This retired farrier is teaching the art — and science — of horseshoeing to fellow Native Americans
On a windy day in late April, with dust blowing across an arena on the San Carlos Reservation east of Globe, eight young men, all members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, are gathered around several horses and a trailer workshop.
They are listening intently to George Goode, a retired farrier from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe near Tucson. He is leading a two-week program on horseshoeing. It’s part of what he calls his mission to teach this vital skill throughout Native American communities.
“Horseshoeing should be part of our culture, we bond with horses,” he said. “Horses are big medicine, and we know nothing about their feet.”
New research has reframed the history of horses in Native American communities. It’s a relationship that began long before the arrival of European colonists.
As those cultures overlapped, particularly in the Old West, the familiar clip-clop of a horseshoe became a telltale sign of a cowboy’s ride. But most Native American horses were unshod, ridden on rocky and sandy terrain that naturally wore down hooves.
According to Goode, who founded the Native American Horse Education Foundation, no tribe in the U.S. offers a horseshoeing program — and it’s a valuable skill that many Native Americans can use.
One of the men assisting George is Adrian Morgan, a member of the Dineh Tribe in northern Arizona. He took Goode’s course 20 years ago and says it taught him a skill that has provided steady income, dating back to his college days.
“So I started shoeing horses on the side, the weekends, and during the week I went to the University of New Mexico,” Morgan said. “So I graduated from college while I was shoeing horses.”
COVID-19 shut down Morgan’s business, and, even though he has an office job now, he takes time off to help Goode with the new students.
“Push down the hoof puller,” Morgan tells one of the students. “There you go. Now go to the other side.”
After a classroom lecture, the students gather around the trailer workshop that Goode has put together. It contains tool kits, horseshoes, charts illustrating horse anatomy, a couple of small furnaces and a myriad of other instruments and utensils used to shoe horses. Goode says a fully equipped tool bag costs about $1,500.
One of the men starting to work on a horse is Sean Kenney, a member of the San Carlos tribe. He says he thought shoeing horses was simple.
“Slap it on, put a nail in there, you’re good — but no, there’s a lot more anatomy to it,” Kenney says.
Kenney says knowledge about the horse's anatomy and how its hoof needs to be properly trimmed is something he would like to see passed on to younger generations.
The horses being used for the training session belong to a cattle ranch on the San Carlos Reservation. It’s a win-win: the ranch gets its horses cared for, and the students get hands-on training.
One of the students, Luke Zospah, has worked construction jobs and says he has shoed a few horses in his life.
“I’ve seen it done before, but I never really went in depth into it,” he said.
Two portable furnaces are fired up as students prepare to heat a horseshoe for a setting. After the hoof has been trimmed and scraped, the farrier will heat a shoe in the forge and place it briefly on the hoof to sear the spot where the shoe will be set.
The hoof is like a very hard fingernail, and the horse doesn’t feel the nails or the hot horseshoe.
Goode explains that even though there is a lot of physical work involved, it’s not just about hammering a shoe into place.
“Well, horseshoeing is an art and a science — it’s both,” he says. “And until you learn that, you could actually cripple the horse. It just depends on how long before he becomes crippled. His feet have to be balanced for the weight of the rider.”
The two-week course is intended to give students basic skills to care for their own animals. But Goode also offers an eight-week course that earns certification as a farrier. He says along with the horseshoeing, the program provides business training, lessons on how to manage supplies and even how to deal with the public.
This year’s program is funded by a grant from the Native American Agriculture Fund. Last year 40 students were funded through the program.
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