Farriers Victor Hernandez and Eric Virgin share some insights on horse shoeing. Encore! benefits from their broad experience.
Victor: I met Chuck when I was working for Dick Winter and Ruth. I was a groom for ten years and that’s how I met Chuck. He was my mentor. Holman Ranch is where I got started with the Winters. I was grooming for them. Right after that they moved to couple of different places, but it was at Holman where I met Chuck Colb. I started as a stall cleaner. I‘ve been working with horses for 16 or 17 years. I grew up in Oaxaca, Mexico. I used to have a horse there. My dad had cows and horses, so I was around animals. When I came to the United States, that’s when I started working with horses. I was interested in learning about how to shoe horses because I would see Chuck every six weeks. I just started watching him and the way he would make the shoes. I asked him if I could work with him and he said, “Yeah, start pulling the shoes and finish the feet.” I was an apprentice for five years. Eric here is a farrier too. We both have worked with Chuck. He had a very good reputation. He was amazing. Chuck was about sixteen when he started shoeing horses. I think he got his training in Arizona.
I do a “hot” shoe and I also make my own shoes. All the shoes I’m using on the horses, they are handmade. I know the measurements for Encore! that’s why I make the shoes ahead. She doesn’t want to be here for very long, so I make the shoes ahead to speed it up. I make the shoes from scratch. I have bars on the truck. Not very many people make these shoes. There’s maybe one other guy around here.
I know a lot of farriers because I see them at the competitions or at the various clinics. Last weekend we had Chuck’s memorial shoe making clinic. We had two days of forging and making shoes. That’s when I see my farrier friends. Last year I went down South to compete. Division One is just a factory shoe, trimming and put the shoe on and also a modification on the shoe. Division Two you make a shoe for the horse’s foot and another shoe that is a specimen in an hour. The judges check everything, trim, nailing, finish, the quality of your shoe, every single detail. Last year, in October, right before Chuck passed away, I won the whole thing. The contest was sponsored by South Central Classic Western Farrier Competitions. I won everything and got my belt buckle. I made Chuck crazy happy. It was two weeks later that he passed away. I think I did it just for him. Honestly, I didn’t practice that much. He told me just go and do your best. Don’t go too fast, just have fun. I was really concentrating in every class. I competed three years in a row in Division One and didn’t win anything, so I just decided to move up to Division Two and won the whole thing. Open Division is really tough. You have one hour and it’s really hard to make the shoes. There is one in May, in Placerville. If I have time to practice, maybe I’ll go.
Some farriers don’t care, but I keep competing because I learn more and get better and better and that’s why I like competing. I can make any kind of shoe, like a therapy shoe hard bar, whatever the horse needs. I can make them because I’ve been competing pretty much all the time. The hard part for me is the language, learning English. Sometimes it’s hard for me in the competitions and the clinics because sometimes I don’t understand! I like going to all those clinics and competitions because they’re judging the trim quality of the shoe and how you finish. Nails have to be in line. Everything depends on what the judge wants and the judges are professional farriers.
Eric: The judges you know are farriers who have won a lot of competitions.
Victor: Sometimes we have seven horses a day, sometimes four, sometimes three. Everything depends on the schedule.
Eric: When you first start off you give out cards all the time. Then later you stop giving your card out because you get too busy. I was shoeing at race tracks. It’s a pretty hard life for a horse. They’re fed pretty well, but they’re all hyped up. They move around a lot because some tracks are illegal. You have a track in Madera and its legal and Fresno. Guys go down there or to Santa Anita, near Los Angeles. Did I like doing that? Not really. The shoeing depends on the race and the training, but you just put them on right away, every two weeks. The shoes they don’t want them too long to avoid hurting a tendon. It all depends on the trainer. I worked a lot of different tracks and a lot of match races too.
I lived in Guadalajara for four years. My Dad and Grandmother are still there. I did horse shoeing there. I started in 2002. I had some horses too. I went to school in Sacramento. After that, I apprenticed with some farriers at Woodside. I met Chuck later on and apprenticed with him.
Victor: To shoe a horse properly, it takes five, six or seven years to learn how. Everyday you’re still learning something.
Eric: At that same time you might have customers on the side. I’d do them on the weekends. I used to ride and train horses. I had reining horses. I’ve tried other jobs. I’ve had good jobs, but I come back to horse shoeing.
Victor: I just want to keep shoeing horses for the rest of my life. I do it because I love horses and I want the best for them. I feel bad when I see horses shod really bad you know. Poor horses, sometimes I don’t know how they still walk.
OK, all done.