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Farrier Bob Garrison files the top of the hoof (and exposed nails) to finish the process of shoeing Prince, an Appaloosa owned by Eric and Cassy Larson of Silverton, on March 27 at the Salem Saddle Club.
April 02, 2013
FALLS CITY -- Bob Garrison picks up the left back foot of an Appaloosa named Prince, cleans it, removes the old shoe, files the hoof, and measures it for a new shoe in about two minutes.
He handles Prince with the calm and confidence that only comes with years of experience around horses.
Garrison has worked in a number of fields, including law enforcement, engineering and public administration. In being a farrier, he's found a passion.
He's worked with horses since childhood and has long been a certified farrier, but he only devoted himself full time to the profession about 12 years ago. He operates Shu Shack Farrier Service, serving clients in the Willamette Valley and Northeast Washington. Garrison lives on a ranch near Falls City with his wife, Elly -- an equine massage therapist -- and large family of children and foster children.
Garrison is surprisingly soft-spoken for a man who spends his time handling 1,200-plus-pound animals. He wears the uniform of someone whose "office" is located in barns, stables and fields, and the look of a man undeterred by even the chilliest of winter days.
"Out of all the professions I've done, being a farrier is probably the most rewarding," Garrison said. "I wish I had started full time earlier."
He's making up for lost time -- shoeing as many as 16 horses per day on six to eight stops. He also tries to accommodate last-minute requests from clients.
Garrison is squeezing Prince into his March 27 schedule. It's a bit of an emergency: Prince is a busy horse, carrying members of Silverton's Oregon High School Equestrian Team in competitions, and he really needs new shoes.
From Dallas, Garrison made the trip to the Salem Saddle Club just east of Salem to make sure Prince is ready.
"Bob is probably one of the best we've had for shoeing," said longtime customer Eric Larson, a Silverton resident who, with his wife Cassy, owns or cares for 15 horses, including Prince. "If Bob goes, I don't know where we will go."
Larson doesn't need to worry about that.
"I've got a long ways to go before retiring," Garrison said.
That's saying a lot after nearly three decades of working with horses that may not be as well-behaved and patient as mild-mannered Prince.
Garrison quickly shapes a horseshoe on an anvil mounted in the bed of his pickup. Modern shoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, eliminating the need for "hot shoeing," which requires the use of a blacksmith's forge to properly shape the shoe to a horse's hoof.
Some horses like to pull, lean, or even sit on him while he's shoeing them. In those cases, Garrison depends on his horsemanship skills, nurtured through a lifetime of handling and studying horses.
"To be a good farrier, you have to have a very good working ability with horses," he said. "Then you have to have an above average knowledge of the horse's physical structure and have the practical application (skills) to be able to work on a live animal."
It's not easy work, even if a horse trusts him -- and most do -- so Garrison has to keep himself in top physical condition.
None of that seems to bother him, though.
"Dealing with horses on a full-time basis is just the cream of the crop," Garrison said. "They are just so easy to get along with. I've always loved horses and working with horses.
"And I can make a difference. I've taken horses that should have been put down because their feet were so bad and have been able to fix them."
Garrison's client list includes elite show and performance horses, but he said the most fulfilling part of his job are the "small" victories, helping restore someone's beloved pet.
"One client, her horse was so arthritic she couldn't ride it," Garrison said. "In the process of corrective shoeing, her horse could actually start to canter. She rode with us and to see her start to tear up because her horse was a valid horse again, that's the stuff that makes it worth it."
Garrison learned the trade through the American Farriers Association and years of apprenticeship with a "corrective shoeing" expert. He's even taken veterinary school classes to enhance his knowledge of horses.
Garrison's deft hand at hammering shoes onto horses' feet makes quick work of the process, which comes after he has trimmed and scraped the hoof and shaped the shoe, and before the finishing touches of trimming and crimping the exposed nail points and filing the top of the hoof to shape.
Technology has improved to where "hot shoeing," or the need to be a blacksmith to shoe a horse, has become a thing of the past. New materials allow farriers to measure a hoof and simply use a hammer and anvil to pound shoes into the correct shape. Beyond those advances, however, the act of shoeing hasn't changed much over the centuries.
"People don't realize we've been putting shoes on horses since the Romans," he said. "Because it's a live animal, there's only a certain technique that you can use. The principles haven't changed ... It's kind of one of those old professions that hasn't been modernized because you can't."
Garrison does employ current research and a working knowledge of a horse's feet, bone structure, muscles and tendons to mitigate chronic conditions, such as arthritis, to make horses more comfortable. He often works with veterinarians to treat horses with chronic conditions and can read X-rays to determine the best course of action.
It's that extra time and commitment that earns him loyal customers, like the Larsons.
"He actually researches it and educates himself, and that to me is a big deal," Cassy Larson said. "He doesn't go by fads. There are a lot of fads in the world of horses and he doesn't do that. To me, that's very important."
Need (horse) shoes?
What: Shu Shack Farrier Service.
Contact: 503-508-7745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information: www.shushack.com or visit Shu Shack on Facebook.
Did You Know?
A varied career: Bob Garrison has held quite the variety of jobs. He earned his degree in engineering, but worked in law enforcement for 17 years in Idaho. After retiring from law enforcement, he tried to go back to engineering, but soon realized "putting an adrenaline junkie behind a desk didn't really work out."
Upon moving to Oregon in 1998, he gave public administration a try (human resources), but finally settled full time into being a farrier about 12 years ago.
Other interests: Rodeo -- He used to compete in his younger days, but now he occasionally serves as a "pick up" man, the guy who picks up bull and bronc riders after they fall or jump off.
Music -- When not working with horses, Bob and Elly Garrison play in a country band, Quarterdeck.