Lisa, Trooper and Greg (Trooper licking Greg)
Local farrier Greg Burgess practices the age-old profession of shoeing horses, which combines elements of blacksmithing and vet care. He grew up on a farm in Pickens County, where farriers visited to shoe their horses. Greg liked to watch them work. After graduating from PHS, he began a 6-year apprenticeship.
His first paying job was to trim a donkey’s hooves, at a farm near Dawsonville. Greg says he went alone, which isn’t the best idea. “They had a barn up a big old hill, with a pasture that stretched down to the road. The donkey kept getting out of my grip.” Greg was too young to know he should stop and start over. Instead, he held on the donkey dragged him all the way to the road. By then he was done.
“I won!” he declared. “And I made 12 dollars!”
He’s been a Master Journeyman for the past 21 years, but has shoed horses for a total of 30. These days, Lisa Diamond assists. Local horse owners are fortunate to have them here. Supplies are easily gotten, too. Georgia Farrier Supply on Upper Bethany Road keeps the right things in stock for them to pick up.
On Tuesday September 18th, Jasper resident Deborah Galloway invited me to her horse barn. Greg and Lisa were making a service call for her two horses. Trooper is a twelve year old spotted saddle horse. Tobye is a seven year old brown gelding. Both boys are official members of the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team. They must always be ready.
The Galloway family brings four noses, eight ears, and eight eyes to the hunt for missing persons. “Horses hear much better than we do. Their only defense is to run, so they’re always finely tuned to their surroundings.” Deborah explained. She always rides Tobye, and her husband Glynn rides Trooper.
Greg and Lisa come by every 6 to 8 weeks to check on their feet and replace old shoes. Greg has studied extensively in order to recognize anything of concern that a vet should treat.
Compared to some sites Lisa and Greg visit, the Galloway barn is The Ritz Carlton. They typically work in open fields with other horses nearby. Sometimes it rains. If the horse is older, they may do foot care with no shoes. It varies. Just like older people, an older horse may be healthy and well-fed, but look spindly-legged with a little pot belly. Deborah told me some people buy a horse not knowing how much it costs to keep them. Owners may also neglect the feet, which are not a negotiable expense.
“There’s no such thing as a free horse!” Greg chimed in. Lisa agreed.
His first task was to pry Trooper’s old shoes off, using brute force and a shoe-puller. He gently curved the foreleg back, and clamped it between his own thighs. What courage! But Trooper trusted him, and spent this time licking Greg’s hair, shirt and vest.
After the old shoe comes off, Greg trims and balances the growing hooves. He uses a rasp, which is like a human nail file, only a whole lot bigger.
He heats one shoe at a time, on a forge. It looks like a Hibachi grill clamped to the rear of his truck. As the temperature’s rising, the shoe becomes a bright orange U. He hammers it into shape. Now it’s time to hot-fit it onto the hoof. The shoe only touches the hoof, so it doesn’t hurt the horse.
On contact, a cloud of smoke billowed forth. Trooper saw the smoke, and spooked in place, as he’s been taught. Greg soothed him. “I never get used to that smell.” He said. “It’s like burning hair.” He repeated the procedure three more times times, and sipped a soda while Trooper stood on his new, cooling shoes. You could tell his feet felt better already.
Then it was time for the nails to go in. When they were done, Trooper did some pacing to try them out. Greg said if a horse has been shoed from a young age, he’ll stand still for the shoeing as an adult weighing 800 or 1,000 lbs. or more.
In 30 years, he said he’s only been slung once, two weeks ago. “First I was next to the horse. Then I was across the barn!” Luckily, he wasn’t hurt. It’s a good thing, because Greg’s second job requires dancing. He moonlights as an Elvis Impersonator.
“My grandparents raised me,” he said. “With no father figure close by, Elvis gave me a lot of peace, growing up. The music took my mind off of troubled times. I decided to become an Elvis impersonator, as a tribute. It gives me peace and enjoyment. With it, I’ve resolved the past.”
Greg is scheduled to open for the Oak Ridge Boys in Hiawassee on December 1st. He brings his Elvis Tribute to nursing homes sometimes. Lisa goes with him. She’s had trouble with the old gals crowding the stage, whipped up with excitement.
“At an Ellijay gig, I was trying to bring Greg some water, and they wouldn’t let me by. They told me I should’ve gotten there earlier and saved myself a spot.”
Just then, a bra whizzed past Greg’s ear, followed by something big and white.
“A big white thing? Do you know what it was? Was it panties??? ” I asked.
“Depends.” He mumbled.
Tobey, the other horse, had been anxiously awaiting his turn. He pranced as Deborah led him to the shoeing stall. He stood still for Greg, but there was energy in his eyes … a sort of defiance. Then it hit me.
“He’s a teenager!” I blurted. Deborah nodded, hard.
The last thing Greg did was ask me how my name was spelled. Then he heated up the forge and got a shoe orange-hot. With tiny tools, he chiseled my name into the shoe and presented it to me.
I said, “Thank you! Thank you very much!”
To contact the farrier