South Dakota farrier Toby Nelson paused to reflect on his 55 years of shoeing with the Tri-State Livestock News.

“I’ve been shoeing since 1962,” he says. “I keep thinking about that and I’m already tired — so why retire?”

That’s the year Nelson started shoeing with his older brother Alvin, who told him to go to Bud Good’s horseshoeing school in Sturgis, S.D. The school offered three 12-week courses with small groups of students.

“I never did get away,” he says of the school, where he helped teach after he finished his own course.

According to Nelson, knowledge of the school mostly spread through word-of-mouth. That’s also how Dr. John Ismay from Sturgis Vet Clinic found Nelson and asked him to provide footcare to some of his patients.

Nelson performed therapeutic farriery at the clinic for 10 years.

“I did a tremendous amount of work out there, on that cement floor, and it really took its toll on my body,” he says.

He also tired of the short-term relationship that he had with clients in the arrangement.

“I would start working with a horse that had problems and maybe get to shoe it once or twice and then it would be gone and I’d never see it again nor know how it was doing,” he says.

Then, Nelson shod racehorses, but decided he had to choose between shoeing racehorses and therapeutic farriery.

“I thought maybe the little 2-year-old girl that loves her horse so much is the one I want to help, instead of the rich man whose horses are expendable,” he says.

Years ago, he remembers shoeing 18 horses in a day. He still shoes, but not so many.

“It has caught up with me lately. Five years ago, my back was so bad that my leg went numb,” he says. “For a 2-month period of time, I was only able to keep three horses going.”

Nelson began seeing a chiropractor to work through the worst of his problems, but perseveres — the horses won’t let him quit.

“One of the wildest examples of the understanding you can forge with them was a horse that had just roped too many steers,” he says. “His knees were very sore, but the guy wanted me to shoe him.”

But the horse wouldn’t let him.

“So I went and got a block of wood, just about the right height, and I put it under his hoof to get it up where I could work on it — where he was just resting his leg there and didn’t have to bend the knee,” he says.

“He stood easily for me to do the job. The next time I went there I reached down for a stick and he came right over to me and lifted his hoof up just where he wanted me to put the stump under it.”

For Nelson, transformations like that make it all worthwhile. 

“I communicate well with them, and have made a lot of buddies among my clients; especially those old geriatric ones,” he says. “Horses are amazing, how they think and communicate.”