Interview with Henry Heymering

© Rob Edwards

published in ANVIL Magazine, June 1996

ANVIL: Your company, St. Eloy Publishing, just completed publishing a book for Bruce Daniels, Sunday on the Farm.

HENRY: It consists of 25 short stories of his life, shoeing in the '50s and '60s on the harness tracks. It's interesting about the tracks, the way they were run, and the way shoeing was done back then. It's warm and funny, and just a real nice book.

ANVIL: So you highly recommend it, then.

HENRY: I certainly do.

ANVIL: Who will enjoy it most?

HENRY: I think any shoer will find it very enjoyable reading. Historians and horsemen, as well as the people on the harness tracks, will find it most interesting. Most of the stories would still be interesting, however, to people who have never even seen a horse.

ANVIL: Do you foresee possibly, after its first printing, that it might get picked up by a large publisher?

HENRY: It's possible, yes. It's a wonderful book, regardless.

ANVIL: Publishing is nothing new to you; you started the American Farriers Journal back in 1975. It's interesting that the American Farriers Association had its inception in 1971, and the Journal was started in 1975. It's my understanding that you didn't know about the AFA, and, by the same token, Walt Taylor, president at that time of the new AFA, knew nothing about the Journal.

HENRY: That's correct. I didn't know about the AFA when I started the Journal and about a year later, Walt flew out to discuss with me using the American Farriers Journal for the official newsletter of the AFA. We did that starting in 1976. At that time, we had 200 subscribers to the American Farriers Journal and there were about 50 members of the American Farriers Association. Things were pretty small then.

ANVIL: I remember you always had on the cover, a þWhat's this?' and it would show some weird, lesser-known horseshoe contraption! You were quite courageous to put it out there for us to learn something.

HENRY: Yes, I really think we did start to learn new things about shoeing at that time. I don't know if it was the Journal or just the times, but before then, it was very hard to get communication going between farriers. They were very unfriendly and unhelpful towards each other, for the most part.

ANVIL: Prior to that there were several publications in the country that dealt with blacksmithing and farriery, but they generally suffered their demise after World War II, as did the working horse.

HENRY: Yes, that's true. There was The American Blacksmith, and there was The Horseshoer's Journal. I think they both ended around 1953 or so. 1960 was the all-time low for horse population in the United States.

ANVIL: Some people say that Jackie Kennedy was largely responsible for the resurgence in the interest of horses because she rode.

HENRY: Yes, she was a big help for sure, but I think the cowboy movies were the main vehicle that got kids interested. They got me interested: Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry þ movies like that.

ANVIL: Is that really why you got into shoeing horses?

HENRY: That started my interest in horses, yes.

ANVIL: Who do you think had the most influence?

HENRY: Roy Rogers, I guess. He had quite a horse in Trigger, as did the Lone Ranger in Silver. I didn't really get into horses then, other than I liked the looks of them. I didn't start, actually, until I went to prep school in 1960 and began riding. They had 140 horses and ponies at McDonogh School, a military prep school I attended. We competed with other prep schools in hunter/jumper shows and did a little dressage. The Olympic eventer, Bruce Davidson, was one of my classmates.

ANVIL: So did you learn to ride cavalry style?

HENRY: Yes, all the training was based on cavalry methods.

ANVIL: When did you get interested in shoeing?

HENRY: It wasn't until I got out of college. I was majoring in music theory, and I chose to drop out. I basically went to college to get out of the draft. Music was what interested me most, so I took that. When I dropped out, I joined a rock 'n' roll band. I found it was quite difficult, however, to make a living that way. We named our band America's Favorite Snack.

ANVIL: Really! Interesting name. So were you essentially a rock þn roll hippie at that point?

HENRY: Yes, you could say that.

ANVIL: This was in the '60s?

HENRY: 1971. So then I was looking for something to support my music interest. Since I liked horses and had been exposed to them at prep school and had taught riding, I gravitated toward that. I started cleaning out stalls and doing other related tasks. It seemed that the shoers were the only ones who had a decent, stable living and could set their own hours. Trainers seemed to come and go quite rapidly. To own horses and rent them out was certainly an expensive proposition, so it seemed that shoeing was the surest way to make money. Most of the shoers were saying then that they were making about $100 a day and it looked like it wasn't all that hard. I couldn't understand why they sweated so much underneath those horses, though!

ANVIL: Did you go to a horseshoeing school?

HENRY: Yes. I saved up some money and went to Bud Beaston's Oklahoma Farriers College in 1973.

ANVIL: Had you worked with anybody prior to that?

HENRY: Yes, for a little while I worked with Dave Reed in Massachusetts. I also worked for a fellow out of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Bob Burbank, who later started the Southern New England Farriers Association. Then I went to Bud Beaston's school. Bud is an excellent craftsman and an excellent shoer. I came away from there feeling like I knew it all. However, from the first day, I found out that I didn't! But like most of us when we start, we think we really know it. The more we learn, the less we know.

ANVIL: Would you say there are certain stages we go through, such as you think you know absolutely everything in three years, and then nothing at seven years?

HENRY: Yes. Andy Juell's article from eight or ten years ago (see ANVIL Magazine, August, 1989), when he talked about the stages a horseshoer goes through was right on the money. I think many of us do hit a peak around seven or eight years, in this business. At 10 or 12 years, you look around and say, þWell, gee, this isn't going quite the way I'd envisioned it, but I've got so much invested in it now I can't possibly do anything else!'

ANVIL: So the possibility of having to learn it again the right way comes about?

HENRY: Well, I think by eight years you do have it right, but it's the business part of it that still takes a lot of learning. I think most people, for the first three years, have no idea what they are making. They get cash in their hand, stick it in their pocket, and say to themselves, "This is a good business." And the IRS returns don't quite show the whole picture. But they tell themselves, "Well, I'm actually making more than that." It's not really representative of what I'm doing. So it takes three years or so to sink in that it's not as easy as it looks financially, either. And customers, I think, never realize that. They always look at it like, Gee, you've been here an hour and you've charged me eighty bucks - boy, I'd sure like to make eighty bucks an hour!' They don't have a clue as to the time, overhead, and other troubles a farrier has.

ANVIL: Let's go back to your publishing career. If you started shoeing in 1973 and you started the Journal in 1975, it only took you two years to learn enough about shoeing to publish a magazine about the subject?

HENRY: A year and a half, yes.

ANVIL: Quick learner!

HENRY: The reason I started it, really, was that it was hard to make a living in Florida where I was. I had an easy time in Massachusetts, however, because I'd been teaching riding before I went off to horseshoeing school, so I had some connections, and had less difficulty getting started. But I didn't stay there long. I got married, and my wife at that time wanted to move back to Florida where she had relatives. So we moved down to Arcadia, Florida, which is a very rural community. They have a lot of horses around there, but not much money. So it was tough. I was looking for more income. I worked in a gas station for a few months, and then worked at a transformer plant full time for almost a year while I was trying to get my shoeing business going. I was looking for ways to make more money, stay in shoeing and learn more about it. I found that there were many things that weren't in the books. I think I had two books on horseshoeing at that time; that was about all I could find. I felt that while you wouldn't want to share some of those tips with your competition down the street, you could share those ideas with your competition across the country because they're not directly competing with you.

ANVIL: So you started the Journal as a way of sharing information, then?

HENRY: There was a sharing through the Journal newsletter, yes. It was very much that. I did find old Horseshoers' Journals and was able to get them on loan from the library at the University of Missouri. They would ship down eight or ten at a time. I'd pore through them, and would cite information from those sources for the newsletter. I got a lot of good response throughout the country from shoers. They really appreciated the information from the old journals that they didn't know existed. Also, folks like Bruce Daniels were freely willing to share what they had learned through years and years of hard work. So it really caught on. I still run across people who say they've kept every Journal!

ANVIL: Then later on you sold the Journal.

HENRY: Yes, I did. It was kind of tough. Rural Florida was not the place to make a lot of money, and so I was shoeing 40 hours a week trying to make money to keep the magazine going. The magazine didn't make any money; in fact, it cost me money the first couple of years and broke even about the third year. It made money by the fifth year, and was making good money then. But I was working 40 hours a week shoeing horses and about 40 hours on the magazine. I knew I could sell the magazine a whole lot easier than I could my shoeing practice. It was just more than I could handle, and that was a way to cut down on work and get a little money.

ANVIL: Do you think horseshoers sometimes become obsessed with shoeing?

HENRY: It's an addictive profession, I think. I love farrier Ron Dyer's statement about pathological shoers. He said, "A pathological shoer, like a pathological liar - who just has to lie - is someone who just has to shoe that horse!' We tend to get that way.

ANVIL: Do you consider yourself an addictive person? You're still in the throes of the horseshoeing and the publishing aspects. Do you think you'll ever get over them?

HENRY: Publishing will be easy to get over. It's too much work!

ANVIL: Tell us about selling the American Farriers Journal. That must have been pretty traumatic for you.

HENRY: In many ways, it was a great relief because as I said, I was required to work 80 hours a week to keep up. And I knew it had to grow. I loved seeing Dean Laux get hold of it and try to make it better. He introduced color covers and upgraded the quality of paper it was printed on. He really moved it ahead in some ways. I was the first editor, then Doug Butler, then Fran Jurga was in there as editor for awhile. For anyone who isn't a horseshoer to come in and be editor of a horseshoeing magazine, it's a difficult thing for them to learn horseshoeing quickly and speak correctly about it, as well as understand what is going on and to know what is relevant and what is not. Fran Jurga did an amazing job of learning. It took her a couple of years, as it would anyone, but she has more of an understanding of horseshoers and horse-shoeing than any nonhorseshoer I've ever come across! And she did well as editor, and still does, of course, with Hoofcare and Lameness. But the Journal went on to have many more editors, and each time they would go through the same learning process.

ANVIL: When did you begin working on your book?

HENRY: It started out innocently enough. I had always been interested in discovering shoeing books and what the correct information was. Before I came across Centaur Forge, which carries a large line of books, I'd only come across four or five books on shoeing. From Centaur Forge at that time I learned about another 10 or 12 books on the subject. There was not much historical information easily available. I discovered Doug Butler's book, but I didn't know where to find his sources. And I began coming across more and more old books from used book dealers and started to understand more of the history. I read some of the veterinary history and found still more books. So finally I had come across approximately 200 books on horseshoeing and was just amazed. I figured, well, this has got to be all that has ever been written about shoeing, and I'll just do a little article for Fran. Fran has excellent sources too, with Robin Bledsoe, who does a big business in antiquarian horse books, and her other contacts around the world. She kept saying to me, "Well, what about this?" And "What about that?" And the list grew and grew; what was going to be a simple little article turned out a lot larger than that. I eventually found 1150 titles going back to 430 BC. So, as I proceeded, my book turned out to be fairly lengthy!

ANVIL: Well, the book is not only the bibliography of the industry, but also you have a wonderful time line that combines a little humor and a lot of facts, making it most interesting.

HENRY: Thanks. I kept coming across references to different companies and different shoes þ things like that. I thought it was important to include those along with the bibliography, which was laid out chronologically so you had an idea what was going on and when. The times do have quite an effect on what information is available and how it is viewed and how farriers are viewed. Farriers started out as being very powerful, influential, well-respected people who were also military leaders. In some cases, the farrier was essentially the right-hand man to the king. And from that, as times progressed, the farrier gradually became the neighborhood mechanic. And now I think we're moving our way back up again.

ANVIL: Do you think the lull in status or recognition, shall we say, as a farrier, was coincidental with the low point in the number of horses in the U.S. in the late '50s?

HENRY: Sure. Or maybe even earlier. I think when the army started having short courses for farriers and turning out bunches of farriers from those short courses, rather than going through a lengthy apprenticeship, it was a major factor in the decline of respect and knowledge of horseshoers. The army had a good program, and they had a lot of accurate information. But it's just not the same as a four-year apprenticeship, and it didn't have the respect. Then, when the automobile came along, everyone could read the handwriting on the wall; the horses just weren't going to be number one anymore, that was all there was to it.

ANVIL: How long is On the Horse's Foot?

HENRY: 366 pages, hardbound, and it has a bibliography and a chronology contained in it. I did indexes according to countries so that one can find out what has been printed in France or another country. Also, it is organized somewhat by topic so that you can find, for example, a list of books that are predominantly on the history of horseshoeing, or ones that are primarily on anatomy and biomechanics.

ANVIL: I understand it is soon to be on the World Wide Web in full.

HENRY: Yes. Baron Tayler, who has WWW.HORSESHOES.COM, talked to me about putting it on his Web site. I was tickled about it; I think it's a great idea.

ANVIL: I remember when your book first came out. You were, I thought, quite generous with contributing copies of the book to various sources which you thought deserved it. Consequently, I suspect that you did not make enough money to retire.

HENRY: Not quite, you're correct! Publishing is tough. Books are not a hot money item.

ANVIL: When you moved from Arcadia, Florida to Cascade, Maryland, to take care of your parents, you were able to finish On the Horse's Foot. How long ago was that?

HENRY: It was over six years ago.

ANVIL: So you put your shoeing aside to finish the book?

HENRY: To finish the book and to help my parents, yes.

ANVIL: Then you started shoeing again, specializing in therapeutic shoeing.

HENRY: That's what interests me the most - that and behavioral problems in horses. I think that's the area where one learns the most. Behavioral problems occur in horses most often because they hurt, and sometimes in particular because their feet hurt. If you can find their problems and fix them, they often become wonderful horses.

ANVIL: Now you're back shoeing again on a regular, full-time basis?

HENRY: Yes. I was up to seven days a week last year - time to slow down.

ANVIL: Are you going to attempt to get it more under control?

HENRY: Yes. I've raised my prices and scheduled a couple of days a week off. So I think things are a little more reasonable now.

ANVIL: Currently, you are chairman of the Apprenticeship Committee of the American Farriers Association. This, too, has been rather a daunting task, has it not?

HENRY: Yes, it has. I tried to get information from every country that had an apprenticeship program and see what they thought worked and what didn't. I spoke with Bruce Daniels, who had worked with the International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers in their apprenticeship program, as well as with other folks who have taken on apprentices. After a year, I think we've got a very good program worked out. But it's a hard sell. Everybody wants to get out of horseshoeing school and immediately get to work and make some money. They don't necessarily know that they would benefit from taking four years and learning under someone else. The novice thinks, as I did, þI'm ready to go.' So we haven't had an apprentice placed, as yet. We have six people approved to take on apprentices. We hope to start shortly.

ANVIL: So you're optimistic about the future of the program?

HENRY: Yes. Like anything else, it takes a lot of energy to initiate something new. But once you get the momentum going, it snowballs and takes off. The Journal was very much that way, too. It was very hard to get the first few subscriptions, but it grew and grew. I think this program will, too, once we get a few people through the apprenticeship program. It will then become very apparent how well prepared they are and how much it does for them. It's a matter of getting the first few through the four years.

ANVIL: Up to this point, I'm not so sure that people would consider an apprenticeship program an þinvestment' in their chosen profession.

HENRY: It certainly is.

ANVIL: As things become more competitive, as the horse gets more expensive, and as the demand for better farriers increases, I would think that the apprenticeship program would take on more importance and generate more interest.

HENRY: Exactly. As horseowners become aware of what is good shoeing and what is not, it will become a lot harder for someone just fresh out of school to get started. This program gives them an opportunity to get experience and become very highly skilled by the time they're on their own. I wish I could have done it!

ANVIL: Describe the program.

HENRY: Essentially, it's a four-year program where we would expect the apprentice to start out, after having passed their intern classification; and by the second year, passed their certified farrier exam. By the end of the four years, they would have passed their journeyman exam.

ANVIL: So in the meantime, how are they getting paid?

HENRY: The pay ranges would be entirely up to the apprentice and the master, so it's for them to work out.

ANVIL: Do you have guidelines?

HENRY: We have something called a "recommendation." We have a system of percentages to apply to the work and the pay which we think would be fair, but that is not by any means a requirement - it's just a suggestion. It is what we feel might be appropriate, but each apprentice and master can work out their own arrangements if they don't think these guidelines fit their situation. They can make whatever arrangement suits the two of them. But we want that in writing before the apprenticeship begins, so that there are no misunderstandings about the remuneration agreed upon.

ANVIL: Essentially the Apprenticeship Committee is a liaison?

HENRY: We try to find qualified people to take on apprentices and also qualified people to be apprentices, and make sure that they are each protected þ the master being protected from the apprentice not being too serious, taking up the master's time and energy, and then leaving him without giving any real return. On the other side, we try to protect the apprentice from just being used as a gopher or helper for four years and not really learning shoeing. We've tried to arrange it so that each is protected and each will benefit from the program. But we don't patrol all the details or the pay, as such.

ANVIL: So the program is unique. Is it patterned after the English system?

HENRY: It is very much like the English system and other systems elsewhere in the world, except it is not mandated here by the government; it's not required. In England, they must go through an apprenticeship program to become a farrier by trade. The English system, I believe, has a somewhat higher pay rate than we would expect here. And they require the students to attend college for six weeks. We don't have that available here, but it would be nice. But other than those factors, essentially it's a similar program.

ANVIL: The English system as it is set up probably would not work in this country, because there are private horseshoeing schools here.

HENRY: The private schools here are very important, and I think they're necessary for the apprentice to learn how to pass his or her intern classification before starting the apprenticeship. So we're not bypassing the schools here, by any means.

ANVIL: As a matter of fact, if anything, you're giving credence and recognition by demanding that the students attend one first, before participating in your program.

HENRY: They don't have to attend one first, actually, but they do have to be able to pass the intern classification. And taking one of those courses is the best way to learn enough to pass the intern classification.

ANVIL: Thanks for talking with us today, Henry.

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