Rick Padgett, a certified farrier based in Vale, shapes a hot, glowing piece of metal on an anvil to make a horseshoe. Padgett has been shoeing horses for nearly 30 years and recently began making knives. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)
VALE – On a snowy winter day, Rick Padgett pounds his hammer hard, casting sparks as he slowly beats a glowing metal block over an anvil.
Padgett is an experienced farrier, a job that combines the skills of a blacksmith, a veterinarian and a psychologist.
Certified by the American Farrier Association, his routine work involves trimming hooves and shoeing horses, which requires long hours of back breaking work with animals who are prone to flight. The objective is to make the horse as comfortable as possible with the shoe that is best for its hoof, Padgett said.
With that, a good farrier is knowledgeable about lameness and the different tasks horses perform, as well as the animal’s behavior.
“The list of injuries I’ve had on this job, it’s extensive,” he said as he placed a scrap piece of metal into the forgery. After 30 seconds, Padgett grabbed a pair of tongs and pulled out the glowing, hot piece of steel and placed it on the anvil.
“I’ve had some really bad injuries, like two months before the blood and pus stop seeping,” he continued, as he began pounding the metal.
“Some minor injuries left me black and blue from the hip down. Some things left pretty good scars.”
He paused to focus on shaping the steel.
The rhythmic clang of the hammer striking metal echoed through the tool-packed workshop.
“And there have been some that keep fresh in my mind so I don’t get into that jackpot again,” he said with a smile. “I don’t know anyone in this business who been in it long enough and hasn’t gotten injured.”
Having spent more nearly three decades mastering the art of shoeing horses, the 51-year-old is only one of the few people in Vale earning a living as a farrier.
Padgett does half of his work from home, where he has built a barn equipped with two forges, anvil, grinders and drill presses. The other half is done by traveling to clients.
Padgett shoes about a hundred horses each month, sometimes more, for various trainers, traders, cowboys or pet owners.
He charges a basic $65 to put shoes on all four hooves at the barn or $90 if he drives to you.
“In the summertime, there can be weeks when I shoe eight to ten horses a day, everyday. Can you imagine getting under eight horses a day?” Padgett asked, smiling. “It’s physically demanding.”
The majority of his clients are owners of show horses who use their horses for rodeo, roping, and barrel racing.
A handful of his customers are horse traders and the rest are pleasure riders.
“Obviously the best customers are the pleasure riders or people who use horses for events because they take care of those horses all the time,” said Padgett. “Those horses are always handled, and so they’ll be the easiest to work with.”
When shoeing, Padgett is typically assisted by the horse’s groom.
In most cases, Padgett will pull off the old shoe, smooth the bottom of the hoof with an emery board, hold the new shoe over the hoof, then secure it by driving nails through the hoof wall.
With a cooperative horse, all four shoes can be replaced in about 45 minutes.
For young horses new to shoeing, or horses he’s never met before, the job can take longer.
“It depends on the disposition of the horse, if the horse is laidback or if the horse is real nervous,” said Padgett. “A more reactive horse would need a lot more time; each horse is an individual.”
He said he always gives the horse the best treatment possible. That means forging customized therapeutic shoes for horses with lameness problems.
For horses that are used for showing or pleasure riding, Padgett uses shoes that are made of steel or aluminum.
“You can buy shoes that are already pre-shaped shoe – a draft shoe, saddle shoe, bar shoe,” Padgett said. “It used to be expensive, but now you can buy any kind of bar shoe you want. And it’s relatively inexpensive.”
Padgett, who has been a farrier for nearly 30 years, has seen his industry evolve.
He was reared in Pacific Grove, California but moved to Vale when he was 16 to live with aunt, uncle and grandma.
He inherited his love of horses from his uncle, who trained horses, roped and ran dairy.
“The initial incentive for starting to shoe horses was I had been training horses since I was about 18, and you could never get the shoer to show up when you needed him and he didn’t want to work with those new, young horses,” he said. “So I thought well, if I learned how to do it I could at least do it first couple of times.”
At age 21, Padgett married and joined the Army.
After three years in the military and one tour in the Desert Storm, Padgett returned and enrolled in a farrier program in Bishop, Calif.
“When I got out of the military, I wanted to go to college and needed to work,” said Padgett. “And so horseshoeing I thought would be a great summer job, and you could go to school during the school year.”
Padgett completed a horseshoeing program at the Sierra Horse Shoeing School under his GI Bill before settling with his wife in the Treasure Valley, where half of his relatives lived.
“I got an apprenticeship for a about a year after college, working about once or twice a week with a horseshoer named Terry Moffis, who still shoes horses in the Treasure Valley,” he said. “Then I started shoeing horses here full time. We had our first daughter and needed to make money.”
He said shoeing horses enabled him to pay the bills.
“So this is where I ended up,” he said in an upbeat tone. “And I like it. Being self-employed in this type of job enables you to letting the kids riding the truck with you. No babysitting, no daycare required.”
Today, Padgett is sought out by local horsemen and by nationally prominent trainers who travel for major races and rodeos.
And despite the dangers farriers face, Padgett said he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“There is something about the profession that is really unique, and I feel my job is extremely important,’’ said Padgett. “A horse can be beautiful from the foot up, but if the foot is no good, forget it.”
He added that the work farriers do is important to help the horse do its work more comfortably.
“There’s no requirement to know anything about a horse to own one. There’s no driving test, which is why so many people get injured each year,” said Padgett. “And some people do not realize the different types of shoes and their different advantages.”
Padgett’s love for blacksmithing doesn’t end with horseshoes.
Like a mad alchemist, Padgett does not stop tinkering with steel recipes, forging together different metal blocks to ennoble a knife with just the right amount of metals.
Two years ago, Padgett started making knives.
“It was during Snowmaggedon, I think,” said Padgett. “My oldest son, who is now 13 years old, wanted to make a present for my uncle, who’s also his uncle too. And he saw that you can make a knife out of a file.’”
Padgett said that was when he sat with his son and watched YouTube videos on making knives out of horse files.
“In horseshoeing, you go through a horseshoe rasp about once or twice a week, sometimes more. And they just stack up,” Padgett said. “So, we had the raw material sitting around, and that’s how I got started.”
He said he makes knives for people who want to buy them, but he doesn’t sell knives regularly.
“I will sell them, if I have them. But each knife represents 10 to 12 hours of time,” said Padgett. “We do it all by hand… and there’s a lot of sanding involved.”
He added that his knife making is limited to the winter months, when his horseshoe business is slow.
Padgett said he focuses on horse shoeing because that’s what brings in the money, but he’s open to making more knives if he had the “all the fancy equipment.” Plus, making knives is something his son is really interested in, which they can do together.
Reporter Kristine de Leon: 541-473-3377.