(Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a 10-part monthly series of stories highlighting the first 50 years of Walla Walla Community College in five-year increments. Today’s story covers 1983-1987.)
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 the many blank looks you get. 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 Walla Walla Community College 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 despite 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 in the American West, consulting on cattle ranch operations. Starting at age 5, he helped by cranking oxygen into the old coal-fired forge his father used. He remembers cranking so enthusiastically that he burned up several shoes, leaving them just molten puddles of steel.
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 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 college ever since, first helping the late Scott Simpson, an iconic farrier and author of texts on the art and craft of shoeing horses, to run the farrier program. He has continued this role part time, working with current instructor Jeff Engler, now in his 20th year at the college.
In the farrier lab the dull roar of the propane forges is overwhelmed by the earsplitting metallic cacophony of a dozen students pounding hot steel. Jeff Engler presides over it all.
He guides the program’s students in shoeing 800 to 1,000 head of horses a 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, each and every shoe is made to order from scratch.
In addition to making shoes, Engler adds, students learn the basic horse anatomy “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 sixth-generation Dutch-South African mother who is 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 No. 1-ranked show jumping rider in the world, and for Grand Prix rider Jimmy Torano. Meeting these riders, it’s a humbling experience.”
He’s not the only graduate to hit the jackpot.
“Our classmate, D.J. Morgan, just graduated in June and is working in Tacoma, making $5,000-$6,000 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.”
Says Davy Jones: “I don’t think there’s another program in the whole world like this one.”
After 30 years in the saddle, he should know.
Abra Bennett is writer in residence at Walla Walla Community College.