If the shoe fits ...

AT WORK

Rick Johnson, area racetrack farrier, Baltimore

October 26, 2008|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Salary: $60,000

Age: 53

Years on the job: 30

How he got started: Johnson grew up around Maryland racing because his father was a horse trainer. Working as a farrier gave him the opportunity to be around horses, which is something he loves.

After attending a two-month program learning the trade, Johnson worked as an apprentice for two years at area racetracks. He has worked as a farrier for more than 30 years, first obtaining his license in 1976. His certification is held through the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and the Maryland Racing Commission. It must be renewed annually. Requirements include endorsements by three licensed horse trainers and a practical exam.

Typical day: Johnson works mostly with racehorses. But after Pimlico Race Course stopped year-round training, Johnson branched out to include show horses, jumpers, recreational horses and hunters.

His job involves trimming hooves and reshoeing horses.

"The feet are everything, and there's an awful lot to it," he says.

Depending on how well-behaved the horse is, it will take Johnson about 40 minutes to an hour to put on four shoes. He estimates he'll work with between two and six horses in one day. His work includes general hoof care, including trimming and leveling the hooves.

He works primarily in Baltimore and Harford counties, Pimlico and Laurel racetracks and the Bowie training facility. He often works evenings and weekends. Johnson said he can make shoes if necessary, but that he buys most of his horseshoes ready-made in various sizes.

Although the work is challenging, Johnson said he enjoys it.

"I worked hard to learn it right. If I'm going to work that hard, I'm not going to walk away with a bad job behind me."

Cost: About $100 for four shoes and a trim.

Clinching the deal: Nails are driven into the hoof to hold the shoes in place. Once there, the farrier must bend or clinch the nails down. Johnson said that's where the term "to clinch the deal" originated.

Injuries: "If you work on racehorses, you're going to get hurt."

Last year he was kicked by a horse and suffered two broken ribs. But the horse might have saved his life. During the X-rays on his ribs, doctors discovered lung cancer, and Johnson had part of his lung removed. His doctors have since given him a clean bill of health.

The good: "Every horse is different, and I'm always with different people."

The bad: It can be dangerous working with 1,200-pound racehorses since it often entails putting yourself in an awkward position under the animal to work on their hooves. "We work hard. There's probably not a harder job in the world. But I do love it."

Tools of the trade: Except for the use of acrylics for hoof repair and gluing some shoes in place, the job of a farrier hasn't changed much during the past 30 years, Johnson said. No power tools can replace the old-fashioned way of doing things because the trade must be done by hand.

Philosophy: "Finesse the horse rather than fight with him."

Extracurricular: During his off time, Johnson enjoys passing along his knowledge of horses to his 8-year-old daughter, Sierra, who recently started riding.

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