Kim Lex makes sure the horseshoe fits.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Nails clipped and shoes replaced, 15-year-old Harvey, a handsome, paint thoroughbred cross, is led out of the barn at Carriage Ridge Stables in Waunakee. Next up is Kobi, 15, a dark brown thoroughbred.
Farrier Kim Lex, owner of Lex Horseshoeing and Equine Services LLC, crouches in front of the horse, bending low to firmly position the horse’s right front hoof between her knees. Using a 14-inch nipper resembling a wire cutter, she clips his huge nail before filing it with a 14-inch rasp, or equine-sized nail file. Kobi lowers his nose, gently touching Lex’s back as if to ask how things are progressing.
Lex, 39, works quickly, mindful of his disposition as she switches to the left hoof. Donning a heavy leather shoeing apron with knife pockets on either side, she inspects Kobi’s foot, carves out any dirt with a hoof pick, inspects the shoe, and determines that it does not yet need replacing.
The horse’s owner, Stephanie Hoker, watches nearby. Kobi raced for three years, she says, “which is a pretty decent run, but not the next Secretariat,” she laughs. Kobi only wears shoes on his front hooves, which is common. To reattach the shoe, Lex drives tapered nails into Kobi’s hoof. Hoker offers reassurance. “Only the inside part of a horse’s foot has feeling,” she says. The gentle giant, meanwhile, takes it all in stride.
Just another day at the spa.
Lex started her own farrier business 11 years ago. “I’ve always been fascinated by horses. I think they are the most majestic animal on the planet and the most perceptive. To me, the horse is the way God gets to me.”
Farrier Kim Lex clips and files a horse’s nails, cleans the hoof, inspects and replaces shoes, and demonstrates some good old-fashioned blacksmithing.
She often uses essential oils to help calm an animal, and lavender is a favorite. Most days she applies the oils to herself and sometimes she opens a jar to release the scent into the air. “A horse may be the most wonderful, sweetest, calmest horse, but it’s still a horse and could do something unintentionally to hurt itself or us. So it’s all about safety.”
Only 7% of farriers nationwide are female, according to the American Farrier’s Journal, a statistic that’s not lost on Lex. “Being a farrier is extremely physically demanding. We are usually bending in awkward positions in order to work on the horses’ feet, and horses don’t necessarily go limp when you’re holding their legs. Working on a very large, living creature with its own agenda can be very dangerous and takes an extreme amount of wear and tear on our bodies.”
In fact, many farriers don’t last very long. “Only 20% who go to farrier school make it about five years,” she states.
Horsemanship skills, which she’s acquired along the way, help her better recognize the emotional signals a horse might convey with a flick of an ear, a twitch of an eye, a wrinkle in their face, or the swish of a tail. “It’s about being able to read horsey language, and that’s evolving based on science and intuition,” she says.
She laughs when asked if she’s a horse whisperer but says they certainly exist.
Her primarily role is to care for horse feet, arguably the most important part of the animal, and she must understand the complex collection of cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bone, and soft tissue in a relatively small area.
Hooves vary widely, she says, and environmental factors also have an impact. “Horse feet here are very different from those in Colorado or Arizona. Our seasons and temperature extremes are more challenging. We have to be adaptable and flexible with the environment the horse lives in.”
Lex grew up on a small farm in Cottage Grove but now lives in Pleasant Springs. She services clients as far as 70 miles away. Yesterday she was working in Belvidere, Ill. She never travels alone. Her two dogs, Wrangler and Reba, accompany her everywhere.
Behind her truck she pulls a trailer stocked with all the tools of the trade, including a propane-fired forge used in blacksmithing.
Blacksmithing is one skill Lex wishes she had more experience in, but pre-made shoes are readily available these days, negating the need for a lot of hands-on work. “[Blacksmithing] is a little bit of a lost art because of all the pre-made shoes,” she explains. “I still do it to a degree, but being able to have products shipped to me is a tremendous time-saver.”
Trying one on for size
Today, Lex will see five horses before moving on to another farm.
Her ultimate goal is to protect against lameness. “A horse needs its nails trimmed about every six to eight weeks,” she says. That can take as little as 15 minutes on a barefoot horse or as much as 90 minutes if trimming and shoeing. Some horses are blessed with great hoof quality and function well without shoes, while others may need shoes for protection or orthopedic reasons. If a horse has an anatomical deformity, special shoes or other products can likely help resolve the issue, but a farrier cannot diagnose a problem.
“We work very, very closely with the veterinarian,” Lex says. The farrier is just a part of a horse’s care team, which typically includes the owner, trainer, vet, and an equine chiropractor or massage therapist.
On average, Lex may see 10 horses in a day and work between 50 to 60 hours a week. In general, area farriers charge between $40 and $60 for a simple nail trim, with shoeing of all four feet running as much as $180.
Before settling on this career, Lex spent 12 years as a food microbiology lab technician but was itching to do something on her own. About the same time, one of her own horses was having some problems so she started researching farriers. Horses had always been her passion, and it seemed like the perfect fit.
She used her vacations to attend farrier schools in Texas, Colorado, and Illinois, and eventually was introduced to Dean Johanningmeier, a hall-of-fame horseshoer and farrier at UW–Madison’s Veterinary School, who became her mentor.
It took three years before she was able to go full-time, and while she’s earning more than she ever did in the laboratory, she’s also responsible for her own expenses. A couple of years ago, arm surgeries set her back a bit.
There is no farrier license requirement in Wisconsin so Lex earns certifications from the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization in Colorado. She’s also training to become an equine body worker to learn the skills needed to help heal horses through touch, and she’s already seeing results. “If I take a few minutes to do something with a horse so it’s able to release that muscle or ligament or tendon that’s bothering them, they can behave and be a good citizen because it no longer hurts. It’s really helped my ability to problem solve as a farrier.”
With Kobi’s work complete, Tyler, a 19-year-old thoroughbred gelding and former racehorse, takes position in the barn. Lex strokes him gently. Tyler is her third horse of the morning.
“I love horses but really this is also about me maturing as a business person and developing a relationship with the horse owners. That’s the coolest part.”
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