Story: Kerri Regan Photos: Kara Stewart
FARRIER RYAN GARBE
If Ryan Garbe doesn’t do his job correctly, he could render a $50,000 investment worthless – or he could end up knocked into next week by the rear hooves of a 1,000-pound mare.
Fortunately, Garbe’s second language is “horse.” The Redding farrier trained at a prestigious school, apprenticed with one of the best horseshoers in the industry, and has earned the trust of numerous North State horse owners.
Garbe was led into the career after working on an elderly woman’s ranch. “The shoer would come out and it was 45 bucks to shoe a horse. She told me, ‘You’ve gotta learn how to do that,’” Garbe says. She sent him to Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School in Sacramento, where he worked from 7 am until being forced to leave the stables at 10 pm. He was as poor as it gets – an instructor took pity on him and gave him some boots to replace his beyond-worn-out pair.
“Builds character,” Garbe says with a half smile.
After graduation, he did an apprenticeship with renowned farrier John Suttle in Petaluma, shoeing in exchange for food and lodging. “It took me about four years after school before I was confident enough to work on people’s horses on my own,” says the 38-year-old. “You can cause big problems with incorrect work. You can take a $50,000 horse and turn it into nothing.”
His first job paid him $50 a day. Today, Garbe runs his own business and his days are packed. He makes all of his horseshoes by hand, forging steel bars on an anvil. The back of his truck is a workbench, packed with a scroll saw, drill press, grinder, buffer, sharpening knives and an array of hand tools. Clients come to him through word of mouth, and he shoes about five horses daily – “that’s physically about all you can do if you’re doing superb work every day,” Garbe says. Most of his clients’ horses do cutting, barrel racing, roping, reining, racing and the like.
To give a horse a perfect pedicure, he pulls the old shoe off, then clips and flattens the hoof. “They’ve got to be super flat to accommodate the horseshoe,” Garbe says. He shapes the shoe, grinds it to fit and affixes it.
“I’ve got horses I could shoe in my sleep. They’ve known me for a long time, and they’ll put up with a few discrepancies in my attitude. But if you’re nervous, they’ll take advantage of you. They’ll work ya.” Younger horses are toughest, but “you get them used to it; you get them to where they like you and the feel your calmness. They dig it.”
Early in his career, Garbe had the wind knocked out of him by an annoyed mare who threw two hind hooves into his chest. On the flipside are horses like Boss, “an ancient old sucker who’s the greatest ol’ horse. He was a cutter – a cow horse – and he wore his hind end out. You couldn’t pick his hind feet up. (His owner) brought out this huge block of wood and she asked him to stand up there so I could get under him and shoe him.” Sure enough, the horse stepped right up onto the block and let Garbe get to work.
Garbe used to have his own horses, but his family occupies the prime real estate in his heart now – he’s a proud Little League coach, a Cub Scout dad and an active participant in his children’s school. He and his wife, Keena, have twin 7-year-old sons, Jack and J.R., and a 4-year-old daughter, Ayla.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the couple met 13 years ago because of a horse. “I was shoeing her mom and dad’s horses, and they were cool, good people. (Keena’s mom) brings out a picture of her daughter,” Garbe says. The family invited him to a barbecue the next time their daughter was in town. Three months later, Keena moved to Redding and the couple has been together ever since.
Keena admits to having been a skeptic about Garbe’s chosen profession in the early days. “I asked him, ‘Is this a hobby or is this a career?’” she says.
“It’s hard work, but it’s good work,” he says.