Farriers have been shoeing horses since before the Normans discovered that putting iron shoes on their transportation allowed them to travel farther and conquer bigger empires. Horseshoes might well have led to the downfall of the Roman Empire in 1066.
In the Highland Lakes, Cory Comstock shoes horses to make a living at something he loves. He and his wife, Leslie, are building a business rather than taking down dynasties.
“I grew up with horses,” Comstock said. “My great-grandfather grew up in Spicewood, where he worked on the Paleface Ranch pretty much since it started. He was your old-school cowboy. He was the real deal.”
Comstock is a modern farrier, carrying horseshoes, a tool box, and a 70-pound anvil around in his gray Ford F-150 half-ton pickup. On the job, he drops the tailgate, places a thick, black pad along its length, and lays out the tools of his trade: three types of hammers, a hoof rasp or file, a clench, a long magnet, and an anvil. On the ground is a hoof stand.
He wraps a pair of tan leather chaps around his waist and attaches a set of horseshoe nails to a round magnet on his left leg. A hammer, hoof rasp, and clench slide into a holster, where he can whip them out and slide them back in with ease as he works on each horse’s hooves.
After securing two horses to a nearby tree, Comstock pries off the old shoes, which he uses as a model to shape the new ones. Grabbing his biggest hammer, he bangs along the sides of a new steel horseshoe he’s propped up on the anvil until it matches the old one exactly. The job is done with about 10 solid swings, widening the curve at the apex, shaping the sides just right, and then pounding it flat.
The hoof has to be cleaned with a pick before the new shoe can be attached. Bent over from the waist, balancing the horse’s leg and hoof along his side, Comstock lines up the shoe and hammers it on with a few well-aimed whacks, this time using a smaller hammer with a claw. The horse never flinches.
“I’m nailing it into the horse’s fingernail — that’s the dead part, just like our fingernails,” Comstock said. “As long as I stay outside the bedded area — the cuticle — they don’t feel anything but a little pressure.”
The farrier’s calm demeanor and practiced, efficient moves reassures the animals. The whole process goes smoothly and quickly despite an interloper holding out a recorder and following Comstock back and forth between truck and horses.
“You have to be able to read the horse, know the animal,” Comstock explained when asked about what appeared to be a seamlessly ordered and routine process. “Because I work with them all the time, I can read them, tell the mood they are in, the way they are acting, the way they are going to be. The more you’re with a horse, the more you can read their body language.”
He calls it “establishing a comfort level” with a horse, which can be a dangerous animal if not properly handled.
“You have to be able to work with horses that aren’t so good all the time,” Comstock continued. “You have to know what you’re doing or you won’t be in business long. Horses don’t just have an attitude of, ‘Here, come mess with my feet.’”
The two Marble Falls horses Comstock was working the day of this interview certainly didn’t seem to mind their percussive pedicures. One, a beautiful white and ginger paint, was just getting a hoof trim and file — no horseshoes.
The other, a solid red beauty, needed two front shoes because of splits growing up her hooves. After attaching the horseshoes and filing down the splits, Comstock carved an “X” above the biggest break in the hoof to keep it from expanding. He’ll be back in six to eight weeks to check on the horse’s progress and put on new shoes.
Cleanup goes quickly. A foot-long magnet brushed across the grass picks up nail tips that were twisted off the bottom of the horseshoes. The nails stick out of the bottom of the hooves and have to be trimmed and crimped to hold them in place.
The handful of tools go back in the black plastic box; the anvil is heaved into the back of the truck, where it’s chained to the side for safety. That job is a bit easier this month as Comstock just replaced a 100-year-old, 125-pound anvil handed down from his grandfather with a new 70-pound version. He still uses the heirloom anvil at his home forge in Smithwick, where he hot shoes his three draft horses.
Comstock and wife Leslie have a carriage that their three Clydesdales pull for rides at community events and weddings. They brought out the carriage for the first time in 10 years during the past Walkway of Lights in Marble Falls. The couple plans to build the carriage business over the next few months.
Owning his own business and working with horses are the best aspects of his job, Comstock said. He also likes his customers and not having to worry about employees.
“It’s hard work, though,” he continued. “It’s tough being bent over all the time. Even when the horse is good, it’s not easy.”
On a cool, cloudy winter day in Marble Falls, with two well-behaved horses trimmed and shoed and nibbling on grass in a field beside the lake, Comstock looked pretty happy.
“I don’t have to be in the same place all day,” he said. “I like the solitude. I like messing with the horses, and it’s a way to make a decent living.”
Working out of his truck, Comstock’s business has no fixed address. He can be reached by phone at 830-613-0250.