By Doug Rich
The sound of a hammer on metal rings out as Greg Eisenbarth puts the finishing touches on another horse shoe.
This day the Cassoday, Kan., farrier is working on a world champion Quarter Horse, but tomorrow it could be a foundered pony.
"I am one of the few guys that will work on about anything," says Eisenbarth. Since he began working as a farrier full-time 15 years ago, he has put shoes on everything from ranch horses, to hunter jumpers, to halter horses and 4-H projects. From his point of view there is not much difference between a world champion and a 4-H horse. "There are a few technical differences between a pony and a Clydesdale but it is still a horse and each one is valued by its owner."
Eisenbarth did not come to Kansas originally to work with horses.
"I was a sheep herder to start out," he says. In 1982 he came to Colby, Kan., to enroll in a sheep management and technology course. Along the way he became interested in shoeing horses for a living. He grew up on a farm in North Dakota that included horses, sheep, cattle and 1,800 acres of crops. "We did everything ourselves," he says. As it turned out, shearing sheep was good conditioning for a job where he spends most of his time bent over at the waist. Eisenbarth started shearing sheep when he was 13 years old. In 1983 he competed in the junior shearing contest at the Denver Stock Show. "I can still kick out 80 to 100 head a day but it does not pay."
Not only will he shoe just about any horse, but he will go just about anywhere to shoe one. "No place is too far or too close," says Greg Eisenbarth. "I work in five different area codes." His job takes him to Great Bend, Salina, Wichita, Fredonia, Topeka, Lawrence, Kearney, Mo., and Columbia, Mo. "I would love to sit in one barn and have everyone haul their horses to me, but if I lose one customer I lose my livelihood."
The rule of thumb is that a horse should be trimmed and have new shoes every six to eight weeks. But the timing depends a lot on the horse, how it is used, and the conditions where the horse is kept. Last year in the Salina area horses were wearing out shoes because of the dry conditions.
"They were wearing out shoes left and right because the ground was so abrasive," says Eisenbarth. "The horses did not need shoes because they grew so much foot, but because they were wearing the shoes out on the hard ground."
Eisenbarth has another customer who has rubber paving bricks in the alleyway of his barn and the horses are on groomed surfaces in an indoor arena most of the time. "They literally never wear out a shoe, but they grow foot and we have to trim that foot and put a new shoe on them." Some of his clients might be going on a hunting trip to Colorado or on trail ride in the Ozarks and only shoe their horses for that special occasion.
There are all kinds and types of horse shoes including steel shoes, aluminum shoes, titanium shoes, draft horse shoes, toe weights, side weights, and heart bars. Heart bars are used on horses that have foundered. "They are designed to hold the foot up so the horse can walk," he says. Eisenbarth has fabricated shoes to meet special needs. A veterinarian brought him a picture of a horse that had cut its tendon. "I made a shoe with a sling on it to take the weight off the tendon. It was rigged so the horse could get around while the wound healed. The largest horse shoe he ever made was 20-inches of steel and the smallest was for a two-week old colt. The colt had a deformity that could be corrected with the proper shoe. "That mare had two babies in a row with the same deformity," says Eisenbarth.
How a horse is used and certain breeds of horse require special shoes. Horses ridden in cross country races might need shoes with holes drilled and threaded into them so the can change out traction devices depending on the conditions. Arabian show horses used tow weights and the entire shoe cannot weigh more than 13 ounces. "If an Arabian loses a shoe in the show ring, by the rules that shoe must be weighed at that time in the show arena," says Greg Eisenbarth. The horse and trainer can be disqualified if the shoe weighs more than 13 ounces On the other extreme are Paso Fino horses that show barefoot with no shoes at all. Toe weights are used to animate a gait, not correct a gait. Eisenbarth says he can not make a quarter horse into a Tennessee Walker or a Tennessee Walker into a draft horse.
"Greg has a lot of good experience," says Dale Carey who owns DC Quarter Horses where Eisenbarth was working. "He knows how to shoe one correctly and I leave it all up to him." Greg Eisenbarth's client on this particular day is Denny Hassett from Burns, Kan., who owns GQ Eclipse the horse he is shoeing. GQ Eclipse was an AQHA World and Congress champion halter stallion. Hassett decided to just put shoes on the front because GQ Eclipse is retired and standing at stud. His show string is trimmed and shod every five weeks.
Being a full-time farrier is hard physical labor and it can be dangerous. Eisenbarth has suffered broken arms, broken ribs, broken fingers, busted nearly all of his toes and displaced both his hips and shoulders. "It is just part of the job," he says. Mules have a different disposition than a horse, according to Eisenbarth, and need to be handled differently. "If a person abuses a mule once, he will never do it again."
A farrier's day can be long and hard depending on the customer and the horse. Eisenbarth once did 23 sets of shoes by himself in a single day. That day he started at 6 a.m. and did not quit until 4 a.m. the next day. "My best day was when I did a bunch of polo ponies," says Eisenbarth. "We had seven groups of horses and six guys catching them for us. We trimmed 47 head in one day."
At the end of the day when the job is done Greg Eisenbarth says it all boils down to the same thing, whether it is a world champion or a backyarder. "It is just nailin' shoes on horses," he says.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by e-mail at Richhpj@aol.com.