes, Capewell 5 city head nails and Nicholson rasps, I felt I could handle any shoeing job.
“Later on, I walked into a farrier supply house and the variety of products nearly scared me to death.
“In 1984, I went to my first Texas Professional Farrier’s Association clinic. I quickly learned how much I didn’t know about shoeing. Since then, I’ve missed very few shoeing clinics and have learned a great deal.”
8:43 a.m. Pigg purchased the supply business 9 years ago. “We bought the business from John Marino in Peaster and moved it 20 miles east,” says the shoer who’s been an American Farrier’s Association Certified Journeyman Farrier since 1992. “John still makes J.H.M. anvils, but he decided that he wanted to get out of the farrier supply business.”
Pigg credits running the supply house with teaching him and Lisa a great deal about the entire industry. Half the farriers they sell to stop to pick up supplies at the shop while the rest of them phone in orders and have the the items shipped.
“A few farriers buy some shoeing supplies from local feed stores because there’s no sales tax for farm use,” explains Pigg. “They come to us for shoeing items the feed stores don’t handle.”
8:47 a.m. Pigg started with a pickup and camper shell. In 1989, he switched to shoeing out of a gooseneck trailer.
“The price for the trailer was right and I thought I’d be a big-time shoer with that rig,” he recalls with a laugh. “It was handy until we had a bad winter and I couldn’t go anywhere without getting stuck. So I went back to a truck and camper shell and later installed a shoeing body on a truck.”
Last winter, he purchased a Stone Well shoeing trailer and he’s been pleased with its efficiency and easy maneuverability.
8:55 a.m. Pigg says the Texas “cowboy mentality” makes shoeing in the Lone Star State different than in other areas.
“If a horse is worn out or goes lame down here, the mentality is to get rid of it and get another one,” he says. “That’s not true in other areas.
“Even so, I shoe many older and crippled horses as part of my regular shoeing routine.”
9:03 a.m. Pigg tells me about a number of barrel horses he shoes, including those ridden in big-time competitions by Fallon Taylor.
“Some of her horses stay on the road 7 to 8 months a year and I fly to several locations to shoe them,” he says. “While barrel racers are usually stout Quarter Horses, they’re often fine-boned and small-footed horses which are not built for serious athletic work.
“You pray the shoes stay on until they get home.”
9:06 a.m. Pigg did electrical and carpentry work before getting into shoeing. “Our family was in real estate and built custom houses,” he says. “I’d work for them when they were short of help and shoe horses part-time. When the housing economy became depressed in this area as government defense work slowed down, I’d go back to shoeing full-time so someone else didn’t lose a job.”
9:17 a.m. Summer shoeing in Texas isn’t much fun. “It’s not unusual to have 95 degree temperatures and 60 percent or higher humidity with little or no breeze,” he says. “We carry fans on the trailer to set out in the barns to make shoeing somewhat bearable.”
9:25 a.m. We back the trailer through muddy ground to reach the two-stall barn and get out the shoeing equipment at this morning’s first stop. Wilbur brings out two horses, pulls the shoes and starts trimming.
“They can’t get quick enough times because this older barrel horse is off in the back end,” says Pigg as he examines the feet on the first horse. “I’ll try to take as much pressure off the hocks as possible. We’ll shoe him so he can slide a little more around the barrels.”
Pigg shoes many barrel horses with St. Croix plain rim shoes. “I like these shoes better than St. Croix Lite rims,” he says. “The extra weight is not that big of a deal and if someone thinks it is, maybe the rider should lose a little weight.”
10:35 a.m. The two horses are finished and we pack up. While he has a little difficulty maneuvering the trailer across the lawn, we get out of the mud okay.
The charge for shoeing and trimming was $85 for each horse. Since nobody was home, Pigg sticks the bill in the home’s doorway and says they’ll mail a check in a couple days.
10:40 a.m. Pigg says the way the shoe fits makes all the difference in the world when it comes to better times in barrel racing. “This owner saw improved times the first time we shod her horses,” he says. “These horses can’t run if they can’t move.”
10:53 a.m. We arrive at the Taylor family’s barn and back the trailer into the entrance to an alleyway. There are two barrel racing horses, a foal, a mule and a pony to do here today.
10:57 a.m. This first horse has pads and it’s a horse the Taylors are going to loan to several riders to “test drive” before they decide whether to buy the horse. As he examines the feet, Pigg tells me the pads haven’t done much good. “I don’t like wedge pads on barrel horses,” he says. “On this horse, we’ll try to take as much toe off as we can.”
11:03 a.m. Pigg says a problem with “loaned horses” is that the prospective buyer often has their own shoer redo them. “Then it’s the same old story,” he says. “If they don’t buy the horse, the horse will come back with underslung heels. Then we have to start all over again.”
11:15 a.m. With 2-year-olds that are barrel racing prospects, Pigg will nail rim shoes on the front and plain shoes on the back. This helps avoid ripping their hocks out in early training sessions.
Most horses are 4 years old before they start barrel racing. By this time, they’ll be wearing rim shoes. “By shoeing them this way, we hope to get an extra year or two of barrel racing before the hocks go bad,” says Pigg.
11:23 a.m. I ask how shoeing work is priced. Long-time customers pay $75 for a trim and four shoes. New customers are charged $85.
In mid-summer, Pigg was considering raising shoeing price for long-time clients to $85 and moving up to $95 for new customers.
“This two-tiered pricing arrangement keeps me from coming up short when I raise shoeing prices and land a couple of new customers,” he says.
“I want to get paid what I should for shoeing horses, but don’t want to handle $150 shoeing jobs on high maintenance show jumpers and hunters.
“I learned a long time ago to avoid having to shoe draft horses and race horses by pricing myself out of that market.”
11:35 a.m. When it comes to barrel horses, Pigg says many people think they have to leave lots of heel which isn’t true. “I don’t use a wide-web shoe because I think that kind of shoe holds the feet in the ground too long,” he says. “Plus, the specific footing found in an arena also makes a big difference in how you shoe these horses.”
11:50 a.m. Pigg stretches for 30 seconds to loosen his back. “About 5 months ago, the doctor explained my problem is due to a pair of collapsed or degenerative discs,” he says. “He says exercising regularly and doing lots of walking to get my heart rate up and circulation going strong will help.”
11:55 a.m. As the shoeing team starts the next horse, Pigg says there’s nothing difficult about shoeing horses. “Just shoe the foot and quit analyzing everything,” he advises. “Don’t think you have to shoe horses a different way for different uses.”
12:03 p.m. Pigg finds it’s important to meet the needs of customers, even if it means going the extra mile.
“One night I got a call at 11 p.m. from the Taylor family and they told me their horse had lost a shoe and was running tomorrow in another rodeo,” he says. “I asked where they were and they said San Antonio.
“I got out of bed, went down to the shop and made the shoe. At midnight, Lisa and I made the 5-hour drive to San Antonio. We put the shoe on and came home.
“That wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s what the client needed.”
The Taylors like Pigg to do all the shoeing work on their competition horses for a good reason. A couple of years ago, another shoer worked on one of their horses. When the shoeing was done, the horse walked away lame.
“They put the horse in the trailer, drove 1,500 miles home and missed the entire second half of the pro rodeo season,” Pigg says. “So now if there’s shoeing work to be done or a foot problem, I hop on a plane and go fix it. They carry a forge and anvil in the trailer, so all I have to do is show up with my tools.
“If a barrel horse loses a shoe, it’s usually caused by the ground surface. If a horse gets sore running the barrels, there’s a good chance it’s because of his feet.
“They don’t blame me for the problem. They just want me there to take care of it.”
“Instead, they need to figure out how to keep a good horse going and running around the barrels for the next 4 or 5 years,” he says.
“Many barrel racers also want to dictate how they want the horse shod when they don’t even know anything about shoeing.”
12:35 p.m. We unhook the trailer and head into town for lunch at the Ponder Steakhouse which is located next to the Ponder State Bank. Founded in 1908, it was one of the banks robbed by the infamous “Bonnie and Clyde.”
In fact, I’m told Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway ate lunch at the steakhouse during the filming of the movie. I wonder if we’re sitting at the same table?
12:45 p.m. After ordering, Pigg tells me that he believes a farrier needs to keep the coronary band in mind when shoeing barrel racers.
“I shape the shoe to the whole foot based on the shape of the coronary band, bulbs and digits,” he says. “Extra shoe length helps keep the foot up on top of the ground.
“While the shoe will be outside the foot, it’s still related to the coronary band. The shoe is not necessarily where the foot is, but where it needs to be on these horses.”
12:55 p.m. It’s also important to take into consideration the ground on which barrel horses run.
“With deep soft dirt on an arena floor, you want a plain shoe,” Pigg says. “You don’t need a lot of traction because you’re going to get some from the ground surface. In deeper dirt, a wider shoe will often work better.
“With a rock-hard surface, there’s little broken up ground to dig into and a smaller shoe is going to work best. I usually go with a rim shoe and maybe jar calks to tear up the ground and give the horse added traction around the barrels. But I don’t use heel calks because they can take the hocks right out of the horse.”
Pigg says the ground in many arenas is pretty hard. He’s sometimes had success using an egg bar rim or straight bar concave bar rim shoes.
“I’ve tried aluminum egg bars, but they didn’t hold up,” he says. “We had to replace them every 3 or 4 weeks.”
Arena surfaces can also change. “At Fort Worth, there’s 16 inches of dirt on the concrete floor,” he says. “During the competition, this dirt starts to move away from the barrels.
“After seven or eight riders run the barrels, they’ve moved the dirt. The rest of the riders seem like they’re running on the concrete. The horses start slipping out on their back ends and we’ve even used Borium to overcome this problem.”
But the major problem, says Pigg, is that you have to shoe horses that will be working night after night in arenas with different surfaces over a 6-week period.
1:03 p.m. As we’re finishing lunch, I ask Pigg for more tips for shoeing barrel horses and he tosses out several ideas:
1 If the horse hits the barrel, the chances are good that the foot is sticking in the ground.
2 Lost shoes are usually due to “pilot error” and not shoeing error.
3 Some farriers only use rim shoes on barrel racers, but one type of shoe doesn’t fit all feet or all conditions.
4 Keep the heels back where they should be.
5 Know what each barrel racing horse needs to run faster.
6 With continually changing surface conditions between arenas, most barrel racers run better in plain shoes.
7 Shoe barrel racing horses at least every 6 weeks.
8 It’s easier to train the rider to the horse than the horse to the rider.
1:17 p.m. Since I know Pigg has gone to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas to reshoe Fallon Taylor’s barrel racing horse, I ask him what he does there each December.
“One year we didn’t do hardly anything,” he says. “Another time, we changed some shoes, but still didn’t really do much. A big problem in Las Vegas is the inconsistency of the ground surface and the fact that the arena is small.
“Mainly, I’m on hand to handle any emergencies that may come up.”
1:25 p.m. As we head to the truck, Pigg tells me he’s a believer in burning on clips. “Some farriers who have trimmed a horse too short and got in trouble when they burned on a clip no longer want to do it,” he says. “That’s a mistake, because burned-in clips really work on these horses.”
2:20 p.m. The first horse of the afternoon is trimmed, shod and completed.
2:25 p.m. As the two farriers start trimming a foal, Pigg tells me he charges $30 for a trim.
2:29 p.m. Pigg likes a hard, dry foot. “Many people talk about how to keep moisture in a foot,” he says. “Instead, I’m always trying to figure out how to get moisture out of it.”
2:33 p.m. Done with the foal, we walk to a nearby pen to trim a mule. By the look of his feet, he hasn’t been trimmed for months.
2:45 p.m. As the team trims an old pony, Pigg tells me he’s seen only a few cases of white line disease. “There’s lots of stuff out there that looks like it, but probably isn’t,” he says. “Diagnosing white line disease is much like diagnosing navicular. It’s frequently over-diagnosed and is often a cop-out for finding what’s really wrong.”
When it comes to handling navicular cases, he trims the heels back to where he thinks they belong and puts on a shoe that’s two sizes bigger than actually needed. But he cautions that this idea won’t work on all navicular horses.
3:02 p.m. Besides encouraging them to go to all the clinics they can, Pigg offers another valuable tip for young shoers.
“Grant Moon, one of the most talented farriers in the world, used to live 36 miles from our shop,” says Pigg. “I used to figure out what days Grant would be shoeing in certain barns. Then I’d schedule horses I had to do in those barns on the same day Grant was there.
“I’d get a free one-on-one Grant Moon shoeing clinic every few weeks when both of us were shoeing in the same barn. It was a great learning opportunity and an idea other young farriers should copy with talented shoes in their area.”
3:05 p.m. As we’re walking back to the trailer, Pigg tells me he books horses 6 weeks out before leaving a barn. He also charges a $3 billing fee if he has to mail a client a shoeing invoice.
“If a horse is out in the field, I’ll leave rather than catch it,” he says. “That horse won’t get done until I’m back in the area.
“We don’t shoe horses for people who don’t pay their bills on time. Some people conveniently forget that they owe you money.
“I used to have one client who paid 5 weeks late, just before I was scheduled to shoe her horses again. I finally got to where I made her pay cash before I started shoeing her horses that day.”
3:15 p.m. We pack up the tools, hook the trailer up to the truck, leave the shoeing bill and head for the shop.
4:12 p.m. On the way back to Azle, I ask Pigg for some advice for American Farriers Journal readers when it comes to buying supplies.
“Some guys buy in large quantities and get a price break,” he says. “Other shoers buy in small quantities and that’s best for them because they don’t want to carry a big inventory.
“If I was buying with the pricing terms we use in our store, I’d look at volume discounts and buy enough supplies to last 6 weeks. That would save considerable on shipping costs.”
4:30 p.m. We arrive back at the shop in Azle and I say goodbye. It’s been another super day spent with a farrier!
I’ve learned a great deal about shoeing barrel racers and picked up many practical business tips that other farriers can put to good use from this Texas-style “Shoeing For A Living Day.”