For the love of horses
LOHRVILLE – Gary Clark thought shoeing horses looked pretty easy.
At the time, Clark was in high school, doing some fence building and construction for a friend’s dad.
When the work day was done, Clark would watch as the man shod horses.
“He got me going in it, and I started going to (farriers) school down in Texas after I graduated from high school,” Clark said. “And, I found out, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. It’s physically a hard job.”
In fact, it’s a job that has sent him to the emergency room a couple of times and to the chiropractor every few weeks.
But there’s a reason that Clark, an agriscience teacher, FFA adviser and wrestling coach at Glidden-Ralston Community Schools, has stuck with the trade – fitting it in around an already busy school schedule.
“Although the work is hard, I do what I do for the love of horses. I especially take joy in turning a horse who had no hope because of bad feet into a sound, useable horse again,” said Clark, who lives in rural Lohrville, near Lanesboro.
Knowing how to handle hooves is only part of the job; understanding equine psychology plays a major role.
Clark is used to hearing owners’ stories about horses that won’t stand still and fight their farrier. One woman told him her horse had been tied to a trailer and became so distraught that it dragged the trailer down the road.
“He didn’t move for me,” said Clark.
Learning how horses think and react helps him – and his hooved clients – stay calm.
“I can tell when they’re going to act up and when they’re going to move. But that’s just from being under a lot of horses.” Clark said.
“I’ve done this long enough that I don’t lose my temper like a lot of guys do,” he added. “As soon as you get ramped up, they get ramped up and it just feeds into each other, and somebody’s going to get hurt or something’s going to happen.”
When something bad does happen, it can give all farriers a bad name.
“It’s just like the hog industry or anything else, there’s one bad egg that ruins the whole dozen,” he said.
Clark learned his trade during a six-week course in Texas where he and classmates worked mostly with rodeo horses.
“There were six guys I went to school with, off and on, and we’d run through 30, 40 horses a day and just shoe all day long,” he said.
One of the clients was a carriage company in Dallas.
“They offered to buy all my tools and fly me back and forth from Iowa every six weeks” to work on their horses, Clark said.
In the end, the Centerville native passed on the Texas gig. He earned an associate degree from Indian Hills Community College, a bachelor of science degree in agricultural studies from Iowa State University in 2009 and a master’s degree in agricultural education with a teaching endorsement in 2010. He was hired by Glidden-Ralston in 2011.
Although shoeing horses didn’t pay for his entire education, it helped pay the bills, Clark said.
“I didn’t have to go out and get a job, and I could set my own hours. Owning your own business is really nice. Sometimes,” he said.
Clark got his start shoeing horses, but nowadays, he is seeing a movement toward natural hoof care, which he also provides.
“I see the transition back to barefoot,” he said. “I used to shoe a lot of horses, and then I really got into natural hoof care because it makes so much sense.”
Natural hoof care aims to mimic the natural wear of an animal’s hooves.
“A lot of people want to put shoes on their horses, and I will give them the barefoot spiel,” Clark said, often convincing them to give up horseshoes.
Clark’s “spiel” includes a number of what he sees as advantages to natural hoof care.
“No. 1, you can’t throw a shoe if it’s not there,” he said. “You don’t diminish the integrity of the hoof by driving nails into it. When a horse is wearing shoes, they can’t toughen their sole callus up because they don’t have any contact with the ground. To me, you build a stronger hoof with a barefoot horse.”
Returning a previously shod horse to a barefoot state takes time, Clark said.
“Most of my clients understand that. You’re not going to go from a powdery foot to a foot as hard as a hedgepost overnight,” he said.
Learning about natural hoof care changed the way Clark approached his work, and he continues to study on his own.
“I do not claim to know everything or be the best farrier there is,” he said. “As soon as you start doing that, you might as well get out of the business.”
If he did, there would be plenty of disappointed clients.
Clark maintains between six and eight rotations throughout the western third of the state with clients in Sioux City, Emmetsburg, Sac City, Albert City, Ames, Jefferson, Humboldt, Dayton and Callender.
In addition, he drives back to Mystic in southern Iowa to help a trim the hooves of a friend’s rescue horses.
“She couldn’t find anybody to do them down there. She pays my fuel, and I donate my time because it’s a rescue and I respect what they’re doing,” Clark said.
He is assisted in his business by his wife Amanda, who helps handle the horses and serves as bookkeeper.
Although he retired from the business once for about a year, he was coerced back when a friend of his wife’s needed a farrier.
He ended up with 60 head of horses within three days.
“I’m probably up to 130, 140 head of horses,” he said. “I’m not taking on any more horses. Of course, I said that last week and took on 10 more head.”
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