MSU seeks to train next generation of farriers

RJ Wolcott
Lansing State Journal

East Lansing — After guiding his hand down the length of horse’s right leg, David Hallock wheels over a metal tool cart complete with pliers, hammers and what looks like a nail file the size of a machete.

The veteran farrier presses his body against Sokol, a grey gelding, and wraps the horse’s front leg around his own for stability and control, as another farrier, Scott Bushaw, exchanges tools with him.

“Easy now, easy,” Hallock said.

Farriers are tradesmen who care for and maintain horses’ hooves. There aren’t enough good farriers for the amount of work available in the region, Hallock said.

Which is why Michigan State University is offering a farrier program beginning this fall. Hallock will be the instructor, hosting sessions at the MSU Horse Training and Research Center.

“Most people who have an interest in becoming a farrier are leaving the state for Oklahoma or Kentucky,” said Karen Waite, a coordinator with the College of Agriculture and Human Resources.

It’s been several years since Michigan had a farrier program, following the closure of Wolverine Farrier School in Claire.

MSU boasted its own farrier program for several decades until the 1950s, when it closed in part due to the decline in demand for horses.

Being underneath a 1,000-pound horse can be dangerous work. Last summer, Hallock was working on an otherwise well-behaved horse when a groundskeeper brought a weed-whacker too close. The unexpected whirl of the tool spooked the horse, nearly causing Hallock a serious injury.

Maintaining hooves involves cleaning out pockets of dirt and grime, leveling out the base of the hoof and the horseshoe, and clipping and filing away any excessive growth. Hooves are made of keratin, the same protein that composes everything from hair and nails in humans to animal horns and claws.

The horses at MSU’s teaching and research center are the product of one of the oldest breeding programs in the United States. The university began breeding Arabians in the 1940s after W.K. Kellogg donated a stallion named Amidore.

The temperament of the horses can change from day to day, said Ken Sokol, who has worked at MSU for more than two decades.

“Just like people, horses have their days,” he said, holding the reins of the horse who was named after him.

Hallock, who owns 3R Forge and Farrier in Dansville, will be teaching a class of half a dozen students in the fall and the following spring. The program will cost $11,950 or $17,950 depending on whether students choose the 12-week or 24-week program.

Horses at MSU have their hooves trimmed about once every six weeks, Hallock said. A horse grows about 3 to 4 inches of hoof annually, roughly a new hoof a year, according to Craig Wood of the University of Kentucky. The horses at MSU have shoes on their front feet because they carry more of their weight on them.

The results of Hallock’s labor — shards of horse hooks alongside dirt and debris previously wedged between the sole and frog of the hoof – are swept away before the next horse takes its place near the rear of the barn. As he prepares for the next horse, Hallock compares horses to dogs in terms of temperament.

They’re like dogs you can ride, he said with a laugh. But it’s better not to bring them in the house.