Tools of the Trade: Horse Shoeing

Third-generation farrier Danny Ward relies on vintage tools and passes on his skills.

| June 2007

  • HammersHorseshoe.jpg
    In this 1960s era photo, Danny (left) files a horse’s hoof while his father (right) hammers a horseshoe on an anvil.
  • Neversliphorseshoe.jpg
    This Neverslip horseshoe caulk no. 2 wrench is used to remove caulk from a horse’s shoe, enabling the animal to gain better traction in ice and snow. The tool was made by the Neverslip Mfg. Co. of New Brunswick, N.J.
  • PowerHammer.jpg
    This Little Giant Co. power hammer, dating to the 1800s, is still a player: Danny uses it to forge horseshoes from scratch.
  • DannyWard.jpg
    Danny Ward demonstrates the use of a hoof buttress. For decades farriers have used such a tool to grind a horse’s hoof.
  • Hammer1.jpg
    The hammer at top belonged to Danny’s father; it dates to the late 1950s or early 1960s. The hammer head was Danny’s grandfather’s and dates to the 1800s. Danny plans to add his own hammer to the collection when he retires.
  • Hammer2.jpg
    In the early 1900s, farriers used a hoof pare like this to trim a horse’s foot. This pare originally belonged to Danny’s grandfather.
  • Championhandcrank.jpg
    This Champion handcrank was patented July 30, 1901, by the Champion Blower & Forge Co., of Lancaster, Pa. The crank was used to blow air to the coal forge. Today, most farriers use electric blowers.
  • Hammer3.jpg
    Danny built these coal and gas forges for students at his farrier school. Enthusiastic but sometimes misguided use necessitates annual replacement of anvils at every workstation.
  • Hay-Budden.jpg
    Dating to the early 1800s, this Hay-Budden Mfg. Co. anvil has been used by three generations of Ward farriers.
  • Molly.jpg
    Molly, a neighbor’s cat, stands guard over an 1800s-era swedge block originally owned by Danny’s grandfather, Jordan Ward. Farriers and blacksmiths used swedge blocks to form varied metal configurations and shapes.

  • HammersHorseshoe.jpg
  • Neversliphorseshoe.jpg
  • PowerHammer.jpg
  • DannyWard.jpg
  • Hammer1.jpg
  • Hammer2.jpg
  • Championhandcrank.jpg
  • Hammer3.jpg
  • Hay-Budden.jpg
  • Molly.jpg

A metal-and-wood hoof buttress dating to the 1800s is one of Danny Ward's cherished possessions. But the tool, which is used to grind a horse's hoof clean, is no mere collectible. Like his father and grandfather, Danny is a farrier, one engaged in the business of shoeing horses. This particular hoof buttress has passed through three generations of Ward men. For Danny, it is a tool of his trade.

The tool's wooden end resembles a fish's tailfin. The metal end is a flat square with an edge. In a demonstration, Danny presses the wooden end against his right shoulder and directs the metal end to a horse's hoof. In a scene unchanged over the past century, he scrapes the tool back and forth vigorously.

"The tools haven't changed all that much," Danny says. "They've just gotten a little nicer and shinier, but they don't do anything different than they used to. They've just been mass-produced."

Danny, who lives in Martinsville, Va., carries on the family farrier business started by his grandfather, Jordan Ward, and continued by his father, L.C. "Smokey" Ward. Decades ago, farriers were often accomplished blacksmiths. That family tradition ended with Danny, and he fears that once-common skills are disappearing fast. "My dad was a great tool builder," Danny says. "I'm a horseshoer. I'm not a blacksmith like the old people. The old people could do it all. I couldn't build a wagon if I had directions."



The availability of inexpensive, mass-produced tools has much to do with that. "I think I could make some tools, but it's just not that practical," Danny says. "It takes you all day to make a hammer that you can buy for $25, and that hammer isn't any better than what you can buy at Sears. It's just the idea of doing it."

Despite that - or maybe because of that - Danny still uses many of the tools his father and grandfather built by hand.