Farriers pound their horseshoes at Rendezvous

A clanging symphony of hammers on anvils plus files and brushes fine-tuning newly created horseshoes sounded Sunday at one corner of the Carson City Rendezvous.

The farriers made their first Rendezvous appearance in 10 years.

About 15 smiths repeatedly took flat, straight strips of metal called bar stock and turned them into a variety of horseshoes in three days of competition.

Even in a day of cars, space shuttles and the Internet, there is a definite place for a man or woman with horseshoe making skills.

"There are more horses now than when horses were working 100 years ago," said John Suttle, the judge for all the horseshoe competitions at Rendezvous. "We're still in demand, but there are a lot of horseshoers."

Michael Tannehill of Gardnerville and Tony Baratti of Dayton make horseshoes on a daily basis for veterinarians. They teamed up Sunday for the draft horse shoes, which are much larger than common horseshoes.

"People come up to me and say 'you can make a living shoeing horses?'" Tannehill said.

Basic skills and time limits are the key to success at competitions.

"At home, you have time limits but you fudge on the time limit," said Baratti, president of the Nevada Professional Farriers Association, which sponsored the farrier area at Rendezvous. "Here when the buzzer goes off it's all over. It's fun. For the draft horse competition, you have 45 minutes and you don't have a lot of time to tick-tack around."

The judge focuses on good basic skills. Suttle looked for whether the horseshoe's shape flowed or had sharp bends. He was also a stickler for nail holes being in the appropriate places.

The bar stock emerges from the oven red-hot and is hammered into the familiar rounded form.

"Steel is very plastic when hot and it gets hard as it cools off," Suttle said.

Nail holes are then punched into the steel. Next the horseshoe is fastened into a vice, where the farrier uses a file and brush to take off rough edges and make the surface smooth.

"What I want from them," Suttle said, "is to use a silk glove and not snag it. I never get that."

Farriers from Carson City's earliest days would have been comfortable at the Rendezvous competition. No modern tools could be used. Tannehill generally makes shoes the old-fashioned way anyway.

"To make shoes in this day and age keeps the craft alive," Tannehill said.

Tannehill and Baratti, teaming up for the first time, came with contrasting amounts of experience. Baratti has competed for 16 years while Tannehill is in his rookie season.

Tannehill makes therapeutic horseshoes for Great Basin Equine Medicine and Surgery in Gardnerville and Baratti does the same for Bonde Lane Animal Hospital-Reno Equine Clinic.

"I make orthopedic shoes for horses that have a foot or leg problem," Baratti said. "It's nice to have a little kid that brings in a horse walking on three legs and then leaves walking on four and the kid says 'thanks.''

Carson City Rendezvous drew some 35,000 people over three days, inspiring coordinator Maxine Nietz to describe the weekend as "superb."

"Because we've had lots of people and they've had a good time," Nietz said. "Because the weather has cooperated. Because all the participants are having a good time. It's feeling mellow."

Along with the return of the farriers, the creative anachronists known as St. Gabriel's Guild made their first appearance at Rendezvous. Nietz kiddingly referred to them as "the ancestors of the pioneers" since the medieval ages were a few hundred years before early Carson City, which is what Rendezvous celebrates.

"The Mountain Men had their biggest trader's row they've ever had," Nietz said. "Lacy J. Dalton was wonderful. She started at 4:30 and she stayed on that stage until 6:30 and then came out and signed autographs."


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