Some Like it Hot!

Story by Jeannie Stone

Paul Dorris, Jr. wasn’t interested in the family business, so he joined the U.S. Navy. When he returned to civilian life, however, he finally decided to follow his father’s lead. He become a farrier, a specialist in equine hoof care who also is knowledgeable in veterinary medicine and skilled in blacksmithing. Together they plan to open the Arkansas Horseshoeing School in Centerville.

During his childhood, Dorris watched his father practice the craft. 

“He worked on so many show horses and had made such a name for himself that people would pull their horses all the way from Texas for his services.” At the time, the Dorris family lived in Kansas.

“I didn’t have the patience to teach him,” Paul Doris, Sr. said and laughed when asked why he didn’t teach his son the craft.

He and Barbara have been married 56 years and have built a legacy by word-of-mouth in the horse world. The elder Dorris was influenced by his great uncle born in 1878. “He was a fine harness horse farrier,” Paul, Sr. said. “He shod trotters and racers. It was more of a specialized art.”

His great uncle encouraged Paul, Sr. to become a “shoer,” concentrating on the elements of shoeing the horses, particularly attaining the proper alignment of the hoof to the ground. The beloved uncle passed away when Paul, Sr. was only 7 years old, but his encouraging words impressed the young Paul to follow in his footsteps.

“I honestly believe our family members retain some amount of genetic memory,” Dorris said. This profession has been in our blood so long, and it just comes naturally to us. He refers also to his cousin who lives in Kansas and shoes mostly for the Amish community.

“My granddad in Pea Ridge had to close his shop during the Depression, but aside from that our family has been actively farrying since 1878,” Dorris said.

Reputable farriers are in high demand. Dorris shoes a lot in Memphis and will make emergency trips to surrounding states, often times for one horse. In Memphis, Dorris mostly concentrates on jumpers and hunters. “I like working with the jumpers best because it’s all about getting to the finish line first with the least faults. Hunters, on the other hand, jump fences, and the winner is determined by more stylized judging,” he said. “It’s more subjective.”

Working in a large city has its advantages. “A lady called and begged me to help her horse who was involved in a movie being filmed in downtown Memphis. She was concerned her horse would slip during the street scene, so I shod the horse with a special shoe I fashioned with borium crystals to grip the blacktop. The name of the movie is Cigarette Girl. I’m going to be in the credits,” he said.

Dorris and his father have been chosen to offer their services at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, a pre-Olympian qualifier. “My dad was a farrier for a couple of years there, and I’ve been a farrier for the event 11 years,” Dorris said. “Together we have 75 years of experience shoeing.”

The Dorris name is renown in racing circles. “I also trimmed John Henry,” Dorris said. Henry was an American thoroughbred race horse named after the folk hero John Henry who, despite his humble breeding, earned $6 million during his career. “They told me he was dangerous. (Dorris said this not Paul, Sr.)He was 30 years old and arthritic, but I didn’t have any trouble out of him. Now another person was in the stall with me, and he bit her pretty hard. Race horses get cantankerous.”

The idea of forming a school occurred to Dorris as a way to create the space to formally educate the growing number of requests he receives. Dorris has already apprenticed more than he can count. “Twelve in the last 10 years,” he figured.

One of my better farriers ended up being an instructor and marrying a farrier from England and she shoes over there.

There are three farrier schools in Oklahoma. “Probably 30 operating schools around the country,” Dorris said. He is taking care to design his to rival the best schools. “Our basic course will include 12 weeks which is a bare minimum,” he said. “Just to get a shoe to fit is an almost insurmountable task.”

Upon graduation, students must pass a standardized exit exam and are then placed with farriers to complete their apprenticeships. After they’ve shod for a year they are eligible to test for their accreditation.

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