My husband Henry is a farrier by trade. That’s a fancy way of saying he shoes horses. He completed Linn Benton Community College’s 14-week farrier school (now closed) in the spring of 2004, and has been a more or less full-time working horseshoer ever since.
I should be clear here that I am not a horse person. I don’t dislike horses, but I’ve never owned one, and I’ve never wanted to own one, not even in the third grade when all my girlfriends were galloping around the playground and preening their model morgan horses. Many many people (especially Henry’s clients) assume that I’m a lifelong rider, but he and I met through vegetables not livestock (but that’s a story for another day).
I appreciate a number of things about being married to a farrier, but there are a few aspects I’m not so fond of.
The vast majority of his clients are genuinely wonderful. They trust his judgement, and they truly appreciate the hard work he does for their beloved animals. They also are collectively a huge source of knowledge and experience. Most have been the area for decades or even generations. Henry has clients who are engineers, arborists, bartenders, eye surgeons, physics professors, stay-at-home moms, commercial fishermen, farmers, loggers, wild hippies, conservative Christians, and pretty much everything in between. Each and every one has at least one good story or a bit of interesting advice. And they are so incredibly caring and generous. After each of our kids were born, Henry brought home shopping bags of gifts from clients almost every day for a month.
Speaking of awesome clients, we’ve gotten all of the following for free or trade: new and hand-me-down kid’s toys, kid’s clothes, guns, meat, fish, crab, cookies, soap, fence auger, fencing, tools, beekeeping equipment, old growth redwood, water tanks, cheese, graphic design work, fruit, canning jars, chainsaws, cats, dog, goats, sheep, ducks, trees, seed collection rights, hardware, building materials, fuel, Cat (equipment) work, road engineering, turkeys, horse manure, hay, straw, grass seed, woodstoves, garden gnomes, vegetables, logs, and lots more that I can’t think of at the moment.
Henry tries to only work four days a week shoeing horses. To some extent, he gets to make his own schedule, which allows him to work around large projects he has going on at home or mini vacations with the family.
Henry has been taking our son Levi (now 3 1/2) to work with him a day or more per week for two years now, and recently he’s started taking our daughter Charlotte (now almost 2) on occasion, too. He tries to bring them on days when the weather is decent, and he’s visiting particularly nice people, so the kids have a great time (or at least they never complain). Sometimes they play with toys in the truck, sometimes they play with toys in people’s yards, and sometimes they go hang out in people’s houses. It gives them great exposure to different kinds of folks and lots of new experiences. I love to get their take on the day’s activities when they come home. Sometimes the highlights are signs of wildlife (“There was bear poop next to their house!”) or heavy equipment sightings (“We saw a Komatsu excavator with a grapple!”), and some days the highlights are Fruit Loops (“They’re kinda like Cheerios, but they come in different colors.”) and real TV (“It’s like your computer, but it plays shows and has pictures of stuff you can buy…”).
Henry works out of his truck and drives around to people’s houses and barns in all corners of three counties. He knows hundreds of miles of backroads and has a mental map of every point of interest along his route. Driving to a remote area to trim a few horses gives him an excuse to explore places that most locals would never see. Occasionally, he’ll only have one or two horses to do, so we’ll schedule a family day trip to a waterfall, the beach, or a friend’s house in the area where he’s working.
Henry never exercises for the sake of exercise, but he stays in great shape. Shoeing horses is an incredible workout, so the guy is built, and he can eat anything his wants to without putting on weight.
When I tell people that my husband is a horseshoer, people are fascinated and impressed. It gives him some kind of automatic street cred and a license to wear suspenders and be dirty in public.
A smart, hardworking horseshoer can make a decent family wage, but it takes a near-perfect combination of skill sets. He or she needs to be able to work his/her butt off, withstand adverse conditions, keep on a strict schedule, chat with clients, understand large animal anatomy and psychology, budget well, not get lost on remote country roads, return phone calls in a timely manner, and provide a high-quality service. There aren’t that many people who can adequately or exceptionally perform all those tasks. Henry can. We don’t live extravagantly, but we are able to live debt-free and with a sound financial base, even during the time that I was “just” a stay-at-home mom.
Henry has sustained both acute and chronic injuries from his work: several concussions, a couple broken ribs, burcitis in both shoulders, and way too many deep bruises, hand cuts, stomped feet, and sore muscles to count. In the back of my head, I worry about the possibility of serious injuries as well as the inevitibility of his premature aging and body breakdown. He does his best to limit his exposure to untrained horses and inexperienced handlers, but all animals can be unpredictable, and the risk will always exist.
While I worry about him getting hurt by a horse, I probably should worry more about him getting into a traffic accident. He has limited his travel area to about a 30 mile radius, but still he puts a lot of miles on his truck each year. Being on the road that much exposes him crazy/distracted/drunk drivers more than I’d like to think about.
Henry talks on the phone a LOT. Not all of it is communication with horse clients, but he does spend many hours a week scheduling and consulting with clients. In general, he isn’t bothered by all this talking (he’s kind of a chatty guy anyway), and I have learned to live with it. There are, however, evenings when I’m trying to give two wild kids a bath and get them into bed while he’s out talking on the phone, and in those moments, I kind of hate that aspect of his job.
Although the vast majority of his clients are sweet, reliable, and have a sound understanding of boundaries and interpersonal communications, there is a small minority that can make life interesting and/or unpleasant. We get occasional phone calls before 6 am and after 11 pm. He’s gotten a fair number of bounced checks, no shows, and people who don’t understand that he can’t pencil them in the day that they call. One time, he even got tangled up in a police investigation. He’s definitely culled many clients who couldn’t offer even the bare minimum of decency, but he still shoes for a number of folks who are nice but fallible.
I dislike the smell of horses. Even more offensive, though, is the smell of hot shoeing. When he walks in reeking of burned hooves (kind of like burned hair), I almost gag and send him straight to the shower. Maybe I should be more tolerant and understanding, but my reaction to that smell is so visceral that I don’t think I’ll ever overcome it. yuck.
Shoeing horses in the winter means standing around in the cold, getting soaked by Oregon rains. Shoeing horses in the summer means getting scorched, dehydrated, and occasionally coming home with heat exhaustion. There’s about a month in the spring and a month in the fall when weather conditions are favorable for the hard work of a farrier. That pleasant month in the spring almost perfectly correlates with horse shedding season, so Henry may get to work in comfortable temperatures, but he still comes home carpeted in horse hair. (Again, this bothers me more than him.)
Since the LBCC farrier school shut down a few years ago, the number of shoers in the area has declined, but the number of horses has not. As someone with a good reputation who’s well established in this area, Henry has more than enough clients to fill up his schedule. He has to turn quite a few people away on a regular basis, which can be awkward and difficult. People don’t seem to understand the concept of having too much work, especially in a down economy, and some have a hard time taking no for an answer. Occasionally, he gets talked into doing extra horses which makes his days (and mine) long and rough.
As the wife of a farrier, I know that Henry truly enjoys his job. For now, it is the best thing for our family, but if he ever got hurt or just needed a change of pace, he does (thankfully) have other skills and employment options.