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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Favorite Video: A Horseshoe Is Born

by Fran Jurga, originally published October 28, 2008 at

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I remember the first time I ever set foot in a horseshoe factory. It was in Australia. Carl O'Dwyer was squiring me around. We were off to the races or something when he stopped by the factory (O'Dwyer Horseshoes). It didn't occur to him that I would want to see the factory part of the business. Then he couldn't get me out of there. I remember his shoes were made by young Irish girls wielding huge tongs. I took rolls and rolls of film and not a single photo captured what I felt I really saw in that place.

If you haven't ever seen a horseshoe assembly line, it's quite an operation. There are two popular ways to make horseshoes commercially. One is to drop-forge and the other is to turn. Drop-forging is the "American" style. Turning is the European style, as used by Kerckhaert and Werkman.

American horseshoers were in a real battle in the early 1980s. Many farriers felt that the "keg" (machinemade) shoes available to them just weren't good enough and there was a call for "real" farriers to handmake all their shoes if they cared about properly shoeing the horse. Then two things happened in 1985: The first was that the Carlson family took over the St Croix Forge horseshoe company in Minnesota and pledged to design and make a superior American-made shoe. Which, to everyone's amazement, they did.

The second thing was that a charming Frenchman named Jean-Claude Faure came to an American Farrier's convention with a turned shoe from his Faure factory in Europe. He walked around the convention in elegant clothing carrying shoes in the pockets of his suit jacket. He did not speak English. He would pull a shoe from his pocket and ask a farrier to hold it, to look at it. For most of them, it was the first time they had seen a turned shoe or any shoe punched for E-head nails. (European shoes typically use European e-head nails; American shoes are punched to fit City head nails, but that's another story.)

While the farrier politely looked at the shoe and peered through those big nail holes, the gallant Mr. Faure grinned at them and said the two words he had learned in English, "You like?" in a hopeful voice.

Leading farrier Bruce Daniels agreed to be Faure's dealer in the USA. Kerckhaert was right there and Werkman not far behind. Farrier conventions became international festivals, just as now we have the slick Italian designer aluminums and the Chinese and Malaysian imports from Asia.

In 1985, the European shoes were a revelation; they had clips built into the shoes. They came in lefts and rights and fronts and hinds, with toe clips or side clips: an inventory nightmare. And they fit the new wave of big-footed European warmbloods that were becoming popular in America. St Croix geared up and answered the Euro challenge, inspiring improvements from all US shoe manufacturers. The golden age of horseshoe manufacturing dawned.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

In this clip you see snippets of the line at the Werkman factory in Holland. Most manufacturers are not eager to show their lines and equipment, and you will note that Werkman does not show the process in order, and you do not get to see how they make the clips, one of the steps that has always mystified me.

Two elements are missing from this video: the heat and the noise. Both are off the charts, if Werkman's factory is like others. But this video is a window into the world of horseshoes before they touch human hands, all with the matching mirror of a horse's hoof in mind.

Thanks to Werkman for this video clip; the horses have never had it so good.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online or received via a daily email through an automated delivery service.

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