At the recent Eventing Bay of Plenty horse trials in Rotorua, John Couper was being kept busy as the event’s official farrier. John has been shoeing horses for as long as anyone can remember, and was obviously bred to shoe horses, having a grandfather who was in the trade.
John, who lives “just down the road”, is a familiar face at the event, having been the farrier on call for about 8 years but he is more famous and well known within the New Zealand equestrian scene, having been at the top of most New Zealand equestrian disciplines himself over the years. Amongst some of the many horses John produced and competed on, two of his favourites were Fair Deal and Masterpiece.
The 79-year-old is showing no signs of stopping, although does confess to slowing down a bit. “I don’t shoe 8-12 a day any more though, it is more like 8-12 a week,” he said. “I just can’t do it like I used to, and I don’t shoe any horses that are going to give me trouble. I am sick of breaking in young horses to have to shoe them.”
John was always one to help out fellow competitors if they needed a shoe put back on. He has many stories of saving the day for others when he was riding himself, including the one where he was in the same class, but he stopped his warm-up to re-shoe another horse. “I told all those about to go into the ring to take their time.” While John may not have won the title that day, the horse he reshod did. “I’m still waiting to be bought a beer for that too!”
John reckons being a farrier is a great career although did joke about the job. “If you are strong in the back and weak in the head, it’s a good job alright!” On a more serious note, he said it gave him enough income to put his kids through good schools. “It is hard work, but hard work doesn’t kill you. You have to understand horses.”
John certainly does understand horses, and is well known over the years for dealing very effectively with them where other people have struggled. “If you talk horse to a horse, they will talk back to you,” he said.
As to what has changed over the year’s he has been shoeing horses? “Not a lot really, they often still come in to be shod with dirty feet and wet legs!” But what has changed he says is the way horses are looked after. “It is better now than ever before and that makes my job easier.”
John has given up competing; “I’ve been there and done that,” he said. “I might try a bit of trekking maybe, but Joan and I fancy taking a caravan and seeing New Zealand.”
What’s the bet that the farrier gear gets put in that caravan somewhere.
By Jane Thompson
Photos: Jane Thompson