MODERN BLACKSMITH

 

                               Published in the Sunday Journal Gazette

 

                                A BLACKSMITH GOES TO THE HORSE

 

                                         By Forest J. McComb 

 

When the gasoline engine found its way into the automobile, the truck, mobile Army equipment and the present fire truck, it looked like the once mighty horse had hit the skids completely and might soon become as extinct as the Dodo Bird.

 

But it is not so!  It just hasn’t happened that way!  The horse has made a remarkable comeback, and it looks very much now like he’s here to stay.

 

Mankind loves the animal – his intelligence, adaptability, maneuverability, and his individualistic character and beauty – all combine for a close livability between the horse and human race.

 

A lot of horse demand today lies in the sport and entertainment world;  at the race tracks, the circus, riding academies, and pulling contests and many are kept for just plain pets.  Then there are the parades!  Without the horses and riders something vital would be missing.  Plenty of money is spent to produce the wonderful floats one sees, but what is more beautiful than the slick, well-groomed, well-dressed horses?

 

They are a God-made living and breathing creature, moving under their own power!  And, the quick ear movement shows how keen they are to everything that is happen-ing!

 

The Budweiser Brewing Co. knows the value of horse advertising.  They go to great expense to maintain a stable of fine Clydesdale horses, and the harness alone costs thousands of dollars, with all sorts of added trappings that bring out the beauty of the horse.  No doubt, everyone in our country has had a chance to see these horses at first hand or on TV, and when Arthur Godfrey displays his well-trained horses in the show ring, one senses at once the love and trust between horse and master.

 

And of course, the comeback of the horse has brought back the blacksmith.  Horses used extensively need shoes, feet trimmed, or services that only a well-equipped blacksmith can render.  Just a few years ago it was thought to be a lost art, but now it’s good to see some of our youngsters taking up the old trade.  One of them is GARY  WARNER, a lad living a couple miles west of Huntertown on the Hand Road.

 

Henry W. Longfellow’s immortal poem that went like this:

 

“Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands.  The smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands,”  could hardly describe Gary Warner. 

 

Blonde and blue-eyed Gary is small:  Five feet six inches tall, and weighs only 120 pounds, but he has been in the trade four years and will tackle any horse that needs shoes!  In the old days, the horse came to the shop, but today the shop goes to the horse and Gary’s shoeing ranges from the tiny Shetland pony to the huge draft horse.

 

The WARNER FAMILY has a long background of horse experience, and it was only natural for Gary to take up this project in 4-H work where he won many trophies.  One he is proudest of was when he won first place in judging at the 4-H horse and pony show in 1970 at the Memorial Coliseum.

 

Gary was only 15 years old when he became interested in learning the blacksmith trade.  He was taught by LEONARD TROYER who made a practice of shoeing and training for the show ring.  MR. TROYER has since moved to Nebraska.

 

At present, Gary works a 40-hour job and does shoeing as a sideline.  When he gets a call at the Hand Road residence, where he lives with his parents, MR. and MRS. JOSEPH WARNER, it is important to get the exact address, how to find it, the size of the animal and what is required.  Gary then loads the needed equipment into a pickup truck and heads for the job.  Of course, folks close by, bring horses to the Warner farm.

 

Horseshoeing, like everything else, has changed some from the old days.  The old-time blacksmith had a forge and anvil setup at the shop and he heated iron with coal or charcoal.  Most of his work was on draft horses and the shoes required considerable work done in shaping and fitting.  The stock shoe of today is lighter and farther advanced and comes with less fitting, because less is required of it.  The shoeing is mostly for riding horses, show ring horses, and for pulling contests.

 

Many of today’s customers are suburbanites, who have acquired some acreage and livestock, have little or no experience with animals.  The women, especially, can’t stand to see the animal hurt in any way.

 

“Are you sure you’re not hurting him?” they often ask when a horse’s feet are being trimmed inside and out, and the shoes nailed on.

 

“No, I’m not hurting the horse,” Gary assures them, “and everything I’m doing is necessary!”

 

Some horses are gentle and don’t mind the shoeing at all but some are temperamental and cranky.  Then, stern measures must be taken.  A horse can’t do much kicking when a front foot is tied up and off the ground and, in extreme cases, a twitch can be used.  This is a rope attached in a loop on the end of a stick.  The long upper lip can be put through the loop, and when twisted causes pain to the horse.  This hurts the horse, but does not injure him in any way.  An animal can only think of one thing at a time and the idea is to get him to think of the pain and forget the shoes he’s getting.

 

One time I walked past a shop in Fort Wayne where three men were working on one mule.  They had the mule tied to the wall and one man held a twitch on the mule’s nose.  Another stood at a hip with a scoop shovel, beating a steady rhythm on the mule’s back while the blacksmith was nailing on the shoes.  They weren’t hurting the mule at all…just doing what was necessary to get the shoes on him!

 

Part of Gary’s mobile equipment consists of an acetylene torch that makes it easy to heat the shoes anywhere, and Gary is building a clientele by giving good service and workmanship.  He guarantees his work for six weeks, unless the horse pulls the shoes off in a fence or something beyond Gary’s control.  When shoes stay on for six weeks, they’ll certainly stay much longer.

 

For a long time we had a blacksmith at Huntertown who was a good honest mechanic.  He was WILLIAM (BILL) SNYDER, long deceased, but when Bill put shoes on a horse they were there to stay.  He told me once about a horse that was brought into the shop.  Bill was working at the forge, and he asked the customer what he wanted done?

 

“I want him reshod”, the man said.

 

Bill laughed – he thought the man was joking because the horse looked barefoot, but on examination he found the shoes from the last shoeing still on.  The horse’s hooves had grown down entirely around the shoes, and bill had a hard time getting the shoes off and the feet trimmed back where they belonged.

 

There was also a shop in Fort Wayne that did a lot of shoeing.  The smith got real cute at it.  They’d nail the shoe on so it would fall off in about 30 days and then they’d get another job of shoeing.

 

My mother, who could drive anything she could get hitched up, had them shoe a horse for her and they overdid it!  The horse cast and lost a shoe before she got it home.  The next week she took the horse back to the shop, made them put another shoe on free of charge and gave them a pretty good idea of what she thought of their workmanship.

 

Gary wants his customers to be satisfied and he wouldn’t be surprised to see the trade turn into a full-time job.  Besides shoeing around Allen County, he’s been over in Ohio and through the northern lake counties.