For farrier, faith fits too

Thoroughbred: A veteran horseshoer at Pimlico and Laurel practices his craft and faith at the racetrack.

May 14, 2004|By Carole W. McShane | Carole W. McShane,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Just as shoeing a thoroughbred racehorse is a matter of balance, so is the life of farrier Kenny Ramsburg.

In the stables at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, where he has worked for 20 years, Ramsburg labors amid dust, mud, flies and extremes in temperature and humidity. Every time he shoes a horse, he faces the possibility of injury - being bitten, kicked or stepped on.

Fifteen years ago, Ramsburg broke his back while shoeing a horse.

"In this game, the [farrier] takes a beating," said Lisa Jimenez, a trainer at Laurel Park.

But Ramsburg, 55, loves "the game" - the exciting pace of shoeing thoroughbred racehorses.

For tomorrow's Preakness Stakes, Ramsburg will have to be on his game: He will be the farrier working in the paddock.

"I can be right `up close and personal' with the horses, just before they are ready to race," Ramsburg said.

"When the horse gets to the paddock, they are excitable. If a horse kicks off a shoe, I'll be there to make repairs."

The racetrack isn't just a place where Ramsburg practices his craft. It is also where he practices his faith.

At the end of a long day in the stables, the farrier heads to a room off the track kitchen where he meets with other track workers - trainers, apprentice jockeys, hotwalkers, exercise riders and grooms - to study the Bible, pray and help each other.

"Everybody's a sinner," said Ramsburg, "and we all need to hear the word of God."

A council member of the Race Track Chaplaincy of Maryland, Ramsburg started going to Bible study two years ago, when trainer Jimenez told him about it. "I already knew about the Lord," he said. "It was easy to get me to come."

Ramsburg grew up in Reisterstown, where he first got to know the world of thoroughbred horses.

While a student at Franklin High School, Ramsburg worked after class shining shoes at the Mid City Barbershop in Reisterstown.

"A lot of horse trainers used to come into the barbershop to sit around, chitchat, get their hair cut and talk horses," Ramsburg said. "I got the fever from there."

Now horse trainers hire Ramsburg to shoe their horses. It takes him 30 minutes to do the shoeing, and he charges $90 to $100 a horse. He averages four horses a day.

"I did 18 one time," said Ramsburg, a Woodbine resident. "That was my personal best. Can't shoe as many as I used to."

It is not that he gets tired. "No, don't run out of energy, you run out of back," he said.

On a recent hot Tuesday afternoon in Barn 32 at Laurel Park, Ramsburg was getting ready to shoe Canadianshe- devil. Jimenez, the horse's trainer, led the 3-year-old filly from her stall and held her steady for Ramsburg.

The horse's companion, a goat named Nina van Horn, stood nearby, watching and chewing.

Ramsburg stooped next to the 800-pound horse and picked up her right front leg.

With the horse's foot between his legs, he removed the shoe with a tool.

He used nippers to trim excess growth from the hoof wall, which surrounds the horse's sole, and cleaned up the V-shaped "frog" in the center with a knife.

This takes pressure off the sole of the horse's foot and puts it on the outside wall that will hold the shoe.

All parts of the horse's foot that Ramsburg trims are insensitive and are trimmed without causing pain.

Using a rasp, he files the foot to make it level for the shoe, which was hammered to fit Canandianshedevil's foot on a portable anvil.

The shoe is attached with four to six beveled nails. The nails curve as they are hammered into the hard hoof wall and glide to the outside of the hoof.

Nails that go in the wrong way can cause abscesses.

He uses clinchers to form a small hook at the end of each nail. They help hold in the nail. Ramsburg will finish by smoothing and polishing the hoof with the rasp.

"She's being good," Jimenez said.

"Well, I'm not done yet," Ramsburg said, sweating and still bent over holding the filly's foot.

"Let me get done, then say that. I've had horses stand good right to the last foot, about 30 seconds to getting done. Then they act up. I don't know what it is. Horses don't like compliments."

Most of the racehorses Ramsburg shoes are used to being shod every month and are well-behaved. But even the ones who act up are excused.

"I guess we're all like this," Ramsburg said.

"But you kind of like a horse that's a good horse, that can run. He can get away with a little more misbehavior than some horses. I know it's not fair, because not everyone's born a champion."

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