By Abra Bennett
Writer in Residence, Walla Walla Community College
To city dwellers, cowboys seem like an exotic, vanishing breed. And farriers? Try asking a few folks what farriers do, and you’ll be amazed at how many blank looks you get in return. Yet the Walla Walla area is home to about 16,000 horses, and tending to their 64,000 feet are some 50 farriers. One of them, Davy Jones, is the consummate soft-spoken cowboy of yesteryear.
A graduate of the WWCC Farrier Science Class of 1987, he’s tough and resourceful, and was practically born in the saddle. He’s a competition roper, shoes horses professionally, and teaches young students to become farriers. He breaks and trains all his own horses and makes his own saddles, bits, and spurs.
Not hobbled by adversity, he does all this in spite of a long-ago electrocution accident in which he lost most of one arm and part of one foot. Thus he also makes himself a variety of hooks for his prosthetic arm, different ones for roping, forging, and all the tasks of a cowboy’s daily life.
Jones grew up helping his father shoe horses as they traveled a circuit of the west, consulting on cattle ranch operations. Starting at the age of five, he helped by cranking the old coal forge his father used. He remembers cranking so enthusiastically that he burned up several shoes, leaving them just molten puddles of steel on the floor of the forge.
Discouraged, he told his father, “I’m never going to shoe horses!” To which his father replied, “If you want to ride, you shoe!” And shoe he has, ever since.
Jones graduated from West Richland High School after the family moved to the area in 1979. When his mother insisted that he go to college he enrolled at WWCC with a full scholarship for his participation on the college rodeo team.
He has remained a part of the WWCC family ever since, first helping the late Scott Simpson, an iconic farrier and author of texts on the farrier’s art, to run the WWCC farrier program. He has continued this role part-time, working with current Farrier Science instructor Jeff Engler, who is now in his 20th year at the college.
In the WWCC farrier lab the dull roar of the propane forges is overwhelmed by the ear-splitting metallic cacophony of a dozen students pounding hot steel. Jeff Engler presides over it all.
He guides the program’s students in shoeing 800-1000 head of horses per year. The fees earned from the students’ work support the cost of shoes, nails, propane, and bar stock for the program. “Most horses shod for the public are shod with pre-made shoes” says Engler. “We teach the students traditional skills here, how to make a shoe from bar stock, how to move steel around on their anvils with their hammer and tongs.” In other words, from scratch, made to order, each and every shoe.
In addition to making shoes, Engler adds, “Our students learn the basic anatomy of the horse, from the hip and the shoulder blade on down, all the bones, tendons, and ligaments. They learn to recognize what’s normal, and about hoof form, shape, and function. Our students leave here after two years with as much experience and knowledge as a farrier who’s been in the field for five years.”
Anthony Paul is a December 2017 graduate of the two-year program. He was born in Nelspruit, in the province of Mpumalanga, in South Africa, to an American father and a mother who is a sixth generation Dutch-South African, horse trainer, and professional competition riding instructor.
Paul came to Walla Walla following a girlfriend, but as soon as he learned of the chance to study with Jones and Engler, he enrolled in the farrier program.
And then, through a family connection, Paul landed an internship, followed by a job, with a sort of Farrier to the Stars. As he describes it: “The farrier I work for has five shoeing rigs parked in long-term parking at airports, and we fly all over the country. We shoe Bill Gates’ daughter’s horses, and shoe for Kent Farrington, the number one ranked show jumping rider in the world, and for Grand Prix rider Jimmy Torano. Meeting these riders, it’s a humbling experience.”
And he’s not the only graduate to win the jackpot.
“Our classmate, D.J. Morgan, just graduated in June and is working in Tacoma, making $5000-6000 a month after expenses, mostly trimming horses and doing a bit of shoeing,” Paul says. “And we’re all very proud of him because he just competed in the World Championship Blacksmiths and now he’s ranked 20th in the world in the Novice class.”
Speaking about these, and other, students, Davy Jones says: “Here at school my passion is to pass on my knowledge. I don’t think there’s another program in the whole world like this one.” After 30 years in the saddle, he should know.