A Half Century of Shoeing Horses

September 2015

Kevin Schimanski has been a farrier for 50 years and his sons have joined the business

Kevin Schimanski first started shoeing horses when he was 14 on the farm in Taranaki. He’s spent more than a half a century putting steel shoes on horse’s hooves. Kevin is now in his 70’s and still works a five-day week shoeing horses, a job they say is comparable to shearing sheep. He has two sons who are also farriers. “I never told them they had to do this work. They chose it and I’m glad they did,” he said.

Kevin first started shoeing horses on the farm where his family worked. He soon started shoeing the neighbour’s horses as well. He spent time breaking in horses too but when he moved to Wanganui over 50 years ago he ended up specializing in the farrier work.

Kevin downplays his knowledge but he is a master of his trade.

He says it takes a special kind of nature to work closely with horses. He reckons a horse doesn’t react well to aggressive manners – pointing out that they are much stronger. If they don’t want to cooperate, then you have to let it go and shoe them another day.

His grandfather and uncles had draft horses when it was common for people on farms to shoe their own horses, but when Kevin moved to Wanganui he soon had more business than he knew what to do with – especially on some of the bigger stations.

He says he started full time when many of the traditional blacksmiths and farriers who had always done the work were retiring.

He took on numerous apprentices and business partners over the years – not all of them could handle the work. One of his best apprentices was a woman, who he says could do any of the work the men did and better.

Kevin has been shoeing horses for at least one family for three generations.

A strong work ethic is what he credits with making him and the family successful at what they do. He says he would always start at seven, it didn’t matter what part of the country he was working in. If he had to leave home at four in the morning to get there on time he would.

From pre-school age, his son Pat used to go with his father all over the countryside. He would sit and watch his father work and loved the metal craft. As soon as Pat left school he started in the family business and was also soon competing in farrier and blacksmith competitions, winning at national and international level. Pat won the national champs for quite a few years in a row and competed at the Calgary Stampede in Canada.

His brother Nathan has always had a love for horses and also joined the business on leaving school, but after a while gave up to try his hand at other things.

He has worked full time as a farrier since 2006 and in April went out on his own to become the third Schimanski to carry on the business.

Kevin and his sons take pride in making their own tools.. When Kevin started making his own tools he found the best steel was from the flywheel magnets of Model A Ford cars from the 1920s.

The family used to scour the scrap yards looking for the right kinds of steel. He has found hydraulic ram shafts and certain parts of car steering and suspension units provide the best steel.

“High tensile and tool steels are the best, with a bit of chromium in them. It doesn’t matter where it has come from as long as we can make it do the job.”

Kevin has a large coal-fired smithy in his own workshop and once every few months his sons join other farriers, blacksmiths and keen amateurs from around the North Island there for a training session.

After working with horses all week, the Schimanskis have also been involved in polo and have travelled the country for competitions.

Their two sisters were brought up around horses but found their own trades after a stern warning from their Dad.