By Heather Crofutt, Chadron (Nebr.) Record Reporter.
March 7, 2007
Farrier. Commonly defined, the word means blacksmith, an occupation that has been a key part of communities for centuries.
Although blacksmiths handled a variety of tasks, a big part of the job has always been to shoe horses.
Coming from such humble beginnings, it may be hard to believe that being a farrier can actually be a highly creative and profitable business, as well as a difficult art form.
It may also surprise area residents that a world famous farrier has opened up a farrier school southwest of Chadron.
Butler Professional Farrier School (BPFS) is located at the former Ash Creek Equestrian Ranch at 495 Table Road outside of Crawford. The drive is approximately 30 minutes from Chadron and on a clear day you can’t miss the school building, a giant metal structure with a green roof, from the road.
The instructors for the BPFS consist of Doug Butler and two of his sons, Jacob and Peter.
This isn’t just any regular father and son operation. Doug Butler is commonly acknowledged as a world renowned leader and educator in the farrier trade.
Doug is the only farrier in the world to have a PhD (in equine nutrition from Cornell University in New York), a Certified Journeyman Farrier (CJF) classification and be a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers (FWCF). He has been teaching the farrier trade for over 40 years and is the author of numerous horseshoeing textbooks used worldwide.
Doug was raised on a Welsh Pony farm in New York. He first got the blacksmith bug on that farm. He was fascinated with the horseshoeing process after watching his family’s horseshoer, Buster Conklin, at work.
While pursuing his higher education, Doug was trained by many seasoned farriers including Ralph Hoover, one of the last U.S. Army Calvary horseshoers.
Doug and his son Jacob are the authors of The Principles of Horseshoeing (P3). The book is the third Principles of Horseshoeing book that Doug has published. The “P3” portion of the book’s title is also a word play off of a bone within a horse’s foot, said Doug.
Jacob, who also holds his CJF, has been shoeing for over 11 years. Most recently he taught farrier skills at a community college in New Mexico. He is also interested in the anatomy of a horse’s leg. Knowing the anatomy of a horse’s leg/foot is important for farriers, said Jacob.
Through his teaching experience in New Mexico, Jacob has had some students with little to no experience with horses attempt to learn the trade. Many times when those students got under a horse they realized that horseshoeing wasn’t for them, he said. But he has taught some relatively inexperienced students the trade.
Peter is new to the farrier trade. He has been shoeing horses for about three years. His expertise at BPFS is with horse behavior and training horses. He helps students become comfortable around the animals and learn horse skills.
BPFS is all under one roof, including the classroom, individual learning/work stations, a 150×300-foot arena for observing horse movement, an office and a dormitory. The school has the largest collection of horseshoes, pictures/ teaching aides and horse foot models in the country. Both Doug and Jacob believe that the facility is “just perfect” for them and agree it was “like it was meant to be” that they found the horse facilities and moved to the area.
The Butlers closed on the property during the summer when the Dawes and Sioux County fires were consuming area rangeland. Thankfully their property was not affected.
Currently BPFS has approximately 40 horses of its own for the students to work on, and the family hopes to eventually have 100, said Jacob.
Jacob likes the location of the school because it gives the option of producing their own alfalfa as feed for the horses instead of having to buy it.
Besides providing horses for students, the Butlers will also bring in outside horses for students to work on. Horse owners will get benefit out of letting students shod the horses — a half-off shoeing discount. While the horses are being worked on, one of the instructors is always keeping an eye on the work, said Jacob.
As a businessman, guest lecturer and farrier, Doug also has to travel. He likes the conveniences of Chadron’s airport. “I love it. It has free parking, you fly to Denver and then can go anywhere around the world.”
The airport is also beneficial to his students that come from all over the world.
Two students attended the first course of the year which ended on Feb. 16. John Rich from Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Joe Stevenson from Cheshire, Conn. completed the basic course. Class numbers vary, but are kept small to allow for more personal attention, said Jacob. Typically the largest class allowed is 10 students, he said.
The school is not limited to men. In the present course a woman from Norway is attending the BPFS. The school does not have facilities to house co-ed students. There are neighboring ranches that can provide accommodations for female students, said Jacob.
BPFS has education and training for students of all skill levels. The basic and advanced courses are six weeks long and include 240 hours of in class work and 60 hours of homework for a total of 300 hours, which is the approximate time of a standard school semester, said Doug. The school also offers a graduate level course designed for professional farriers who are passionate about the trade.
Students must have their high school diploma or equivalent, and a strong background with horses is preferred but not required. A high school education is required because students will be required to do reading and homework and because math skills are necessary when working with the horse’s foot and forging shoes.
The basic course teaches students to become qualified to work on healthy horses. Classroom topics covered include: terminology, anatomy of the foot and leg, business/ people skills, shoeing, shoe modifications and more. Students of the basic course get a 70-pound anvil and horseshoeing tools.
Most farriers work with a 70-pound anvil because it is easier to move around, said Jacob. But a 250-pound ‘shop’ anvil is easier to work with “because it creates a better rebound” with the hammer, he said.
In the advanced course the focus is targeted towards creating farriers who can do therapeutic shoeing and work on specialized horses. Classroom topics include: advanced anatomy of the leg and foot, functional balance, forging shoes, shoeing for diseases of the foot, shoeing for special breeds and more. Forging tools and a propane forge are given to students of the advanced course.
Doug prefers the freedom his privately run school offers because he can focus education on things that are important to the farrier trade without being required to teach students unrelated subjects.
In some cases the Butlers will use pre-made horseshoes, but for the most part they forge their own out of steel. Doug gets all of his steel for the horseshoes from Ron Jensen of Ron’s Repair Shop in Chadron. When the family moved to the area, Ron’s Repair Shop was recommended to them as a good source for steel. “I don’t do business with someone if they haven’t been recommended to me,” he said.
Forging a shoe out of a piece of steel is no easy task. Measurements of the horse’s foot/hoof are taken before hand. The forging process starts when a piece of steel is put into a coal fire for about three minutes. At that point the farrier has approximately two minutes to be able to manipulate the steel before it has to go back in the fire, said Doug, who demonstrated the process. In between hammering the red hot steel, he was measuring the metal to get it to the proper dimensions to fit the hoof of horse it was being customized for.
Several rounds of pounding and bending the steel and putting it back into the fiery coals occurred before a horseshoe form was produced. Doug’s attention to detail in forging the shoe showed how seriously he takes his work, how much he respects the animals he works with and how much of an art form forging shoes really is. The process is clearly labor intensive, but with approximately 50 years of experience, Doug made it appear like a seamless procedure.
Doug believes that there is hope for injured horses. He has created several types of therapeutic shoes for horses over the years. In his more advanced courses he helps students think in a more right-brained (creative) manner to help troubled horses lead productive lives. “Thinking in the right brain is essential to be a successful farrier,” he said. He said his main goal in opening up his own farrier school is “to raise the standards for farriers in America.”
There is definitely a need for farriers with approximately 9.2 million horses in the United States, said Jacob. Nebraska’s horse population ranks 29th in the country with approximately 120,000 horses, he said.
More information about Butler Professional Farrier School is available at its website, www.butlerprofessionalfarrierschool.com.
Photos by Linda Teahon.
Article reprinted courtesy of The Chadron Record / Chadron, Nebraska / George Ledbetter, publisher. © 2007. All rights reserved.
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Butler Professional Horseshoeing School
495 Table Road
Crawford, NE 69339
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