A difficult, dirty and wonderful job
By Vanessa Shaw Explorebigsky.com Contributor
The sizzle is reminiscent of wind rustling through dry grasses, and
the smoke that follows it carries the aroma of charred hoof. The horse
doesn’t flinch as I measure the hot shoe against his foot. Sweat contours
down my forehead and falls onto the hoof stand.
The smell, the smoke, my power squat beneath a 1,000-pound animal,
the stinging cuts on my hands and the bruises on my legs—these are all
part of why I love horseshoeing.
Farriery hasn’t changed much in the past century. The work—correctly
trimming and balancing a horse’s foot and creating a custom shoe—is a
blend of science and art. Today, the Gallatin Valley has approximately
Horses’ hooves grow about 3/8-inch a month. Some horses require
shoes, and all should have their hooves trimmed and balanced every
As I work, I think about the trust a horse puts in me. Horses’ primary
defense is flight, and yet they allow us to hold and cradle their feet
while trimming, hot fitting and nailing on shoes. By maintaining the
health of horses’ feet, I hope I can help pay back the trust and service
horses have provided humanity.
MSU Farrier School
Three times a year, a dozen people enter the Montana
State University Farrier School. They emerge 11
weeks later ready to work shoeing horses.
Each day, the class spends an hour in the classroom,
and seven hours doing “on the job training,” says lead
instructor Tom Wolfe. With only 12 students in each
class, and a network of ranches in the area that need
help, the students get plenty of hands-on experience.
Fifteen percent of the students come from Montana,
75 from out of state, and the remaining 10
percent are foreign, Wolfe said. Graduates find jobs
at working and guest ranches, or like Shaw, go into
business for themselves, usually after an apprenticeship.
Founded in 1970, the school is one of only two such
programs in the country associated with a university.
MSU ’s Animal and Range Sciences Department
sponsors the program, which receives no state funding
and is supported entirely by student fees.