The road has been filled with plenty of bumps for Roger Robinson during his tenure as a blacksmith — none bigger than a challenge that arose in March 2010.
It was then that James Madison University wanted to purchase the downtown Rockingham Cooperative property, which consisted of the headquarters and a fertilizer mill. When a deal was finalized, Rockingham Cooperative ended up moving the headquarters and the mill to Bridgewater — and Robinson’s shop on Main Street was in the way.
“They told me I had 90 days to move my business because they were going to tear it down,” recalls Robinson.
Robinson had been a popular farrier for years in an area where horse riding is popular, due largely to the Old Order Mennonite community. His Bridgewater location was perfect for his business — until he was told he had to close up shop and go elsewhere.
Robinson wanted to keep his location, but knew he had little chance of doing so. His shed was ultimately demolished in June of that year.
“I helped tear the shed down,” says Robinson. “I collected some of the material like the metal and timbers because it was reusable and maybe I could use it one day.”
Robinson ended up settling at a warehouse in Staunton, where he was relegated to simply selling horseshoeing supplies for the next three years. He thought his horseshoeing days were over for good.
Then, in the summer of 2013, he received a call from Dave Bell, another local farrier, who informed him about a vacant warehouse behind Ashby Animal Clinic in Harrisonburg.
“He asked me if I was interested in moving my business to the location,” recalls Robinson. “A few days later, I took a look at the building and knew it was a good fit. I accepted the offer.”
On Oct. 1, Robinson moved into the new location, while also expanding his business by again offering his horseshoeing services. The new location, called The Blacksmith Shop, is located on Garbers Church Road. The 3,500-square-foot warehouse gives Robinson plenty of room to shoe horses, along with a wide open space to accommodate his supply business.
Rob’s wife, Dr. Tara Bell, co-owner of Ashby Animal Clinic, knew it was a perfect fit.
“My husband is a horseshoer and he knew Roger,” says Tara, a Virginia Tech alum. “We were thinking about this building and what to do with it when Roger came to mind.
“We have a Mennonite population around here, so it was a perfect fit.”
What sets this particular location apart is that the farrier and the Ashby vets work together. Individuals can take their horses in to The Blacksmith Shop for shoeing, while also getting vaccinations all in one trip, rather than making multiple trips.
“We work together,” says the 58-year-old Robinson. “If a horse comes in for shoeing, I may find a problem that the owner is unaware of.”
On a cloudy Monday morning in Harrisonburg, Robinson has some familiar company — two Tennessee Walking horses.
“I’ve been around horses my entire life,” says an enthusiastic Robinson, as he nails a shoe to one of the animal’s hind feet. “I’ve been shoeing them for about 35 years now.”
Horseshoeing is paramount, especially given the Valley’s mountainous terrain. While riding, rocks and asphalt can break up a horse’s hooves, which can be prevented if strapped with shoes. Horses must be shoed regularly — every six to eight weeks — to avoid stretching tendons or a loss of balance.
A horse’s hooves must also be trimmed regularly, as the foot grows just as a person’s fingernails do.
A lack of hoof care can also lead to the horse feeling a tremendous amount of pain, which can lead to an ill-temper or even lameness.
Jake Herring, a customer at The Blacksmith Shop, describes a dilemma upon purchasing his first horse.
“When I first got a horse, I didn’t know a thing about taking care of the foot,” says Herring. “I’ve had shoes get lost on a trail. If you don’t know the basics of how to get the shoe off or get the nail out, you’re in trouble and the horse is in trouble.”
That is where Robinson comes in.
Shoeing and trimming is an hour-long process for Robinson, who typically sees three to four horses a day. During this process, Robinson sets the horseshoe using a forge and shapes it onto the bottom of the horse’s foot, in order to capture the exact contour. Robinson then takes a pair of nippers and trims the foot shorter, followed by filing the edges with a rasp.
He nails the shoe to the perimeter of the horse’s foot, making sure it stabilizes along the outer edge.
“The coronary band on the foot is the same as your nail cubical,” explains Robinson. “If somebody nails into sensitive part in foot, it’s like nailing into sensitive part of finger nail.”
Robinson says a farrier must carefully drive the nail to outside of the “white line” of the foot, which is just inside the hoof wall. If it’s done inside the white line, the horse will feel it and react, which can lead to an uncomfortable situation for both the horse and the blacksmith.
When the topic of the number of horses he has shoed in his lifetime arose, Robinson put down his hammer.
“Wow, I have no idea,” said Robinson. “I’m sure thousands. Back in my hayday ... I would [shoe] five horses a day, five days a week.”
Herring has known Robinson for the last 15 years and has been a regular customer. He says, while a talented blacksmith, Robinson’s hospitality may be his greatest trait.
“He would take his time and teach anybody that would show up and not charge a penny,” says Herring.
“That’s the great thing about Roger.”
Contact Matt Gonzales at (540) 574-6265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.