According to The Patriot Ledger, Ernie Gaouette boasts nearly 25 years as a farrier, traveling to farms across Eastern Massachusetts to work his craft of shoeing horses.

While the farrier industry in the United States is unregulated, many, including Gaouette, complete voluntary certification programs.

“I can really do whatever the owner needs, but I think every farrier should have a niche and I would say mine is the barrel racing horse,” says Gaouette. “They’re very unique in that the way they are shod can be the difference between winning and losing. Thousandths of a second matter.”

Mastering the tools and process for shoeing is necessary for a farrier, but the connection formed with each animal matters more, says Gaouette.

Some farriers use a stand for the horse’s hoofs to rest on while they’re being shod, but Gaouette says that’s not his style.

“I like to feel the horses. I like to feel if they’re rigid or calm,” he says. “I feel like when you put something between you and them, you lose that communication.”

Gaouette, 55, spreads 5 days of work over 6 days a week to help pace the physically demanding job that strains a farrier’s knees and back.

While Gaouette has spent almost half his life as a farrier, his love affair with horses began with racing. The Rhode Island native’s family bought their first horse when Gaouette was 13. He grew up helping care for his father’s Thoroughbreds at Narragansett Park.

“My dad didn’t drink or smoke, so his vice was playing ponies,” says Gaouette. “I just got hooked back then. Even though I couldn’t ride it, I just fell in love with the animal. We took care of them and we really loved them.”

Gaouette graduated from high school in 1980 and bought his first horse in 1984. He spent the next decade training racehorses before going to farrier school in Maine when his two daughters were born.

After being a horse owner for more than 30 years, this will be Gaouette’s first winter without any to call his own, as he prepares to put his second daughter through college.

“When you aren’t doing anything with them, they get expensive just to have as pets,” he says. “I do miss them, but I gave them to customers, so I do still get to see them.”