At The Center Of It All
As a boy, Jason Hill accompanied his farrier Dad, Dennis Hill, on his calls. When he was very young, Jason had no intention of following in the elder Hill’s footsteps. But then, when Jason found the options for earning money available to him as a thirteen-year-old—odd jobs and yard work—unsatisfactory, he asked his father if he could help him out. Receiving a $20 bill at the end of that first workday, Jason felt he’d struck it rich.
By the time he was sixteen, he had a Chevy S10 kitted out and ready to go with a homemade plywood box on the back. He earned his AFA certification while he was still in his teens. At first, he took anything with a hoof: Western horses, English horses, Standardbreds, Thoroughbreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, and even a few donkeys and goats. (They’re surprisingly easy to trim.) Besides keeping things interesting, “it was really good experience.”
Hill credits the Mid-Eastern Farriers Association with much of his early professional development. The association was brimming with well-known and talented farriers. As a farrier still in his teens, Jason benefitted immensely from their combined experience.
As he built his practice, Jason started working with the farrier at the Cleveland Grand Prix Horse Show. As the first grand prix event in America, the Cleveland show was a great place to make connections. His boss, a “colorful character” named Frank Fernbacher knew everyone so the farriers' tent was filled with industry people—including international talent such as the Irish trainer Willie Tynan, who was entering his first American competition. “He had some shoes off and he brought them over to the farriers' tent.” They got along well, and Tynan asked Hill to be the farrier at a new farm he was joining in Kentucky. Such is the stuff that opportunities are made of.
Growing With Spy Coast
The work at Spy Coast Farm started small. “They had only a handful of horses there at the time. In a year, Willie told me, they were expecting about 35, and a year after that, they were expecting 70. Sure enough, the next year they had 35.” The farm now has 300 horses in a variety of dedicated areas including a rehab and training center, a quarantine barn, a breeding program, and a young horse development program. And they’re still growing.
In fact, as we spoke, Hill and his apprentice Kaycee were heading down to the new Spy Coast Western Division in Tryon, North Carolina, with a truck full of Delta Challenger TS8s and Capewell Endura Slim Blade 5 nails. “It’s a great nail for a Quarter Horse, for smaller feet.”
Delta Challenger TS8 Front and hind, and Capewell Endura-coated Slim Blade
When he first came to Spy Coast, Hill thought he might miss the variety of his previous practice in northeast Ohio. “That’s part of the charm of being a farrier. You get to travel around and see a different person, different horses, different farms, different areas.”
But he found that Spy Coast offers plenty of variety. Now, it just comes to him. “I’m working on warmblood show jumpers and Gypsy Vanners and Saddlebreds and whatever comes into our rehab center.” As a resident farrier, he has the added pleasure of watching warmbloods grow up, from foals to competitors in dressage and show jumping.
A 300 horse, multi-discipline farm needs a lot of different solutions for farriers. For example, the Capewell 5 nails he loves for Quarter Horses are too small for some other horses. That’s why 5.5 is so important to him. Fortunately, to the extent possible, he’s switching the entire farm—actually farms—over to Mustad products.
The stimulation isn’t provided by the horses. “What I like most about Lexington and my job here is the camaraderie with the other farriers and podiatrists and being at the center of everything. Lexington is one of those horse hot spots where you’re around like-minded people all the time. You can’t drive two miles down the road without passing a farrier truck or a vet truck.” The area is so dense with horse people, Hill is fortunate to interact with two Mustad reps—David York, who serves the area, and Rob Logsdon, who lives nearby.
Mustad Northeast Rep, Kris Kibbey, Jason Hill, and Mustad Southeast Rep, David York.
He doesn’t take that community for granted. When Grant Moon was visiting, he noted that it would be great if they had some radiographs. Hill was able to call the Spy Coast vet and she came over right away and shot before and after radiographs.
He’d fallen in love with this part of Kentucky when he attended the AFA convention there with his Dad in 1994. “I was just taken aback by all the horse farms and the beauty of it. It was miles of stone walls. I wondered back then what it would be like to work at one of those big farms. It’s kind of a dream come true.”
Education by Fire: Blacksmith Competitions
In addition to serving as the farm’s resident farrier, he also leads their farrier team at the World Championship Blacksmithing Competitions. His passion for the competition goes back to the American Farriers convention in Daytona Beach in the early 90s. “I thought, I want to be the best of the best like these guys. I think Craig Trnka, who now heads up the competition, was just getting started then. He had a mullet and some steps in the side of his head and I think he was driving around in a pink truck and he goes out and just cleans up. After that convention, I went home and started practicing.”
The competitions are the best kind of education. “You’re dialed in. Your trimming is quicker and more exact. Your fitting is quicker and more exact. And your nailing is quicker and more exact. Everything becomes very easy.”
The 2021 Spy Coast WCB team: Gilad Friedman, Stan Mullin, Jason Hill, and Dan Mattson.
Some of the education is more indirect. In addition to taking care of all the shoeing at Spy Coast, Hill and Kaycee help with the educational events that the farm hosts in its equine education center. (It has stadium seating, slide presentations, and a banquet room.)
Although at 45, the physical demands of the job are causing him to think for the first time about his eventual retirement, he is not done learning. When the pace slows down just a little, he wants to pass the rigorous European certification test. In the meantime, he’s not just in the center of a legendary horse community. He’s at the vital heart of it.