Farrier finds 60-year career fulfilling
SOUTH ENGLISH — Dick Harris didn’t walk to school or take the bus. He rode a horse.
“He was always late,” says Jean Harris, Dick’s wife of more than 60 years, with a smile.
He had a good excuse one morning. His horse needed new shoes.
“My dad said ‘Well, do it,’” Dick, 85, says.
Dick had seen horses shod a few times, but this was his first time fitting a horse on his own. He did it, though — with positive results.
“They lasted quite a while,” Dick says. “I think it was then I realized this is something I could do.”
The experience launched his career as a farrier — a specialist in equine hoof care. For nearly 70 years, Dick has made and fitted shoes for race horses, skid horses, farm horses — whatever a client needs.
“It’s been great to me,” Dick says of his career. “I’d do it again if I had the chance.”
In the early years he had to fit clients around his full-time occupation — farming.
“He had several people who wanted his farrier skills, but we weren’t at that point where that could be his full-time job,” Jean, 83, says. “We did a lot of that at night. He’d be working in a barn and I’d stand over him, holding the flashlight.”
Dick transitioned from being a full-time farmer to a full-time farrier in the 1960s working with clients throughout Iowa and Missouri.
Dick trained for several years under farrier Paul Hackett. He credits Hackett for taking him under his wing and repays the favor by training other farriers throughout the Midwest.
“I’ve worked with several guys, helped ’em get started,” Dick says. “We’re like a family.”
In fact, the Iowa Professional Farriers Association, which Dick helped create in the 1980s, is a lot like a family reunion four times a year.
“It’s good for everybody to get together, see old friends and meet with other farriers,” he says.
His friends and colleagues nominated Dick for inclusion in the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame.
Housed at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Ky., the hall of fame was established in 1992 to honor farriers around the world who have made significant contributions to the profession and who have left a permanent, positive impression on their peers and clients. Dick learned about the recognition at a surprise dinner in November 2000.
“I thought we were going to Swisher for dinner and then when I saw all my friends and family, I thought it was a surprise party because it was around my birthday,” Dick says.
He had a hard time believing he was going to be the first Iowan inducted to the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame.
“It was, it is, such a great honor,” Dick says.
Although he calls himself retired, Dick continues to work with some clients and attends Iowa Professional Farriers Association clinics and meetings. When he isn’t making horseshoes for clients, he uses them in folk art creations, from lawn furniture to coffee mug holders.
“I got bored one winter and I had a lot of horseshoes around, so that’s how that started,” Dick says.
His work was featured in the book “Passing Time and Traditions: Contemporary Iowa Folk Artists.”
Dick Harris will host “The Art and Skill of the Farrier” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at the English Valleys History Center, 108 N. Main Street in North English.
The presentation is open to the public. There is no cost to attend, but donations are welcome.