Wyoming farrier Mike Sussex reflected on his history of equine experience for the Star Herald.
Sussex grew up on a ranch in Southeastern Wyoming, where his father taught him to shoe and handle horses.
“He taught me to know the horse before you ever walk into the corral with it, because the minute you enter his domain, you better know about him,” he told the Star Herald.
This perception has served him well over the years. “I had a situation the other day that nobody realized what was going on,” says Sussex. He was shoeing a 19-hand draft horse.
“I could feel his energy level go up, and I was doing a hind foot and I just eased out of there,” he says. He didn’t want to startle the horse — who was made nervous by a goat that someone had brought to the clinic.
Sussex has had a lot of time to develop his keen sense of horses. He began professionally shoeing horses in 1975 after attending farrier school at Central Wyoming College in Riverton, Wyo.
“But the real schooling, just like anything, is when you get out here and start doing it,” he says.
“I trim a horse different than I used to, and that came from looking at how horses come off the pasture,” he says. “I look at what they’ve had worn in their feet — from the pillars and the toe and the quarters and all that — I put that back where I trimmed it.”
Sussex acknowledges that farriery has evolved since he began shoeing. “As we’ve learned more about the locomotion of a horse and the anatomy of a foot, we adopt new techniques.
“We’ve learned enough to know that we don’t know,” he says. “It’s such a vast parameter in the farrier business because it’s not just the feet, it’s the whole horse.”
Sussex also emphasizes taking care of the whole horse as a certified lameness specialist through the Equine Lameness Prevention Organizaton (ELPO).
His business practices also reflect change, as he has moved to keeping track of his hoof-care clients with a computer database rather than on paper.
“You have to move forward with the times a bit,” he says. “Even with ranching, you have to move forward with the way things are because it makes your life easier.”
But that doesn’t make Sussex’s past experience any less useful to him.
“The thing about that is that if you know the old ways, you can always go back to them any time, which is what makes it so cool.”