It can be tough to find a good farrier, which helps explain why many Douglas County horse people have Jim Spencer on speed dial.
Story by Doug Pederson, Photos by Tom Boyd
Farmers and ranchers are no strangers to early mornings and hard work. They come with the territory.
Still, chances are few of them would trade their schedules for the year-round, sunup-to-sundown lifestyle of farrier Jim Spencer.
That’s OK with Spencer, since he happens to be one of those seven-day-work-week artisans of hoof care who enjoys what he does. Dressed the part in a pair of faded jeans, leather chaps, and boots caked in all manner of mud and gunk, Spencer has already finished shoeing his first horse by 8 a.m.
Were it summer, he’d have shod several horses by now. But with less light in the fall and winter, his workload lessens, too.
For this 61-year-old, working smart far outweighs working fast. In the course of a typical day, he’ll visit up to six different farms and ranches and work on well over a dozen horses, sometimes upwards of 20.
“My back hurts every day,” Spencer says, when asked why more young people don’t get into the profession. “But you do get used to it. With enough experience, a young guy or gal can shoe a horse every 30 minutes. It’s a good life and a good living.”
Spencer holds a pair of clinchers in one hand and takes another pull from his Marlboro cigarette in the other. To his right is a bay quarter horse that spends its days at Flournoy Ranch boarding facility just outside Roseburg. This isn’t the first time Spencer has worked on this beautiful equine. Its owners have been calling on Spencer for well over a decade.
A professional farrier for more than 40 years, Spencer is a fixture in these parts. He’s shod too many horses to count. And while he’s a modest guy who drives a blue Chevy Tahoe with more than 200,000 miles on the odometer and 17 years on the road, he knows he’s good at what he does. So do his clients.
“MY DAD SHOD HORSES AND SO DID MY OLDER BROTHER. I WAS SHOEING BEFORE I HAD MY DRIVER’S LICENSE.” – Jim Spencer
As he works on another horse, several calls light up his flip phone, tucked away in his rig. He lets them all go to voicemail, never slowing down or taking his eyes off the job.
“I’ll get back to everyone when we’re done here,” he says.. “My first call of the day came in at 7:29 a.m. I’ve already gotten 14 calls today. If I answered every one of them, I’d never get anything done.”
For the people on his client list, that would spell disaster, or at least major problems.
“There’s only a handful of folk around here doing what I do,” Spencer says, firing up another Marlboro with his red lighter. “We need young people to take this on, but they just aren’t there.”
Spencer is a throwback in many ways. He doesn’t own a computer or smartphone; he has no email address. He started shoeing horses full time right after high school and not much has changed in his profession since.
Growing up on a ranch in Roseburg, Spencer has always loved the area and understood what it meant to make an honest living.
“My folks raised quarter horses, cows and sheep,” he says. “My six siblings and I started working the place at an early age. I think I was feeding the dogs and horses by the time I was 5 . As I got older, I learned how to shoe a horse. They were the primary mode of transportation. We didn’t have four-wheelers, or cell phones.”
Right on cue, Spencer’s phone starts clamoring for his attention once again. He ignores it.
“My dad shod horses and so did my older brother,” he recalls. “I was shoeing before I had my driver’s license.”
Being a farrier has been a good career choice, Spencer says. He’s been able to raise three kids and provide for his family and himself. His main business expenses have been shoes, nails, gas and maintenance on the rig.
Spencer reaches into the cab of his Chevy and pulls out the cell phone that works nearly as hard as he does. After listening to a handful of messages and taking some notes, he calls a few customers back before packing up his gear and getting behind the wheel.
Spencer has no plans to retire. To the relief of his clients on regular eight-week job rotations (and those yet to call him) — as well as the many hunters and 4-H folk who hire him on a seasonal basis — he plans is to keep working as long as he is able.
As long as the Tahoe keeps going, and his back holds out, Jim Spencer will keep on shoeing.