When Mike and Melissa McNally need work done on the hoofs of one of their six horses, they know exactly who to call.
Farrier Nick DiFranco, 41, has been pounding hot steel horseshoes for 16 years after serving as an apprentice for a local farrier, Mike Robare. DiFranco works with horses across Maryland and the surrounding states.
“It takes its toll on your body and is extremely physically demanding and can be dangerous when working with unruly and unpredictable horses,” DiFranco said “I hurt every day. Every farrier is going to have back problems.”
DiFranco has been around horses all his life.
“I was born with reins in my hands,” he said, and before becoming a farrier, he competed in horse jumping circuits and operated heavy equipment for a living.
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Each shoe in affixed to the horse’s hoof with nails once it is fitted properly.
Nick DiFranco uses a large file to trim the excess material from the hoof once the shoe is fitted.
Nick DiFranco uses a large file to trim the excess material from the hoof once the shoe is fitted. At right is Mike McNally, who with his wife Melissa, operate the Cardinal Ridge farm near Mount Airy.
Farrier Nick DiFranco uses a large file to trim the excess material from the hoof of Lamar once the shoe is fitted. He has been working as a farrier for 16 years and been around horses all his life.
Once Lamar has had his feet cared for he nibbles on hay and watches activity outside the barn.
Farrier Nick DiFranco puts horseshoes and cares for the hoofs of a horse on Mike and Melissa McNally’s Cardinal Ridge farm near Mount Airy Friday morning. Melissa hold the rope of Lamar as Nick works on the back hoofs.
Farrier Nick DiFranco puts horseshoes and care for the hoofs of a horse named Lamar on Mike and Mellissa McNally’s Cardinal Ridge farm near Mount Airy Friday morning.
Melissa McNally with one of the six horses they care for on their Cardinal Ridge farm near Mount Airy Friday morning.
Farrier Nick DiFranco trims the nails that hold the new shoes on Lamar in place on Mike and Melissa McNally’s Cardinal Ridge farm near Mount Airy Friday morning.
The steel horseshoes are heated in a gas fired furnace until red hot so they can be formed to the horses hoof.
Farrier Nick DiFranco heats the steel shoes then uses a anvil and hammer to form them to the particular hoof he will place them on.
Smoke pours off the hoof as the hot shoe is placed on the bottom of the horse’s hoof. The heated shoe conforms more comfortably to the hoof and the heat does not cause the horse pain.
Smoke pours from the hoof as the hot shoe is placed on the bottom of the horse's hoof. The heated shoe conforms more comfortably to the hoof and the heat does not cause the horse pain.
Farrier Nick DiFranco is off to his next job after finishing work at the McNally farm. He works in Maryland and surrounding states and travels more than 45,000 miles a year.
Horseshoeing has been basically the same for centuries, DiFranco said. Most horses involved in competition or other forms of showing require shoes or trimming every four to six weeks in the summer.
“Summers are much busier as the horses hoofs tend to grow more then,” he said.
As far as his career goes, he said, “I’ll be doing this till my body says no.”
He has known farriers that have worked into their 70s. But he says he believes the skill is a dying art. New farriers are hard to find and he has tried unsuccessfully to find an assistant for some time.
“I do everything from shoe horses to miniature donkeys. On a busy day I can shoe 10-15 horses,” he said.
Horseshoes are used to protect the hoofs of the animals and sometimes correct deformed hoofs.
Melissa McNally, who has ridden horses since she was 6, competitively rides some of the horses DiFranco cares for on their Cardinal Ridge farm.
On Friday, DiFranco was on the farm to fit a Thoroughbred named Lamar with four new shoes and a clipping, which is similar to nail trimming. Lamar stood motionless as DiFranco went from one hoof to the next doing his craft.
Then it was off to the next job and more hot shoes and pounding on his heavy anvil.