Hurley, S.D., farrier Chris Richards’ face is focused as he concentrates on burning the shoe on Cactus. The black gelding’s owner Marianna Finn pretends to cough from the smoke.
“Oh, c’mon,” he says, drawing laughter from his audience.
It’s typical of the light-hearted banter between Richards and his clients. He spent most of a muddy April morning trimming hooves and fitting shoes at the Cedar Ridge Equestrian Center, a boarding stable near Renner. Part craftsman, part psychologist, part teacher, farriers are specialists in equine hoof care, particularly trimming hooves and shoeing horses.
Laura Wagner owns the barn, which houses about 30 indoor stalls and has ample pasture space for her business boarding horses. She says there are usually about 50 horses on the property, which also boasts miniature horses, goats, a miniature donkey — and she’s thinking about an alpaca.
Wagner says there are three farriers who come to the barn regularly, Richards among them, to trim the horses’ hooves and provide shoes for those who use them. It’s up to the boarders to pay the farrier, Wagner says, but they get to choose which farrier they prefer.
“Some barns don’t do it that way, but I feel it’s their horse, it’s their choice. They all have different strengths,” she says, motioning toward Richards. “Chris is really good. Chris is a great conversationalist.”
Richards proves that, rarely missing a beat in his work while chatting with Wagner, the various horse owners and even the animals, on occasion. His first horse of the morning, a gelding named Xander, belongs to Earl Erpelding, who lives just down the road from Cedar Ridge.
“He’s very dependable,” Erpelding says of Richards. “One of the most dependable farriers I’ve ever met.”
“What do you mean, ‘one of’?’” Richards responds, again drawing laughs.
It’s partly that relationship that keeps clients coming back, Richards says, noting that a big part of being a farrier comes down to personality.
Everyone handles horses differently, he says, which means different horse owners might prefer different temperaments in a farrier. Richards, easygoing and quick to laugh, says most of the people he works for seem to be “pretty mellow” and easy to get along with.
Wagner says the most important thing people look at is the quality of work. But the second thing, she agreed, is largely personality.
“Everybody has different personality types that they get along with real well,” Richards says. “That’s what makes this business great is, if your personality clashes with someone or theirs clashes with yours, you don’t have to work together.”
For his part, Richards says he will correct a horse that is being disrespectful, because it’s easy to get hurt when dealing with 1,000-pound animals — he got kicked in the head last summer and was out of work for 4 or 5 days. But, he has a 3-second rule for correction.
“You need to get whatever licks you’re getting in within 3 seconds,” Richards says. “Because they have to associate the punishment with the crime. I don’t put emotion into it.”
There’s psychology involved, too, he says, in determining what’s causing a horse to misbehave. In April, as Richards worked on a mare named Reba, she refused to cooperate with a hind foot. Richards, after a few minutes of examination, determined the horse was sore — so he left that hoof alone.
“I’m not going to fight with a sore horse,” he says.
Richards seemed pleased with Cactus’ feet as he fits him for a set of front shoes. The gelding had uneven front feet, which Richards has been doing his part to help correct.
Shoes are applied in summer when Cactus is showing because he tends to be sensitive on rock or gravel surfaces.
By the time Richards finishes the second shoe, Cactus seems to be getting impatient. But once the shoe is shaped and ready, it only takes a few quick blows to nail on the shoe and finish. Richards has Finn lead him away so he can watch Cactus walk.
“He looks like he’s not quite awake, but other than that, he looks pretty good,” Richards says.