While horseshoeing, blacksmith-farrier Tim Goolsby uses a rasp to smooth the hooves of Shadow, 15, an Appaloosa belonging to Steve Gillis of Lebanon. The Watertown-based farrier specializes on working with horses that have corrective problems.
Photos by Ken Beck
Ramsey Goolsby, 13, chats with his father, Tim, in the blacksmith’s office in a corner of the barn. Photographs and ribbons on the wall reflect Ramsey’s adventures as a junior high rodeo cowboy.By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post
There’s far more to being a blacksmith than tacking horseshoes to horses’ hooves.
For blacksmith-farrier Tim Goolsby, who has had a shop for the past 14 years on Sherilltown Road outside of Watertown, his work has turned into an equine ministry.
“He’s kind of like the last stop for horses before the incinerator,” said his wife and No. 1 cheerleader, Angela. “If they get sick, the illness goes to their feet. Vets call him from Lebanon, Murfreesboro, Gallatin and Mt. Juliet.”
“I like helping the horse. The horse can’t tell you what’s wrong. I see horses walking crippled and work out a solution. That’s why I go to school for corrective horses,” said Goolsby, 43, a certified blacksmith since he was 22.
“I see lots of horses that are about ready to be put to sleep,” said the man who works with five hammers and an anvil, among other tools of his craft. With his skills and after consulting with veterinarians, Goolsby creates corrective shoes or braces and gets many of his equine clients up and running again.
“The foot is the main thing. It doesn’t matter if you got a million-dollar horse, if the feet go bad, it’s done,” he preaches. “We’ve got a saying, ‘know feet, know horse,’ otherwise it can be no feet, no horse.”
From the blacktop road where a metallic cowboy strides a metallic steed atop a mailbox, through gates with buggy wheel centers and a couple of dozen horseshoes as support spokes, there is no doubt that horse lovers live here.
Goolsby’s blacksmith shop commands the largest portion of a tin-roofed, oak barn. Two big fans blow cool air toward the two work bays where the smithy raps and taps on the feet of clients that may outweigh him five to one. A wooden stockade, cushioned by carpeting, creates a tight enclosure where he can work on his toughest customers, bad horses and ornery mules.
The aroma of horses permeates the barn. High along one wall are tacked the pelts of coyote and coon, a rattlesnake skin and several deer antlers. Beyond Goolsby's anvil stand, wood-burning stove and rocking chair, several hundred horseshoes claim a corner of the shop. A wood sign nailed above one of the bays proclaims: Tim Goolsby, certified blacksmith and farrier specializing in cold, corrective and hot shoeing.
Today, the genial Goolsby wears a green ball cap, white T-shirt, leather belt with a silver buckle bearing a horseshoe turned rightside up, blue jeans, a blacksmith apron from waist to shins and steel-toed work boots.
“I wear steel-toed boots every day. You have to be extremely cautious and careful,” he said. “You can never let your guard down when you’re shoeing a horse. You got to learn to read the horse. You feel them tense up, watch their eyes and ears. You kind of sense it. I try to be fast enough not to get kicked. One good injury will put you out, doing this.”
While his naked right hand manipulates a hammer like a surgeon handles a scalpel, the blacksmith’s left hand remains cloaked in a glove with holes for his fingers to move freely.
“The left hand gets eat up,” Goolsby said. “It holds the foot and is exposed to sharp edges and nails.” Indeed, to date the lucky man’s main injuries have been nail cuts.
The blacksmith uses four different sizes of horseshoe nails and five different hammers. He favors a light-driving hammer of which he said, “I can feel better with the light hammer. I can feel where my nails go.” His shoeing box rolls along on wheels as he tugs it closer to where he labors. It holds his medium and heavy hammers as well as hoof nippers, a rasp, nail cutters and clinchers.
As for mental tools of the trade, he said of being a good blacksmith and farrier, “It takes dedication and lots of patience—patience with the horses and the customers. It’s tremendous hard work. Horses push and lean and pull. They don’t help you a whole lot.”
Goolsby tackles his trade 5½ days a week starting at 9 in the morning and going until whenever he’s done. Normally, he shoes six to eight horses a day. It takes about an hour to shoe a horse.
This afternoon he trims, fits and nails horseshoes to the hooves of Shadow, an Appaloosa, and Rosie, a quarter horse, which are owned by Steve Gillis, a 13-year customer from Lebanon, whose daughter, Kaley, and wife, Dottie, compete in barrel racing.
“Tim’s the best blacksmith in town,” Gillis said. “You probably won’t be able to get an appointment with him. Everybody would like to have him as their farrier. Somebody’s got to die or move away to get him. He’s one of the few farriers where you go to him. His bays stay full.”
Gillis speaks the truth. Goolsby’s business is so good that for now he pretty much has all the customers that he can handle. But the challenge remains of helping a limping horse regain a healthy hoof, hock or leg.
“Every horse that comes here is a competitive horse or a crippled horse. When people spend enough time to bring them here, I’ve got to do my best job,” the farrier said of Tennessee Walking Horses, rodeo horses and trail-riding steeds that enter his shop door.
Foundering horses in spring or laminitis is one of the biggest corrective jobs that he undertakes. He describes the ailment as the separation of hoof wall. When Tennessee pastures bloom with fescue and white clover; horses can overeat and the glucose from the grass can cause disruption of blood flow to the feet. In turn, this can create gas pockets, and the hoof separates from the foot, causing pain and even abscess.
Goolsby also works with colts that are born with their legs not straight and with injured horses that may have lacerated tendons from accidents from hanging their legs in a fence or getting punctured by barbed-wire.
The blacksmith gained valuable experience as well as friendships when he worked with horses from around the world for 10 years at the Buffalo Trail Ride (four annual, week-long rides) held in Waynesboro, in conjunction with Wayne County veterinarian Dr. Alan Bell.
He also attends the Laminitis Symposium held each January in Louisville, Ky., as 600 to 800 vets and blacksmiths gather to learn the latest from Dr. Rick Redden, an expert about the ailment who is also a farrier.
Goolsby grew up in Norene and graduated from Lebanon High School. He began working with horses when he was 15 under the guidance of his father and Mack Hollis.
“Mack and Jane Hollis trained walking horses in Lebanon. Mack has his own shop and did his own work. So I kind of started helping him. It was either that (help shoe) or clean stalls.”
Tim and his wife, Angela (Ricketts), who works at Lochinvar, plus handles Tim’s bookkeeping, have been married 22 years. Their son, Ramsey, 13, competes in junior high rodeo events such as ribbon roping, team roping, chute dogging, boy’s goat tying and calf roping.
Ribbons and photos of son Ramsey from rodeo competitions hang on the blacksmith’s office wall. “This is Ramsey’s hall of fame,” said the father.
“I pull some shoes for him every now and then,” Ramsey said of his chores on the farm, where they keep six of their own horses and care for another two to four. “I clean the stalls and feed all the horses. I do a lot of riding and a little bit of training.”
During his 20s, Tim worked jobs at K.O. Lester and Federal Express. He did mobile blacksmith work for 10 years before he opened a home shop in order to care for Angela who was sick during her pregnancy with Ramsey. He rarely makes house calls these days because his customers are willing to come to him.
“People began bringing their horses to me at night and in the middle of the day. I couldn’t leave," he recollected. "They would call and say, ‘If I bring it to you, will you shoe it?’”
A friend recently asked Goolsby his age, and after he answered, “43,” the friend quizzed, “What is the life expectancy of a blacksmith?” and Tim’s comical response was “40.”
It’s hard working for the public he noted, and the physical requirements of the job takes its toll on back and bones. He hopes as time gallops along to share his tricks and train young farriers.
For now, he’s covered in work from March through October, which barely leaves him time for deer hunting in winter. And his skill at his trade has left him with precious little time for riding his own horses.
“I’m too busy to ride,” said the man who intimately investigates the feet of horses. “I ride very little, maybe once a month.”
But his professional skills bring some horses back from the brink of death and allow their owners to enjoy many more years of good rides with their beloved partners in the arena or along Tennessee trails.
Editor’s Note: Ken Beck may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.