By DAVID GREEN
This woman loves horses—such amazing creatures, she says—and she’s here to serve them.
The tools of her trade are lodged in the many pockets of her farrier’s apron or stuck fast against magnets on the side of her hoof jack.
She slides a hand down the tendons at the back of Cruiser’s leg and pauses a moment. Then she lifts the foot up to view the bottom of the hoof and turns herself around to straddle the leg.
Now the work begins.
Cruiser is a special case. While many of Penny’s clients go “barefoot” without a horseshoe nailed to the bottom, Cruiser has a pair of shoes.
“The only reason Cruiser has shoes is because he has a problem with cracking,” Penny said. “If we didn’t address it, he could develop some serious problems.”
That’s only his front legs. When it gets to the rear, Penny will follow her usual routine:
She picks up the foot and cleans out debris, then sets it down and takes a good look at the shape of the hoof.
Penny draws a file across the flat surface of the hoof to remove the dead sole, then trades the file for a set of giant nippers to trim around the edge of the hoof. She uses a file to smooth away the rough edges.
Next she attends to the frog—the spongy center in the middle of the hoof.
“It’s known as the little heart of the horse,” Penny explains, since it helps circulate blood throughout a horse’s foot as it walks.
She shapes the frog to remove loose edges that could cause discomfort. Finally, she sights along the hoof one more time to see that it’s level. The hairline (coronet) will rise slightly in an unbalanced area.
Penny’s goal is to create an angle along the front of the hoof that matches the angle of the pastern—the pair of bones directly above the hoof. This is where the word “natural” comes into play in the name of her business, Penny’s Natural Horseshoeing.
“I wouldn’t want to do work that isn’t good for the horse,” she said.
For example, a showier, taller hoof changes the natural angle and it’s likely to result in ligament damage.
But how natural is all of this filing and trimming? A horse in the wild wouldn’t receive a visit from a farrier.
“Some people think [hoof care] doesn’t have to be done because horses in the wild don’t have it, but in the wild, horses are moving all the time,” Penny said, and that movement can help shape the hoof to some extent. A horse can do additional work on its own.
“Studies of wild mustangs have shown them filing their hooves on rocks,” Penny said.
That doesn’t mean horses in the wild are without foot problems. Only the strong survive, she said, and a horse like Cruiser wouldn’t make it. But he has Penny to help him out.
“I prefer to let my horses go barefoot if I can,” said Lisa Mynhier, Cruiser’s owner, “but he started having problems.”
“A good number of my clients go without shoes,” Penny said, “but when you run into certain issues, there’s no way around it.”
She’s pleased that Lisa understands the need.
“Lisa is the epitome of a good owner,” says Penny.
She keeps on schedule—trimming about every six weeks in the summer, every eight weeks in the spring and fall, and every 10 weeks in the winter—and she keeps in close contact with Penny.
“The communication between the owner and the farrier is so important,” Penny said. “People don’t communicate enough.”
The first step last week with Cruiser was to file off the clencher nails to release the horseshoe. Then the normal trimming process could get underway.
After that it was time to reshape the shoe by grinding off sharp angles. Penny tows a mobile workshop built by her husband. There’s a grinding wheel, drill press and other machines, tools and materials she’ll need on the road.
She pounds on the ends of a shoe to bring in the “heels,” then flattens it again to even it out. The goal is to avoid having an edge of the shoe catch on something and pull loose.
Horseshoes aren’t known to be one-size-fits-all, and it’s very rare for one to fit without some shaping. Each foot tells a story, Penny says.
And what about Penny’s story?
“I started riding when I was five years old,” she said, but there came a time when she drifted away from horses.
She became an EMT at age 18 and later earned paramedic certification. She liked the work, but the pay wasn’t going to allow her to own horses.
She enjoyed the challenges of the ambulance services for many years, but the four-legged giants remained in her heart.
“I finally went back to what my passion is—horses.”
Penny decided to attend the Michigan School of Horseshoeing and then traveled with two farriers from Jackson County to gain practical experience. She’s been on her own now for eight years.
“I love going to work,” she said. “You get to work with some amazing animals, from back yard lawn ornaments to $50,000 jumpers.”
She lives near Morenci and has clients in three counties other than Lenawee. She serves about 300 horses in all.
“It’s come to be a pretty challenging job. You learn something new about horses every time you go out.”
Just when she thinks she’s mastered the art, she’ll encounter a horse that will kick her back to reality. It was a kick—literally—that put her out of commission recently. A kick from a horse she’d never met before resulted in five broken ribs—the first injury of her career.
The episode proved to be both painful and aggravating, but she’s back on the job and enjoying every minute.
“You find out you’re a stronger person and that you can do some things you didn’t think you could do,” she said, stepping around Cruiser, sweat showing on her face from exertion.
Her career as a paramedic brought plenty of satisfaction, but life as a farrier is even better.
“The same satisfaction I got with a good outcome from helping a person, I feel it even more with a horse. To watch the healing as a horse goes from lame to well—it brings a euphoria.”
• Penny Sutton can be reached by calling 517/812-3247.