Thursday, February 9, 2012
Scott Rhone, Blacksmith
To most people in their 20s, the world of horseshoeing might seem as old-fashioned as a trip to Grandma’s house in a horse-drawn sleigh. But it’s a fact Thoroughbreds need shoes, and horses’ feet are in good hands with 29-year-old blacksmith Scott Rhone, who fell into the business like a baby bird from its nest. The son of trainer Bernell Rhone and Cindy Rhone, Scott got his start holding the front end of horses for his dad’s farriers when he was 7. Scott, a Minnesota native, is married to Brittany, a jockey who is the daughter of owner-trainer Lonnie Arterburn and Doris Arterburn. In their spare time (which is limited and precious), Scott and Brittany enjoy fishing, boating and hunting. They are prime examples of horse racing’s ability to attract enthusiastic, hard-working, horse-loving young people to its ranks.
My dad always said what you need to be a blacksmith are a strong back and a weak mind. This is the only life I know, so it feels right. When I was at college – at Rainy River Community in International Falls, Minn. – being away from horses didn’t feel right. Being a trainer’s son, I guess I was kind of hooked from the beginning.
We are definitely a horse racing family. My older sister, LeAnn, is married to Dean Butler, the jockey. My dad’s brother Russ is a trainer. I grew up in Dad’s stable helping him at Canterbury, Hawthorne, Indiana, Hoosier, Remington – all over the Midwest. I held horses for the blacksmith when I was real little, then I was a hot walker. When I got older, I started grooming and galloping, then I was my dad’s assistant for a few years.
Once I decided I wanted to be a blacksmith, I dropped out of community college to go to the Cowtown Horseshoeing School in Miles City, Montana, run by Marlin Anderson. It’s an intense three-month school. Shoeing horses is like water skiing – you can only be told so many times how to do it, then you have to experience it.
I apprenticed with other blacksmiths for about a year, mostly at Canterbury and Hoosier, before I went out on my own. Mr. Anderson’s son Bruce, who shoes horses here at Tampa Bay Downs, helped me a lot. He showed me a lot of tricks, taught me how to glue shoes on a horse. He is a very good blacksmith and a good teacher.
My dad drove into me the importance of discipline and a strong work ethic, yet at the same time he made being around horses fun. His commitment is what taught me my commitment. My dad never misses a day of work and he doesn’t use an alarm clock to wake up. If you like what you do and have a strong enough commitment to it, it’s no big deal to go to work.
Are there occupational hazards to being a blacksmith? You bet. But it’s an accepted risk. If a horse is really acting up, we call a vet and tranquilize him, get him calmed down.
I’ve been kicked a few times, but not too bad. I got stepped on once and had a broken foot, but mainly it’s just black-and-blue marks and black toes. My back is usually stiff at the end of a day, but I don’t have a bad back. It’s like if you run longer than you’re used to running – your legs might get a little tired. That’s how I feel.
Some days are better than others. I have days where all the horses stand real still and it doesn’t feel like I did much. Other days, a few give me a real hard time, and it feels as if I did twice as much work as I actually did. I leave the track feeling like I should have done one or two more horses, but I didn’t have the energy or the time.
I’ve been with Tommy Danks, my assistant, for about three years. He holds the horses while I shoe them and keeps me safe. When a horse blows up, he makes sure they go away from me, not toward me.
You kind of control horses with their head; you can steer them in a certain direction. When one is bad, Tommy knows where I’m going to run and he sends the horse the opposite way and keeps me out of trouble.
I wouldn’t say you need to be fearless to do this job, but you have to be willing to accept you can’t control a 1,200-pound animal. They are going to do what they want, when they want to, and at times no one is going to do anything about it.
My dad told me before I left for college if he had it to do all over again, he’d be a blacksmith. Trainers have to worry about help showing up, about getting stalls, horses getting sick, owners getting tough to deal with.
Horseshoeing is kind of at our own pace. We don’t punch a clock. If I have family in town, we can make it an easy day, but if there is nothing going on I can shoe as many as a dozen. It works good for fishing when the weather is nice. And the money doesn’t hurt! Most of the time, it affords me a lot of freedom.
I met Brittany here at Tampa Bay Downs three years ago. She and I are into fishing and boating, and we like to swim and play tennis and soccer. We’re always doing something. She actually shoes horses at her family’s farm in Ocala and is kind of self-taught. I just helped her out a little.
Being married to a jockey might sound glamorous to people, but it’s just normal because we are both in the horse industry. She understands the hours and that you have to work on weekends and holidays. It would be tough being married to someone with no connection to the racetrack, but she understands following the work and moving at the end of a meeting.
As a general rule, a horse is re-shod every 4-to-6 weeks. Why do horses need shoes? Well, they act as a shock absorber to protect the foot, which is where it all starts for a Thoroughbred.
For me, changing a horse’s shoes is second nature, but that doesn’t mean you stop paying attention. You have to care about your job to be successful at it. Anybody can slap shoes on a horse, but you do a better job when you take pride in it.
If a horse loses a shoe in a race, someone might put a little heat on me. But that’s like being a jockey – if you don’t fall off, you aren’t riding very many.
If you haven’t been blamed by a horseman for making a mistake, you haven’t been shoeing horses very long. People make mistakes, and it is part of the job. You can cut too much foot off a horse when you’re trimming its hoof, or you can put a nail in the wrong spot. A bad nail is equivalent to you getting a splinter – it is not going to be a problem unless you leave it in there, because then it is probably going to get infected.
Sometimes I’ll be cutting with the hoof knife, and the horse will jerk just right and basically pull the knife right into its foot. Or you can take too much foot off, thinking it’s longer than it actually is. When that happens, it’s how you address it that makes the difference. You clean it and put a little antibiotic on it or something, and usually it is no big deal. But if you neglect it, then it can turn bad.
Usually it takes between 35-40 minutes to completely shoe a horse. I use a rasp to knock off the clinches, which are like a washer or a nut that holds the nails in place. That loosens the shoe so I’m able to pull it off with my shoe puller, which looks like a big wrench.
Then I take my hoof knife and clean out the sole of the foot. All that dead tissue pretty much falls right out. It doesn’t have any feeling; it’s like the part of the fingernail you cut off. Obviously, though, if you go too far the horse will feel it and will let you know its discomfort.
Horses’ feet generally stink, because they stand in mud and dirt and other good stuff, but you can smell it right away if the foot is infected. That’s called thrush. You know what it is when you’ve been shoeing long enough.
After I clean the sole, I nip the hoof wall with the nipper, which is basically like trimming your toenails. Once that is accomplished, I use my rasp to level off the foot. That is one of the main parts of the job, because you want the horse to land equally on each foot when it is racing. That way, they are not putting unequal stress on the inside or outside of the foot. Quarter cracks are not common, but a good blacksmith can see them when they occur.
Race horses wear aluminum shoes, and I use a rounding hammer to shape them to the shape of the horse’s foot. I usually use six nails for each shoe. You don’t want to put nails in all the holes, because if they lose a shoe, the clinch can tear right through the hoof wall.
People who are not around horses a lot might not understand that everything you are nailing through is dead structure, so the horse doesn’t feel it at all. The last step is finishing – cleaning the foot up, making it look nice and not shaggy.
I’m very fortunate to work for many top trainers here: Jamie Ness, Jane Cibelli, Greg Griffith, Joan Scott, Jorge Navarro and Forrest Kaelin. And of course my dad – that’s good job security there! Seeing the horses I shoe run well and win races is pretty rewarding, because I know I played a part. To me, it’s like being a part-owner because I got to work with them.
A good blacksmith can straighten out a horse’s feet and get them moving along a little better. I can prevent a quarter crack from happening, or if the foot is too long I can change the angle they stand at and help improve the horse’s stride.
If a horse’s feet hit each other when it runs, I can tweak the shoe and make the foot higher in a certain spot and affect the way the feet move, or spread the feet out so they don’t interfere with each other.
There are a lot of little tricks we use, but we aren’t making big differences with the majority of horses. Mainly we are here for maintenance and occasionally you’ve got to help one. This is not a glorious job, but it’s a very important job. You can hurt a horse way easier than you can help a horse.