Archive for Tuesday, May 31, 1994


May 31, 1994


An administrator at Haskell Indian Nations University enjoys shoeing horses as a sideline.

During the day, you'll find Benny Smith hunched over his desk, figuring out budgets and doing other paper work like many college administrators.

But after hours, the assistant dean of students at Haskell Indian Nations University has a hobby that's something of an anachronism in the days of bullet trains, space flight and the information superhighway.

He shoes horses.

It's a hobby that's a throwback to Smith's early life on an Eastern Oklahoma farm, where all the heavy work was done by real horsepower.

Although Smith left the farm and sought an academic career, "there's something about the spirit of the horses that kept me in touch with them."

Smith, a 56-year-old Cherokee Indian, graduated from Northwest Oklahoma State University at Alva in 1962. He taught in public schools in the Oklahoma panhandle for 10 years before coming to Haskell. But he never really left the horses and the craft of shoeing them.

"It's a tradition in our whole family," he said. "I'm the fourth generation horse shoer. Basically to us, taking care of a horse's feet was just like doing another chore, like carrying water or wood."

He said people can learn how to shoe horses at special horseshoeing schools and learn about the anatomy of a horse's foot. But there's a broader aspect to the craft that involves learning the psychology of a horse.

"If they lack the knowledge of how horses react and respond, they would be limited in their services," he said.

Smith has practiced his hobby as a business sideline for about 20 years in Lawrence, after getting horses for his children for their 4-H projects. He started shoeing other people's horses as a way to pay the expenses of owning his own horses.

There are about 40 to 50 horse owners in the area who rely on his services.

Smith has handed down his knowledge of horses to the next generation. His son, Jeff, 31, trains and shoes horses for a living. And his youngest daughter, Julie, who has a degree in animal science from Kansas State University, does foot work for some horse owners as a sideline.

Last spring, when the Oregon Trail wagon train came through Lawrence and stopped at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, trail riders had trouble finding any professional farriers who would shoe their large draft horses and mules.

"They got my name and asked me if I would come over and do them, so I did the big draft horses and the big mules," Smith said.

Smith doesn't mind taking on the big animals because of his unique style. Most farriers bend over, pick up the horse's foot and stay in a bent-over position while holding the horse's foot between or on the knees to do the paring, trimming rasping and nailing. Holding such a posture for 40 minutes to an hour on each horse puts quite a strain on the back and legs, Smith said.

But Smith has developed a method where he can do the work sitting down, in a "shoeing seat" of his own creation.

Smith was recently invited in April to perform demonstrations of his sitting shoeing method at the Iowa State Horse Industry Council Fair. His method makes the whole shoeing operation fairly easy for the shoer and for the horse, he said. And it's saved his back over the last 20 years.

"I would not still be doing it if I hadn't done it that way," he said.

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