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Aug 27, 2011 11:42 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

For Birdsalls, Shoeing Horses Is A Long-Standing Tradition

Aug 27, 2011 2:28 PM

Thanks to the Classic, Birdsall became the farrier for Olympic gold medalist Joe Fargis, taking care of his horses for nearly 20 years before Fargis moved his operation to Virginia. Fargis is widely recognized as one of the most talented horsemen in the world and represented the United States multiple times in the Olympics, where he won an individual gold medal in 1984.

Eventually, being the Classic’s official farrier became too much work for the Birdsalls, and they gave it up, preferring to focus on the loyal client base they had by then established with barns primarily in the Bridgehampton and Sagaponack area. They are still the official farriers for the Sagaponack Horse Show series, a much smaller but also historic and well-respected show series at the Topping Riding Club in Sagaponack.

Mastering An Art

Even to the untrained eye, one look at the hooves of the horses being worked on at Applewild revealed the depth of talent the Birdsall farriers possess when it comes to creating a textbook trim and shoe job. But they insist that the learning process never ends.

“Every horse is different, so it’s always a challenge,” Dave Birdsall said. “You have to understand the form and function of the horse. You have to have skill in the fire. There are so many components.” When asked when he felt like he had mastered the skill, Birdsall said he still hasn’t.

His son further illustrated that father’s assertion. “There are people who say they’ve mastered something, but it’s usually the people who say that they’re still trying to acquire more knowledge who are actually more knowledgable.”

The work itself is hard too, although not where one might consider it to be—Birdsall says that, after all these years, his back feels fine, but he’s had both of his knees replaced.

Handing Over The Reins

Dave Birdsall says he never even considered another type of lifestyle for himself, but getting his son to follow in his footsteps took a little more time.

“I was horse crazy my whole life,” the elder Birdsall said while working at Applewild.

Ike too had a passion for horses and riding from a young age, although he didn’t jump into the family business right away. After graduating from Southampton High School, Birdsall headed off to college, where he spent the better part of his time playing three sports—football, soccer and wrestling. After finishing college, Birdsall was reluctant to return home, instead taking a cross-country trip, working out in Colorado as both a ski instructor and a wrangler on a ranch and also enrolling in veterinary school for a period of time.

Birdsall eventually made his way to San Diego, putting his skills as a farrier to use there. In 2001, his father hired Craig Berkoski, another Southampton graduate and friend of Ike, to help keep up with all the work his now-burgeoning business had on a regular basis. Berkoski had no prior experience working with horses but picked up the trade quickly, according to Dave Birdsall. Still, the elder Birdsall said he hoped his son would return home sooner rather than later—although he tried to be subtle about it.

“I remember one day, Craig and I had 18 horses to do, and it was one of those real hot days,” Birdsall recalled. “Ike called and said, ‘Hey, Dad, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Well, we’re having a tough time today.’ And he said, ‘It’s beautiful out here.’ So I said, ‘Well, that’s great, Ike—I hope you’re having a wonderful time.’”

Ike eventually got the message and came home.

The elder Birdsall insists that these days, his son and Berkoski primarily run the show and he just helps out, although given the rate at which he’s easing into retirement, it’s safe to assume he won’t be putting down his tools for awhile. He admitted as much as he put the freshly shod horses back into their stalls at Applewild, packed up his tools and put another day of work behind him.

“Probably not,” he said, smiling as he glanced at his son and Berkoski. “I like hanging around these guys, and I like seeing the people too.”

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