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For Pepperell Farrier, Hooves Are His Livelihood

July 14, 2018

Dave Edmonds is shown shoeing a horse. COURTESY PHOTO Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Scott Shurtleff

sshurtleff@nashoba valleyvoice.com

PEPPERELL -- Dave Edmonds sells shoes. He measures the client, adjusts the shoe to fit, and completes the transaction by grooming the area.

His clients have four legs.

Edmonds shoes horses and has been doing it for more than three decades.

Technically, his throwback and unusual vocation is known as a farrier, but to Edmonds it is a career he nailed after his first hoof.

Serving dozens of local farms, the 52-year-old has done only one job in the 35 years since high school, shoeing horses.

Although, “it is a very specialized craft, there is more to it than you think,” he said.

“Every horse’s foot is different. You have to shape the shoe to fit the hoof, not shape the hoof to fit the shoe.” That important distinction is one that many do-it-yourselfers overlook.

Maybe once or twice you can put the same shoe back onto a hoof but after a while it will affect the way the horse’s foot strikes the ground.

And even the same horse may require a different shaped shoe from season-to-season. Feet shrink or swell due to environmental factors like cold or humidity.”

Despite the iron equipment and steel hardware, horseshoeing is a delicate art of precision and gentleness.

In his mobile workshop, Edmonds carries all the necessary tools and varieties of shoes needed to affix his custom wares onto the feet of about 40 equines per week.

His office stretches from Hamilton to Westminster across dozens of farms.

Kelly Chase is a barn manager in Westford whose horses have been clients of Edmonds for more than a decade.

“He is an excellent farrier,” she said. “He has a very kind way with horses.”

But sometimes the horses have not been kind to him.

“Last year, one of them was bothered by a fly at its face. As it moved to avoid the pest, it knocked me down and I broke my shoulder. They don’t do it on purpose, but they are big animals.” No horses were available for comment.

After bending the shoe to fit flush along the outer edge of the hoof, Edmonds drives six to eight nails into the hoof’s hard perimeter.

“There is only about a quarter-inch wide area to nail into,” he said. “If you miss that, the horse will let you know about it.”

The nails penetrate the nerveless outer shell of the horses’ hooves but protrude outward because they are longer than the mass of material they are tacked into.

Once the new shoe is tacked on, the farrier bends over the extra bit of nail to keep them from wiggling their way out and loosening the shoe.

There is a recommended maintenance schedule for most horses. “Depending on how much use they get and the type of activities, every six weeks or so all the shoes should be replaced, which takes a little more than an hour to complete.”

But the shoeing is only half done at this point. After a flush fit and solid attaching including deadening of the nail-ends, Edmonds rasps down dead areas of the hoof and barbed points of the nails.

No job is complete until all the filing is done, and Edmonds finishes with a thorough smoothing of the entire hoof, which keeps them from chipping or cracking.

Healthy hooves wear the shoes better.

He admits that farriery is not as rare a vocation as one would think.

“In an area like this (Pepperell) there are plenty of horses to go around,” said Edmonds, who owns 10 horses. His four local competitors are not wanting of new clients either as each can only serve a finite number of horses.

There are competitors, but not competition. There about 26,000 horses in Massachusetts, scattered across 2,300 farms. That is more than 100,000 shoes that need replacing approximately nine times per year, which equates to about a million horseshoes per year.

And the work, although challenging, has helped to put his three children through college, including one in law school.

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