New Students Filling Farrier Shortage

Allen Ryunda is striking while the iron is hot. He wanted to save money by shoeing his own horses -- and in the process of learning how, he hit upon an ancient career still in demand.

"The guy I'm doing my apprenticeship with said he doesn't ever have to worry about a computer replacing him," said Ryunda, 19, of Montgomery, Minn.

On Friday, Ryunda graduated from a Ramsey school that has been teaching the art of horseshoeing for 30 years. The Minnesota School of Horseshoeing is seeing a steady stream of people hoping to cash in on a shortage of farriers nationwide.

Horse ownership has surged in the past decade as the growth of stables around metropolitan areas made keeping horses as a hobby feasible for city dwellers. According to a 2005 survey by the American Horse Council, Americans own 9.2 million horses, up 2 million from the previous survey in 1996.

And those ponies need shoes.

"We get this romanticized idea of horseshoeing being a dying art," said Richard Duggan, owner of the school. "But the horse business is a multimillion-dollar industry. Horseshoeing is not dying."

Some of the hottest markets for farriers are in exurbs around the Twin Cities. Graduates of Duggan's school commonly snag apprenticeships with farriers in Lindstrom; River Falls, Wis.; and other cities where contract stables are cropping up. Ryunda, 19, hopes to fill the farrier void back home in Montgomery.

Shortages are worse in some rural areas.

"We don't have a farrier in Cook County," said Amanda Drake, 17, another of last week's graduates. "We bring them in from other places, but they never stick around for very long."

Her family owns six horses near Grand Marais.

The current class is young, Duggan said. Most are just out of high school. But the school has drawn doctors, people with doctorate degrees and former airline mechanics, although Duggan said he discourages applicants who approach horseshoeing as if it were auto repair.

"Horses are not things," Duggan said. "You have responsibility for a live animal."

Rachel Erickson, 18, of St. Louis Park, said she took the course with an eye on becoming an equine veterinarian. She begins her undergraduate study at the University of Minnesota in January.

Proper trimming and shoeing is critical to a horse's health, and veterinarians and farriers often work hand in hand with injured animals.

"It's very satisfying to be able to provide a horse with relief from pain or lameness," Duggan said.

A 10-week session at the school costs $4,500, plus books and materials of $1,100. The school draws mostly from the five-state area, although it has had students from Israel, England, Germany and Australia, Duggan said.

The majority are not interested in full-time careers, Duggan said. Adam Mesker, 20, of Parkers Prairie, said he sees horseshoeing as a good sideline to ranching.

"I like that the school is a place of business," he said. "You get to talk to a lot of farriers coming in to buy supplies."

The consensus from the pros: Horseshoeing is hard work, but it can pay well.

Farriers charge $100 to $200 to shoe a horse, which must be reshod every six to eight weeks, said instructor Brian Quammen, 25. He knows a half-dozen farriers making six figures, and annual incomes of $50,000 are common, he said.

The school draws horse and stable owners who just want to save on costs.

"I did the math for one of my customers," Quammen said. "We figured that with 10 horses, he could make back the tuition in 2 1/2 years."

Duggan, 66, has been a farrier since he was in his 20s. In 1973, he opened a horseshoeing supply shop now run by his wife, Nancy, and their two children.

Duggan taught horseshoeing for Anoka Technical College in Anoka and opened his own school when the college cut the program, he said.

Little has changed in three decades, he said, except for materials. The school lab has a few pieces of modern metalworking equipment, but the basic tools remain: a coal-fed forge, an anvil, a hammer.

"You don't use machines to shoe a horse," Duggan said, "and it's unlikely you ever will. Each foot is different, and with practice, humans can become exquisitely accurate."

The school uses coal forges because they offer a greater range of temperatures than propane forges, Quammen said. Farriers can choose a specific heat for different tasks of fashioning a shoe.

"This is a skill that not all horseshoers have," he said, "but the best ones do."

Three days before graduation, Drake worked on her last set of shoes. She plunged a piece of steel bar into the coals and, when it glowed red, pounded it flat on the anvil. Later, she shaped it on the anvil horn to fit the specific curve of an animal's hoof, returning the shoe to the forge again and again.

The moment of truth comes when the shoes are fit to horses at area stables.

"You get a horse with just crap feet," Drake said, "and when you're done with them, they look so pretty."

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The Associated Press

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