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Forging ties at the annual farriers' convention

Whether it’s a convention of enthusiasts of model trains, antique bicycles, or horseshoeing, people with a passion come together once or twice a year to be with their kind.

Ada Gates, one of only two women in the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame, horseshoe inspector to The Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, is, to be sure, one of a kind. She went to a fancy boarding school up East, but there is nothing high hat about Ada, who’s more comfortable in her leather forging apron than pearls. She’s a very happy camper, a smile-a-thonner, and she hangs easily with the cowboy crowd.

I followed her to Baton Rouge for the 43rd annual Farriers Convention and watched the timed horseshoeing contestants banging their hearts out over molten metal, forging it into shoes, fitting them on the horses, then being judged by experts wearing white lab coats. An English judge was also sporting a black bowler hat. Using his “scribe,” he measured for perfection of the fit. The Marketplace at the Baton Rouge Convention Center ran the gamut, from horseshoeing nails to leather apron repair to a jiggle machine for horse massage.

Red Renchin is the technical editor of the American Farriers Journal. Did you know that horseshoes vary by whether the horse will be punching cows, racing, hunting and jumping, or pulling?

I know, I didn’t either. Turns out horse populations rise and fall just like us humans and there was a period when the skill of horseshoeing was dying out as the horse population declined. I asked Red and his longtime pal Dave Birdsall, “How do you know if you’ve got a good fit”? With his Minnesotan humor, Red answered, “The horse smiles.”

Think of the hoof as similar to standing on one fingernail. Ouch. This must be an art.

Dave Birdsall, Ada Gates, Red Renchin at the Farriers Convention in Baton Rouge

Personally, I’ve never been on a horse that didn’t run off with me; clearly, I was terrified and not in charge. This crowd, as experienced as they are, stay awake and respectful of the horses power; reading a horse mentally and physically is integral. 

Dave shoed Touch of Class, winner of the summer Olympics in 1984; his family has been passing on this skill literally for generations. I was interviewing the big shots.

But as a total outsider, what was interesting was to see that at the bottom of this gathering was friendship. Harnessed over years and years of laser focus on one single thing: shoeing horses, then coming together at a conference year after year to learn a little bit more and be a part of a tribe, “a family reunion,” as Red said.

We are social animals, of course, just like horses. And when our shoes are comfortable, it makes us smile.

Artist and writer Carol Pulitzer writes about New Orleans people and places for NolaVie. Read her blog at  littletheatre1.com.

Carol Pulitzer is an award-winning writer and illustrator. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Food & Wine Magazine, and Country Living among others. She writes and illustrates super short stories at her Little Theatre blog ( littletheatre1.com ) and can be contacted at [email protected]