It was a little after 6:00am on a clear, cold March morning when I first met Marlin, an Amish farrier in southern Michigan. He was re-shoeing one of the horses for the Amish family I was visiting. My host said, “If you’d like to see a farrier in action, this is the time to do it.” I threw on my boots and jacket, gathered my camera gear and headed out to the barn where he had already begun his work. I introduced myself and asked if I could take photos while he worked. “Sure, I don’t mind,” he said as he continued his work in the 15-degree cold, with only the LED light on his forehead to guide his hands in the darkness of the barn. As he worked he explained each step of the process:
First he removed all the old shoes and nails. One by one he cleaned off the feet so he could check on the overall health of each foot.
A horse’s hooves are similar to our finger nails and must be trimmed occasionally, so he cut off the excess sole growth (the dead stuff), exfoliating the hoof. Watching him work around the tender parts of the hoof was more than a little nerve-wracking; his skill and confidence were evident as he deftly cut away old, dead material while the horse calmly stood by.
He trimmed the frog, which is the triangle-shaped thing on the bottom of the foot. The frog starts at the heel of the foot goes forward toward the toe. It acts as a shock absorber for the foot, and pressure on the frog helps pumps blood back up the horse’s long legs to its heart. He cleaned it up nicely so it wouldn’t have ragged ends, and so that dirt and muck is able to get out of the foot easier. When he finished it looked nice and neat.
Next he trimmed the excess hoof wall, using a curved blade called a hoof knife. He cleaned the sole of the foot and used hoof nippers to actually trim the outside hoof wall.
Marlin uses a rasp to level everything out and make it nice and tidy around the bottom and outside, similar to how we might use an emery board on our fingernails.
Once the horse’s hooves were trimmed and cleaned, Marlin went out to his cart to work on the horseshoes. After selecting appropriately sized shoes, he used a propane torch to braze gritty patches of Drilltec (tungsten carbide) onto the bottom of each horseshoe to prevent slippage and wear. The horseshoes were dipped in water and hung to cool on the side of his cart.
Once the horseshoes were ready Marlin took them back into the barn to nail the shoes back onto the pony.
There’s no mistaking Marlin’s home-made farrier cart as he goes about his rounds. The custom-made vinyl tarp has snap-downs to cover the work area on rainy days. The back-end of the cart serves as a work area with everything Marlin needs to get the job done. Marlin says it’s quite cozy inside, but his wife prefers the more traditional look of the family buggy.