Tools of the Trade: Horse Shoeing

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

| June 2007

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.