Farriery is an ancient profession, to be sure. While balancing hooves with a trim and nailing on shoes remain the foundational tasks, there have been considerable advances in the industry. Many times, significant sacrifices are made to bring innovations to the farrier market. Some are more significant than others.
It’s not a matter of if a farrier will get hurt, it’s a matter of when. Sure, it’s a bit of a cliché; it’s true nonetheless. For one young Idaho shoer, it came sooner rather than later — in his first year, as a matter of fact. Kevin Keeler was working on a horse’s left hind foot when it happened.
“It’s really hard to describe it,” he tells American Farriers Journal. “You almost have to pantomime it. He stepped on my left foot, which nailed me to the ground. Then he hopped up in the air and put his left hind foot on the inside of my right knee and stepped down.”
The damage was substantial. All of the ligaments in his knee were torn. Surgery was necessary — twice.
“It was just my first year,” Keeler says. “I almost hung it up and quit shoeing, but I had gotten addicted to it by that time. I just really loved it.”
Borne Out of Necessity
The gym became a regular destination in the hopes of keeping his body strong.
“I realized early on that we’re only as good as our body,” he says. “We can have all of these beautiful, shiny trucks filled with tools to help us do our work, but if our body doesn’t work, all of that doesn’t mean a thing.”
As farriers know well, surgery can repair torn ligaments, and workouts can strengthen muscles, but the effects of a traumatic injury simply don’t improve with time. It only becomes chronic.
“As the years went on, there was no cartilage left in my knee,” Keeler says. “It was bone on bone. Leaning horses, especially when working on their hinds, was just killing that knee.”
He started looking for a little help. The hoof stands on the market didn’t fit his needs. They often were heavy, clunky and rattled. Of course, like many farriers, Keeler just wasn’t comfortable with one.
“It was very different than working manually,” he says. “I had to compromise. Finally, I decided to make my own.”
“Pain is a Wonderful Motivator”
The Idaho farrier’s venture was going well. He scraped together enough money to create a prototype. After it was in hand, the shoer experienced another traumatic setback. While flying to a ranch in the Idaho backcountry to shoe horses, Keeler’s plane crashed. He and two others hiked 5 hours in waist-deep snow before they were found. Doctors diagnosed him with having a bruised heart, broken ribs and several strained muscles.
“I was lucky to be alive,” Keeler says. “I had a lot of back damage and it put me out of work for about 6 months. I lived with the back pain for many years before I finally had surgery.”
The back pain, coupled with the compromised knee, motivated him to complete his project.
“Pain is a wonderful motivator,” Keeler says. “It motivates you to change or get out of the industry.”
To gauge others’ opinions of his creation, he loaned them out to farriers and veterinarians in his area.
“Nobody wanted to give it back to me,” Keeler recalls.
Designing them, making prototypes and redesigning them was costing more than he anticipated. He had to recoup those costs.
“I spent much more money than I thought,” Keeler says. “I thought that I had better sell some of these.”
The hoof stands became known as the Hoofjack. And it enabled Keeler to remain in the industry that he became addicted to.
“In the beginning, I made the Hoofjack so I could extend my career,” he says. “It was about my love and passion for this industry and wanting to remain part of it.”
He wasn’t alone, though. There were a significant number of people in the hoof-care industry with chronic pain who needed help to get through a day of shoeing. Of course, there’s also a segment that uses it as a form of preventative maintenance. It was one of the first things that Rosevine, Texas, farrier Ralph Hampton discussed while beginning a January 2017 “Shoeing for a Living” day.
“This thing is about the handiest item there is,” he says of the Hoofjack. “The only thing wrong with these Hoofjacks is I didn’t invent them. It’s added years onto my shoeing career.”
Farriery is an ancient trade, but there’s still innovation taking place. And the blood, sweat and tears that are invested in the innovation are making your job just a little easier every day.