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Custom fit career

Local farrier savors his unique job

POSTED: September 5, 2012 4:00 a.m.
Scott Rogers DCN regional staff/

Farrier and blacksmith Shane Stephens takes a quick measurement on a shoe Friday while pounding it into shape for a client’s horse. Stephens’ shop mobility allows him to set up quickly on site at the client’s property.

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Eight-hour days in a cubicle may be tough. But Shane Stephens of Dawsonville may have it tougher.

His clients bite, kick, stomp and may throw him into a wall.

But you won't hear this laborer complain.

He said he loves making his living as a blacksmith and farrier, someone who shoes horses. He said a regular 9-to-5 job would be too boring.

"It's like looking down the barrel of a shotgun every time you pick up a foot," Stephens said. "I guess that's what I like about it, the unpredictably."

At any given point while shoeing a horse, he has 200 to 300 pounds of horse resting on his back. One wrong move or sudden jerk from the horse and his career could be over, or worse.

"They are pure muscle. You're talking about a 1,000-pound animal twisting your body in an unnatural way," Stephens said.

He said a farrier's career is limited from the start. He said these days most people last about four or five years. That is, if they make it through the first day. He has been doing it for 12 years.

"You've got a clock on your back. Your body can only stand this abuse for so long," Stephens said. "My clock is still holding up, knock on wood."

That's why he has to be selective with his clients. He compared a wild mustang to a coffin nail.

But as much as a horse could hurt him, he could also hurt the horse.

Stephens explained he's got a very small margin of error, only one-16th of an inch. The horse's hoof is filled with bone tissue and blood vessels, and a nail in the wrong place could make a horse lame.

"That could be a million-dollar grand champion and now he can't walk because you drove a nail in the wrong way," Stephens said.

That's why Stephens said he tries to learn all he can about the profession and advancements that are being made by keeping up to date on his certifications and attending industry clinics.

A farrier has to have a keen business sense, people and horse skills and an understanding of horse anatomy and physiology, according to Stephens.

Farriers often work hand in hand with veterinarians and are the first ones called when something may be wrong with a horse.

While the job has been around for ages, it isn't exactly old-fashioned.

These days, a lot of horseshoes are prefabricated and sold online. And rather than having a central blacksmith shop, farriers have mobile businesses. But he does have an anvil.

Stephens said there isn't much more room for the job of farrier to evolve, but he doesn't expect the work to disappear the way most centuries-old careers have.

"As long as there are horses that people are riding, there has got to be horseshoes," Stephens said. "Demand is going to be there as long as horses are there."

 

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