Bobby Zen

Beach Faulkner was at Keeneland one day when John Williams called him over and pointed at a horse being led off a van a couple of barns down. “Look at this,” Williams said. “Watch him walk. You might as well put your name on the side of that horse.”

Beach remembers the great horseman’s compliment with a smile. He’s been working on horses’ feet for 57 years, more than half of that time with son Tyler alongside, until he too has come to share the same mastery. They are farriers, sure; but not just farriers. They prolong the fading era when the blacksmith ran the shop, and the farrier worked under him. In his youth Beach saw a transition in agriculture to another type of horsepower, but while a flair for that is also in the blood–Tyler restores vintage automobiles–then the Faulkners have always helped horses along the margin between fitted hardware and their own powers of locomotion. They know the ways of iron as well as they do those of horses.

“The blacksmith works with iron,” Beach says. “The farrier just nails a shoe on. That’s why all these places now are called ‘farrier supplies.’ They’ve got the shoes, pads, everything already made. When I started shoeing horses, I had to make shoes for every horse I shod.”

They can acknowledge the adequacy of some of this prefabricated stuff. It’s only once in a while that they have to devise a bespoke solution.

“But those shoes are so hard,” objects Beach. “No flex in them. And these glue shoes? Okay, so there’s a time that you need to glue a shoe on. But it’s like putting a foot in a cast. No give. A blacksmith, if it was a real stiff-footed horse, would heat-treat that shoe so that it’d be tough and hard. But if it had a weak foot, then he’d make that shoe so the foot gets flexed. Because the flex is the life of a foot. You don’t have flex, it dies.”

Their unstinting, old-school standards have long made Beach and Tyler Faulkner’s workshop outside Paris, Kentucky, a perennial recourse for many of the finest horsemen in the Bluegrass: from big farms like Claiborne, to smaller but peerless outfits like Nursery Place; whether in moments of crisis, or for regular maintenance. But it’s a two-way street. You’re only a longstanding client of the Faulkners, these plain-talking but courteous men, if you treat your horses with the same respect and attention as they do themselves.

That, for instance, was what salvaged Nasty and Bold, who stood at Spendthrift back in the 1980s: a joint masterpiece with veterinarian D.L. Proctor.

“He was the best,” Beach says of Proctor. “A cavalry man. And I was the only one that could put shoes on his horses for him. And that horse, he had terrible feet. He didn’t have feet. His feet were softer than your hand.”

Young as he was, Tyler remembers making shoes for Nasty and Bold.

“He was making shoes when he was in high school,” Beach says. “These things take a long time to do, and would eat up the clock for me. So I’d book the real ‘cripples’ on Saturday, and he’d go with me. People couldn’t believe he was making them. That’s what started him.”

Then there was Seattle Slew himself. Beach was sent down to Florida to make special shoes to get the Triple Crown winner back from his derailment. Later, when Slew came to Spendthrift, Beach’s meticulous trimming and minimal use of the knife kept him out of shoes altogether.

He could only do this stuff because all he had ever known, as a kid, was how to do it right. “I knew how to put a shoe on a horse, because I had to put a shoe on my horse to ride it,” he says. “I had to trim it to ride it. Back then I didn’t even know I could make a living, doing it.”

Beach was raised just “over that hill” from where he works today. “My dad was a sharecropper over in Clark County,” he explains. “When I was about 11, our preacher’s wife took him by the shirt collar to Harrison County, and showed him how to buy a farm and run it himself. Great lady. Tobacco was the main crop, but we had cattle and workhorses too.”

As a blacksmith on the railroad, Beach’s grandfather had made brass shoes that wouldn’t spark in the mines. Between him and then his father, Beach learned how different breeds moved; and how “the workhorse was done different than the boss’s plantation pacer.”

Once embarked on the profession, he gradually realized how fortunate he had been in his mentors. Doing what he was being told by other people only proved counterproductive. “Until one day, I woke up and said, ‘Screw it, I’m going to shoe these horses just like my dad and my granddad taught me,’” he recalls. “Because they cared for the horses. And they’d keep them going. Because that’s the number one thing about this, it’s all for the horse.”

Eventually a Thoroughbred he was tending at River Downs beat a bunch of seven-figure horses at Keeneland. Word began to spread; the phone started ringing. In some ways, he felt he’d wasted 15 years. But people he’d worked for, in the meantime, had their merits too: a long stint with a farrier in Jackson, Mississippi, and then time up at the Red Mile. And Beach considers his early experience with other breeds as a priceless grounding. Often he would sit in the cart himself for a bird’s eye view of the feet flicking up.

“Thoroughbred people, especially, will frown and look down on you, because you shod a walking horse,” he says. “But if you take an old, stiff-legged Thoroughbred, and start him out like a walking horse, you can get him strolling and he can last forever.”

But never mind treating breeds differently, or even every individual horse. “Because actually you shoe each foot different, don’t you?” Beach says, turning to his son. “You trim them, to use a phrase you’ve said, to get their ‘path of flight.’ This one’s out a little this way, this one a little that way. So this one gets trimmed different than that one. And you get them so the path of flight’s the same with them all.”

“Got to keep your horse square,” assents Tyler.

Far more than the layman tends to realize, even those extremities of a horse that will painlessly take a nail comprise dynamic, living tissue.

“Like when you correct a horse,” Tyler remarks. “You can look at one I shod today, and it’d be perfect, but three or four weeks down the road the weight has crushed it.”

Is that like the way our own shoes tend to wear down in the same places, showing how every gait is different?

“Exactly,” says Beach. “So when you get a new shoe, you have to break it down.”

“Make wide turns,” says Tyler.

“So what we try to do is to get this horse to walk like you do in your wore-out shoe,” Beach adds. “No, not wore-out. But more broke-in.”

“Our main thing is maintenance,” Tyler says. “Like mowing your grass. Mow right before or right when it needs, it’ll always looks nice. But you let it go past, it takes two or three mowings to get it back looking good.”

Even in our urban age, we retain the axiom about the “want of a nail.” And it’s a constant miracle to these horsemen, with their especially intimate insight, how all this athletic power is distributed across points that can appear almost dainty.

“I have 33 years shoeing horses, and was born under a horse’s ass,” says Tyler with a chuckle. “But it still amazes me to have shoes on a horse. Like when they’re turned out, and take off, and run back, and do those hopping stops coming to the fence–and the shoes are still on. I’d like to know how much pressure is on those nails when they do that.”

Like many of the best horsemen, the Faulkners feel that less is often more. Young feet should be treated like muscle: you’re building it up, it gets a little sore, you just back off and give it time. Don’t just call the blacksmith for a shoe.

A celebrated trainer once came to look at yearlings scheduled for his barn and asked why they weren’t shod. When it was explained that the blacksmith refused, the trainer got on the phone.

“Why won’t you put shoes on my yearlings?”

“Well, I do,” replied Beach. “If you look, there’s two out there with shoes. They’re the ones that needed them, and they got them.”

“Well, I’d like shoes on all of them.”

“Better call somebody else to do it, then.”

Within a couple of years, Beach saw the same trainer holding court in the press that you should never shoe yearlings!

As important to anything to young feet is the land they are raised on, and the Faulkners rave about particular farms. At the same time Beach notes that the worst field he knows is right across the fence from one of the very best. But then those family concerns, especially, that have been there forever, know to put their barren mares there–and not their Book 1 yearlings.

Obviously a healthy foot grows better. “But it’s not only the foot, it’s the whole horse,” Beach marvels. “I don’t think anybody’s ever figured it out. I have a book that was published right after the Civil War. And they all knew what to do back then, but without knowing why. And it’s the same for us today.”

“Somebody told me one time that the great horseshoers don’t know what they do, but what they do works,” Tyler agrees.

In a foot they can also read circulation, growth, even whether a horse has had a fever or changed diet. But there’s no magic formula of size or shape to identify a champion: there have been too many brilliant horses with foot trouble for that.

“A sound horse would outrun a sore horse any day, no matter which is better,” Tyler remarks.

Beach’s professional longevity is all the more remarkable considering the physical demands of his vocation, not to mention its perils–though he argues that actually it should never be dangerous, provided you have a proper horseman holding for you.

The very best, in the old days, could even make a horse pick its foot up and present it.

“They don’t believe me now,” Beach says. “But old Clem Brooks at Spendthrift, he was so slick at it, one horse he would actually win money, betting people, he’d say, ‘I bet you $10 he’ll go up and lay his foot in that man’s lap.’ And that horse, Blue Times he was called, he’d come and put his foot in my lap. He loved me, that old horse, and I loved him.”

It’s the same, hardboot devotion that sets the best trainers apart, too.

“I shod for [one of the farm trainers] 13 years, and never once met the guy,” Beach says. “But when I shod Lady’s Secret and Winning Colors for Wayne Lukas, he was holding it, wanting to know what’s going on. He had to learn a lot about horseshoeing when he first came into Thoroughbreds, so we worked together. He told me one day, ‘Beach, it sure is nice to work for you!’”

The Faulkners have handled so many champions that you only build up their resume by such anecdotal increments. But here’s one snapshot: an invoice for stallions treated at Spendthrift on 19 August 1982. Of 28 names, here are just the first four items:

Nashua: trim 4, reset 2

Gallant Man: trim 4

Caro: trim 4, reset 2

Raise A Native: ditto.

Others include Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Exclusive Native, Sham. But while all these horses confirmed that there is no standard issue to the best, Nashua remains the paragon.

“You’d take a number seven shoe out of the box, and nail it on,” Beach remembers. “His foot was that perfect. And right up until he was 29, 30, you didn’t have to tap that shoe.”

It is no exaggeration to say that the modern breed would be barely recognizable but for the horses that have raised a heel to Beach or Tyler Faulkner at one time or another: Danzig, Mr. Prospector, Seeking the Gold, Irish River (Fr), Lyphard, Tapit, War Front since he was a foal; not forgetting mares from Personal Ensign to Maplejinsky.

Testimony to the individual engagement of these master craftsmen is all around the workshop: a contraption, for instance, devised especially for Sirlad after he stepped on a nail at Spendthrift.

“He got real bad,” Beach recalls. “He’s standing on the other foot, and he was not a good-legged horse. I said to John Williams, ‘You might as well put that horse down. That foot will not hold up. It’ll split like a cow’s.’ So I made this thing and put it on there so he didn’t break his ankle.”

Most instructive of all, however, is Beach’s answer when you ask which of the many dimensions of his trade gives him most satisfaction: racehorses, stallions, mares and foals, yearlings?

“I can’t answer that, because I loved every one of them,” he replies. “When I got under a horse, I never cared if it was your teaser or your Triple Crown winner–he got the same care.”

The post No Better Place For ‘The Want of a Nail’ appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Got questions? Please complete the form below and we’ll get back to you asap.

Join Bobby's Newsletter

Enter your email to sign up for Bobby’s newsletter get new racing tips right in your inbox.