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If the shoe fits: the life of a farrier

This is the second in a two-part series about Pegasus Riding Academy and the individuals who make it work. You can read the first part here.

Workers’ compensation claims happen all across the country. Many people hurt themselves in shipping departments lifting boxes, or maybe slipping and falling running up stairs. But for one local man, the injuries he can sustain on the job sound more like the NFL week 13 injury report.

From the sounds of it, Jon Weiler does not have a risky job. He handles shoes — heavy stainless steel shoes — and he does custom fittings for his clients. But Weiler’s clients are very large and are not measured in feet but rather, hands.

Jon Weiler, journeyman farrier
(Jon Weiler, journeyman farrier)

Weiler’s job title is journeyman farrier and he has been fitting horses for shoes for the past 12 years.  It may not sound as risky as a tight rope walker, but Weiler has suffered from many injuries while on the job. While shoeing a draft horse, Weiler experienced a devastating injury that left him out of work for about six months.

“The horse spooked while I was in the shoeing position with her,” Weiler, who does work for Pegasus Riding Academy in Bell’s Corner, said. “Then she slipped with her other front foot and came down on the inside of my leg and it tore up all of the ligaments in my ankle.”

Draft horses can measure on average 19 hands high and weigh anywhere from 1,400 pounds to one ton. Not to mention Weiler is self employed and must pay for his own hospital visits.

Away from shoeing horses, Weiler also rides his own horse, which has a level of danger if something unexpected happens.

“While riding in a park my horse tripped and fell on me,” Weiler said. “I already had an existing injury so it happened again and left me out of work for two or three more months.”

The most surprising thing about these injuries is that they list like injuries to the Philadelphia Eagles rather than someone whose field of play revolves around a barn. Within the past few years, Weiler has suffered ligament damage in his ankle and also a detached tendon between his bicep and forearm.

But a journeyman farrier does not have the luxury of athletic trainers and rehabilitation facilities that DeSean Jackson or Michael Vick enjoy, or the salary. A journeyman farrier can make between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.  Whlie the risk of these injuries would deter most, those committed to their work find a way to continue their passion.

It also helps when a farrier can find someone who knows exactly what his or her title means. For Weiler, he mentioned it to a friend and it was how he met his current girlfriend of eight years.

“I said I was a farrier in front of my now-girlfriend,” Weiler said. “She said ‘Hey I know what that is, I used to ride horses when I was younger.’”

And to Weiler it is more than just a career . . . it is a lifestyle. In order to be a successful farrier, someone needs to be comfortable around horses, not just someone who has a knack for banging nails into hooves. Weiler owns his own horses and has been around horses for several decades.

“You basically have to get the horse to stand still and accept you handling it,” Weiler said. “The horse has to trust you, and there is a horse-handling talent that goes along with that.”

Not only do farriers like Weiler have to make horses comfortable, but they also have to spend most of their day in a half crouch with a horse leg fixed between their legs. The stress on the back and legs looks excruciating to the standers-by. The comparison to NFL players comes to mind again. During his playing days, former Pittsburgh Steeler runningback Jerome Bettis would have to walk with a cane the day after games because of how much physical pain he was in. Weiler may not have to walk with a cane, but it is necessary for him to take it easy after a hard day’s work.

“I may plan a day off the next day just because I may be too tired to work the following day,” Weiler said. “It’s not for everybody but I think I would miss it if I wasn’t doing it.”

Which also goes the same for athletes. Michael Jordan made his comeback after retirement for one reason: he could not give up the passion he loved. The same is true for farriers like Weiler. Their bodies may go through unbearable amounts of pain either from traumatic injuries or just nagging injuries and soreness. But those committed to the job just cannot give in to the pain.

“The horses don’t make it easy, but if they do let you do your shoeing job it’s more rewarding,” Weiler said. “Working as an accountant (previously) I never felt like my job was done. But with shoeing, I get feedback on the horses immediately and I feel like I’m completing the job every time.”

Shaun Gallagher is a reporter for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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