Under the experienced eye of a master farrier, a Mallala horseman learned to shod his family’s horses at only 15-years-old and turned it into a life-long trade.
Graham Ferris grew up on a horse agistment property at Golden Grove and was encouraged by his father to pursue a trade that would allow him to work for himself and turn his passion for horses into a career.
A farrier apprenticeship under well-known horseman, Keith Arthur, led Graham to SA’s iconic Coopers Brewery draught horse fleet.
He began to learn the specialty of fitting the largest horseshoes on the market for fleet owner Mike Keough, who also supplied draught horses for another iconic SA drinks brand, Woodroofe.
This turned into a 10-year learning curve for Graham.
“When I was about 17, Keith’s father had contracts with milk and bread delivery carts that were pulled by draught horses, so in the end he got me the job with Coopers because he had a very good understanding of a true working horse,” he said.
“There were four Coopers horses and I shod two of them every seven weeks with a traditional hot shoe because the steel was too thick to be shaped cold.
“Although it was backbreaking, the actual job was the same as working on an everyday horse but everything is magnified with a draught horse.
“The foot did not fit on my lap and you had to wrestle with it a bit.
“The work shoes were almost three centimetres wide and half of that thick – it is the hardest work I have ever done.”
For the past 15 years, Graham has shod horses full-time after calling time on his 20-year career as a stockman at the Gepps Cross and Dublin livestock markets.
“At Gepps Cross, we mustered sheep from the market to be processed with the dogs, but we always used horses with the cattle – they are just great working animals,” Graham said.
“I worked at the saleyards for three days a week and then worked as a farrier on the other days.”
The key to a quality horseshoe fitting is balance, according to Graham, and draught horses were a challenge for this to be achieved.
He said the size of the hoof and intensive labour involved was difficult, but the satisfaction gained when he looked at the final product remained a driver to continue with his passion.
“They are massive and sometimes you are wrestling with them which makes it harder, but they have a good temperament,” he said.
The tools to perform his profession had not changed in 35 years and Graham said the art of creating a well-fitted horseshoe had not either.
He said it takes patience and persistence to achieve the perfect balance on every hoof because each horse came with challenges.
“The shoe needs to be balanced in the hoof, nicely trimmed and not out of kilter,” Graham said.
“A horse’s conformation can make them grow incorrectly – part of being a great farrier is being able assess that and work the shoe accordingly.
“You just need to keep shaping until the balance is achieved because if you do not, the problem will get worse as time goes on.
“It is definitely a specialty trade so you have to possess a love for it to take it on.”
Although the regular hoof care of the draught horses had wound down in recent years, Graham’s services in the Mid North had continued to be popular and, on occasion, he returned to the Coopers stables.
“It is without doubt the hardest work I have ever done but it was rewarding because of how iconic they were,” he said.
“The highlight was always walking away after I had finished to look at the horse standing tall with the shoe on – that was a really good feeling.”
Graham watched industries and trades come and go in his working life, but this did not deter his dedication.
“Sometimes I can not believe how long I have been a farrier,” he said.
“When I was younger I always thought if you had a job at Holdens, you would always have a job and look where that ended up.
“I will keep going as long as my body lets me.”
As for the traditional trade’s future, Graham said the jury was out on his prediction.
He said younger generations had other enticing industries to go into and was not sure if becoming a farrier would be a popular choice.
“Pretty much 100 per cent of my work is for hobbyists, but with the internet and other hobbies, horses are too much work for some people,” he said.
“There is less interest in horses these days.
“When I first started every girl wanted a pony.
“I have a 15-year-old son who could learn the trade, but maybe in 20 years time a farrier might not be needed.”
Although working full-time, Graham cropped 35 hectares of feed barley this season.
He is also looking to run a Merino ewe flock operation again, once his fences are repaired from the 2015 Pinery fire.