South Charlotte

Waxhaw man shoes horses for a living

Jeff Crane of Waxhaw has a job one might equate with medieval artisans - yet the farrier's job has existed since man first used horses.

The time-honored profession of shoeing horses has created a close-knit group who learn from each other, support each other and, most importantly, help each other.

Crane, 40, has been a professional farrier for more than 21 years, since he graduated from Independence High School and attended the Oklahoma Horse Shoeing School.

After starting his business, White Stone Forge, in 1990, he became a Certified Farrier of the American Farrier Association in 1993.

In 2010, Crane was certified by the AFA as a Certified Journeyman Farrier, the highest level of AFA certification. According to the AFA website, farriers earning this certification are expected to display in-depth knowledge and highly developed skills proving a level of professional artistry.

"When I say I have 21 years of experience, I want it to be the truth," Crane said. "I don't want to repeat my first year 21 times. I am constantly learning in this job - going to clinics, certification courses, competitions or conferences."

Recently, Crane held a clinic to raise money for a fellow farrier in need.

After talking to his friend Phillip Box, president of the Alabama chapter of the AFA, Crane found out a farrier there lost his house in the tornadoes that tore through the state in spring.

Crane decided to hold a fundraising clinic to help the family.

While he expected to get only one other CJF to come and help with the clinic, word spread through the AFA. Crane ended up with six other renowned farriers from all over the South.

Sara and Harold Mastranunzio, who own a horse farm in Lancaster County, offered their facility for the learning clinic. Another client of Crane's, Colleen Huber, set up a tent and made lunch for the nearly 50 people there.

While they did charge admission for the one-day clinic, the bulk of the money came from an auction of handmade farrier items.

"I put on the Internet that we were in need of items and we had an influx of farrier tools," Crane said. "We had a huge table full of items and we did an auction right there at lunch."

The AFA's South Carolina chapter agreed to sponsor the fundraiser, track the money and cut the final check to the now homeless farrier in Alabama. The chapter currently has tallied than $5,000 and expects a few more checks.

"I'd really love to raise enough money to help all the people affected, but it's just not possible," said Crane. "In the grand scheme of things, this hardly makes a dent, but in one person's life, this will make a huge impact."

Despite being one of the few CJF farriers in North Carolina, Crane takes more pride in the brotherhood of farriers than in his personal achievements.

"The AFA plays a huge role in educating farriers, getting them together and doing things like clinics," Crane said. "Their educational opportunities are top-notch, the camaraderie is excellent; if it weren't for the contacts I'd made through it, the fundraiser wouldn't have been possible."

With his passion evident, it is easy to see why Crane's son, Dillon, also wants to be a farrier.

Dillion, 10, helps his father a few times a week during the summer and sometimes after school during the year.

As Crane shoed a horse at Joli Cheval Equestrian Center in Mint Hill recently, the father-son team worked in perfect unison. With Dillon as an assistant, Crane removes the old horseshoe, cleaning out the dirt and dead hoof underneath. It's clear the process, like a human manicure does not hurt the horse, which stands docilely next to Crane.

Crane's truck serves as a portable workshop. After measuring the shoe to the hoof, he heats the shoe in a small forge, then beats it to the right size using a hammer and anvil.

Once the shoe is hot and ready, Crane places it on the hoof. The hot shoe burns the insensitive area of the hoof, not only sterilizing the area but showing Crane if the shoe is the right shape. Crane then uses an electronic metal filer to finish shaping the shoe before nailing it onto the hoof.

Precision is key.

"People have certain gaits that they use corrective shoes to help," said Crane. "It is the same with horses. I look at what the horse's job is, how they're built and how they live. I talk to the veterinarian, the horse owner and the trainer, if they have one, and we come up with the best option.

"Since they can't tell you how they hurt, you have to observe them."

After Crane finishes shoeing all four hooves, Dillon walks the horse away and Crane listens to the sound of its feet.

"That's a good sound - when you have an even clip," he said.

Crane shoes an average of 10 horses a day.

Most farriers make between $100 and $175 per horse, though the price can go up if a horse requires specialty shoes. It is back-breaking work, especially for someone like Crane, who is 6-foot-3, but he says he can't imagine doing anything else.

"I'm living the best years of my life right now," Crane said. "I will continue to do this probably until the day I die.

"You get to see people and play with horses all day - I don't know what I'd do if I retired."