A clip here, a snip there, a good amount of rasping and out trots another shoeless and satisfied customer.
Peter Sylvester is equipped with his chaps, gloves, steel- toed boots, a cowboy hat, and his box of tools. He is a farrier.
“I am the guy who gives the horses a pedicure,” Sylvester said with a chuckle.
When Sylvester’s clients trot in, they leave bare-footed, or unshod (without shoes). Sylvester is not a conventional farrier; he is a natural farrier. He is part of the radical barefoot movement that has gained some popularity over the past 10 years.
Sylvester has been a natural farrier for the past 15 years and is passionate about what he does, despite what some of the conventional farriers say about shoeing.
“It’s whatever is best for the horse, and if the horse is able to balance, that matters,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester is a member of the Minnesota Farriers Association (MFA). On March 27, Sylvester gave a lecture up in Superior, Wisc., where they brought in two farriers – both a traditionalist and a naturalist [Sylvester]. “They pretty much put us in the room and let us have at it,” Sylvester said. “It’s still a sore spot in the business, seeing such a push in the industry for bare-footed, because up until 10 years ago, horses were always shod, no questions.”
He explains that the horse’s hooves are just like our own feet and need room to grow. Therefore, placing shoes on their feet at all times is unnecessary, because they are constantly growing structures and need to be maintained more regularly. Also, with times of recession, it’s more difficult to do so, since money is tight. Therefore, horses’ hooves are more neglected, as Sylvester has observed.
Sylvester’s desires and long-winded passion have lead to the creation of his home-run business: the Canterwood Equine Services in Alborn, Minn. There, he not only does maintenance and balancing of horse hooves, but he also does ground training.
“It’s like obedience training for both the horse and the owner, but instead of a dog it’s a one-thousand pound animal,” Sylvester said, laughing knowingly.
Sylvester’s operation is a one-man show, with the exception of his very helpful wife and two daughters.
Sylvester’s 19-year-old daughter, Rebecca "Becca" Sylvester, recalls learning some of her dad’s job as a farrier. “He taught me how to do the rasping, but the clippers were too much. It takes a lot of practice to do that and do it well,” Becca said.
Sylvester’s daughters were raised with the same respect and love of horses that he has had his entire life. When Sylvester is attending shows, his wife and daughters sit at the booths answering questions or volunteering for the occasional job.
Sylvester attended the Oklahoma Farrier College and took the prescribed courses. It was a good start to attaining the basics. He continues to attend seminars and workshops to further his education and knowledge as a farrier.
“Ever since I was little, I had a crush on horses and was like, ‘Gee.’ I wanted to be a cowboy and work with horses,” Sylvester said, now 56 years old.
Sylvester has a prestigious reputation as a natural farrier. In the end, though, he’s in it for the horses.
“My policy is that the process should never hurt them, and never do I harm them,” Sylvester said.