Every couple of months, our horse, Nikki, gets the equine equivalent of a pedicure.
There's no trip to the spa for her; instead, our farrier, Clint Buhring, pays her a visit.
"No foot, no horse" is the old saying; foot care is essential to maintaining a horse's health. After all, horses spend the vast majority of their time on their feet, even doing some of their sleeping while standing. And a farrier - who trims and balances horses's hooves and applies shoes if needed - is key in providing that care. "All horses need a good farrier," the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states on its website.
"Sadly, there are no regulations in the United States on farriers," Buhring says; anyone can buy the tools and call themselves a farrier, he says. There are, however, voluntary certification programs from such groups as the American Farrier's Association and the Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association aimed at showing a certain level of knowledge and competency.
Linda Browneller, who lives in Palmer Lake, is a Certified Journeyman Farrier, the highest level of certification through the American Farrier's Association; she's the only female farrier in Colorado to achieve that level. Browneller, 52, estimates there are roughly 300 farriers in the Pikes Peak region; only about 10 percent are certified, she said.
Buhring, 30, has not pursued certification, but has been through an education program and an apprenticeship. He apprenticed with a cousin after getting out of high school and got his formal training through the Colorado School of Trades. He has been a farrier for a dozen years.
"It's all I've ever done," he says.
A horse owner himself, he enjoys being outside and working with his hands, he says. "Being a farrier is one of the last trades in which everything is done completely by hand," he notes.
Our horse goes barefoot; a visit from Buhring to have her hooves trimmed costs us $45. Shoes cost more; expect to pay anywhere from $80 per horse to $180 or more, depending on the experience of the farrier and the needs of the horse, Browneller said.
Browneller was born "horse crazy," she says; as a young girl, her introduction to horseshoeing was through literally serving as the right hand of her grandfather, who lost his arm in a hay baler, as he shoed his horses. As a woman, she still stands out in the farrier profession; only about 8 percent of farriers are female, she says. Still, she's quick to add, "the guys have been great. They have shared their knowledge with me. If it wasn't for their support, I probably wouldn't have gotten certified."
Browneller likes being her own boss and setting her own schedule. Plus, after more than 20 years in the business, "I still like playing with the horses."
Not that being a farrier is fun and games. The job carries some serious risks - including the possibility of getting knocked down, bit or kicked by a horse, which Browneller notes typically outweighs the farrier by a thousand pounds or so.
"It's tough on everything, just because of the size of the animal," says Browneller, who has suffered a broken wrist and a ruptured disc in her back over the years.
Buhring has suffered some broken toes from a horse stepping on them, but no serious injuries, he said.
There have been times, though, when a horse has been unruly enough that he has had to walk away from a job.
"I'm always willing to give it a chance, but if things go south," he says, "I'm not going to get myself hurt."
The weather can pose a challenge, too, from sizzling summer temperatures to icy, snowpacked roads.
But, Browneller says, "it's part of what you sign up for."
Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes one horse, one mule, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/