Dave Carty
Dave Carty
HEARTLAND USA  |  March/April 2007
 
Hot Shoes, Cold Iron

Farrier Larry Grantier takes a whole-horse approach to fitting horseshoes.

Larry Grantier opens the door of his neatly organized truck and a sheltie and two pint-sized schnauzer puppies tumble out, all fur, teeth and mock ferociousness. Grantier stops dead in his tracks and glares at them as they scuffle around his feet. As if this hasn’t happened a hundred times already this week.

"Hey, you guys!" he growls. But the dogs are having none of it, and soon enlist some allies – a pair of scruffy yard dogs from a few corrals down. Sighing, Grantier reaches for the bucket of dog treats he keeps in his truck.

Dogs are one of the few things Grantier slows down for. After twenty years as a farrier, his wife, ReNae, politely but firmly sends all but established customers down the road. She’s looking after the business side of things, and these days, she and Larry have all the business they can handle.

Lord knows, it wasn’t always that way. "Eighty-three, we had seven jobs between the two of us, just starting out," Grantier says. "I had a fulltime job, and then joined the Army National Guard. I spent sixteen years and six months in the guard and finally got through with that part-time job…" at which point ReNae jumps in and lists a few more jobs her husband has forgotten.

"Actually, Larry, you started off working at MSU, and then you went to college, and then you decided college wasn’t for you and worked at the Super Eight, and then Skylabs…" she ticks them off one by one. Eventually, Grantier  found the time to go to horseshoeing school, although then as now, it wasn’t a legal requirement.

Grantier grew up in North Dakota first and on the back of a horse second. He was working on a ranch in Winnett, Montana, when he met the love of his life.

"I’d spent four years in the Navy and then come home," he recalls. "Then I met ReNae. She’s the first woman I met that I could have a meaningful discussion with pertaining to horses. First time we met, we spent five or six hours talking horses in the Grassrange Café parking lot. Just talking horses. God just had us meet there."

Winter is slow for most farriers, which means Grantier has got his schedule down to something like a normal work week: five days a week, nine in the morning to four in the afternoon. Summers, he works from eight until dark. That makes for a hectic lifestyle, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. After scooping up his dogs and depositing them back in the truck, Grantier walks slowly around Conner, a dark red quarter horse, talking soothingly under his breath.  Then he bends down and gently lifts the big animal’s front leg onto a rest and begins filing. Conner softly nuzzles the back of Grantier’s head, then stares off toward the mountains. Across the way, a pair of blanketed horses graze into a stiff January wind.

Conner likes Larry Grantier just fine. Maybe it’s the peppermints he carries in his pockets, which some horses insist upon before they’ll let him shoe them. Or maybe it’s that, after all these years, Grantier can finally let the bad ones – the kickers and biters – get shoed by somebody else. He didn’t always have that luxury.

"I started out at $25 dollars to shoe and $8 to trim," Grantier recalls. "Now, it’s $90 to shoe and $40 to trim. And we’ve also added a trip charge." To keep track of it all, ReNae printed up a refrigerator magnet with something like twenty different rates for different services, including handling "fractious" horses. It’s a big refrigerator magnet.

But it isn’t just about the money. ReNae’s goal is to someday get her husband into retirement more or less in one piece, and she’s got good reason to be concerned.

"One of our clients, we saw her get a busted collar bone and a busted face. That was Betty," ReNae says, looking at her husband. Grantier nods, remembering.

"Getting kicked is third on my list," he says. "The second thing that hurts worse than that is getting struck. Then getting bit." He pauses, winding up for a story. "Horses kick," he says, "but mules aim. I was doing this young mule at this gal’s place, and the mule was tied up to a tree. And he was just having a fit. So I stood back about six feet, just standing there watching him…and he kicked me right in the hand."

Grantier’s hand swelled up to the size of a softball, but he popped Tylenol with his good hand and kept on working.

Every horse that lays him low has taught him a lesson, but all things considered, Grantier prefers learning in a classroom. He’s involved in an ongoing education program, taking clinics and extra classes whenever time and money allow, although none of them are required by law. Nevertheless, there’s been a payoff. In his neat-as-a-pin horse barn, he’s got several years worth of blue ribbons tacked to one wall from Montana horse shoeing competitions. He’s also one of a handful of farriers in the state to earn the AFA Certified Journeyman Farrier designation.

Grantier is proud of the hard work it took to get there, but he’ll be the first to tell you that schooling isn’t worth a tinker’s damn if you can’t read a horse.

"There is no class or course to teach you how to do horsemanship properly," he says. "So you have to learn that by hard knocks. Growing up on a horse ranch, I thought I knew horses. Then I went to shoeing school.

"Basically, the concept for doing it more correct than doing it more wrong is that I’m shoeing the horse. There’s a lot of people out there just shoeing the foot. And there’s a big difference. You got to look at the whole horse, then break it down and start fine tuning it. I can trim the foot the first time, but when I go back the second time, the horse’s foot will tell me whether I’m doing it more correct or doing it more wrong.  The people that don’t understand that…their horses are going to be sore. What size shoes do you wear? Ten? Try wearing a nine for the next eight weeks and see what happens to your feet. And that’s what happens to horses."

When Grantier finishes trimming and filing Conner’s hooves, he pulls a pair of shoes from the racks in the back of his truck, fires up a propane forge, and slides them inside. When they’re red hot, he hammers them into shape, then fits them hot to the bottom of the horse’s foot. Clouds of pungent yellow smoke roil up, but if he does it right – and apparently he is – Conner won’t feel a thing. Twenty minutes later he’s finished. Elapsed time: one hour and ten minutes, about what he allots per animal.

"Not including traveling, talking, or goofing off," he says. "Some horses I’m having so darn much fun, and they’re having so darn much fun with me, it might take me an hour and fifteen minutes."

In the Grantier’s home, horse-themed throws cover the furniture; ReNae wears a sweater with a horse embroidered below the collar. Larry’s hair is thinning, but it’s still coal black, and ReNae, a swimmer, is tall and trim. They’re both fifty, but neither of them look it. "No kids," ReNae laughs.  Grantier pours coffee into a blue mug emblazoned with the name of one of his long ago employers.

"My retirement package," he smirks, tapping the mug.

Over time, Grantier shows his clients how to bring their horses along by handling their feet, showing them how to tap their hooves with rocks, and yup, bribing them with hard candy. At some point on that journey, the horses adopt him as their own, hopefully without his having to force the issue.

"Horses understand discipline, but they don’t like being beat on," he says. "Beating on them is a whole different process than discipline. I can do a lot with these horses when I teach them I’m the top horse in the horse herd." He finds one of his schnauzer puppies and scoops her onto his lap. She growls playfully and nips his chin. "You let this 10.2-pound mean little girl guard dog run over the top of you and chew on you and you’ll probably laugh your head off. But you let that 1200-pound horse do the same thing, and you’ll end up in the hospital. And that’s why I go through this whole process with these horses.

"The only way these concepts work is if I’m the top horse in the horse herd," he says. "But once they understand that stuff, they’ll try to look after my safety. Then I don’t have to look after my safety because the horse is doing it for me."

And that, Grantier says, makes everybody happy.

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