Lyle E. Bergy Bergeleen has been kicked in the ribs, suffered numerous broken toes, and even had several of his front teeth and his upper jaw broken since becoming a horseshoer 30 years ago.
Rather than making him callous or abusive toward horses, his experiences have turned him into a vocal advocate of nurturing healthier, happier horses by using a natural approach to shoeing and a gentler style of equine management.
The progressive-minded farrier, teacher, and lecturer owns a 7-year-old, home-based business here called HoofTalk Inc., through which he has authored two books and produced two videos about his hoof trimming and shoeing techniques. In a modern twist to an Old West occupation, Bergeleen even has developed a web sitewww.hooftalk.comthat he uses to market those materials, talk about what he does, and list the locations of Certified Natural Equine Hoof Technicians whom he has trained through a program he developed.
Ive found that Im more valuable to the industry as an educator than just shoeing horses, he says.
Along with his current shoeing, instructing, and product-marketing pursuits, Bergeleen is searching for lame horses here to star in a couple of other videos he plans to produce and is working to corral enough capital to begin mass producing a flexible horseshoe he has patented thats based on a 100-year-old German design. He describes the light steel shoe as being akin to a bathroom slipper for horses.
Bergeleen also has developed and patented an ultrahigh-molecular plastic shoe that he hopes to market eventually. He claims the high-tech adjustable shoe is lighter than commonly used aluminum shoes and more abrasion-resistant than a steel shoe.
Separately, he says he has lined up a couple of prospective sites here, one southwest of Spokane and the other in the Chattaroy area, for a combined horseshoer-training and horse-owner education facility that he hopes to open soon.
Bergeleen estimates there are 10 to 12 full-time and 100 or so part-time farriers in the Spokane area.
He estimates he has shod 30,000 to 40,000 horses of all typesshow, race, pleasure, pulling, gaited, ranch, and back-countryduring his career. He also has trained about 500 students to be horseshoers, many while teaching horse-shoeing at Spokane Community College for nine years and others through his own training program.
Bergy the Horseshoer, as he sometimes is called, continues to shoe horses today, mostly within about an 80-mile radius of Spokane, because his business is tiny and he needs the income. However, his underlying desire is to broaden his role as a teacher, without having to spend six months a year on the road as he did last year, driving more than 9,000 miles to clinics in nine states.
Bergeleen says his goal is to help all horse lovers develop a better understanding of natural hoof care and thereby to help prevent lameness and related foot problems, which horse owners spend $500 million a year to treat.
He champions a simple method, which he calls hoof talk, for determining whether a horse has been shod properly. That method involves examining the hairline directly above each hoof for distortions, which he claims are caused by uneven pressure on the hoofs ground surface due to some imbalance. A horse that has been shod correctly for a natural balance will have a perfectly straight hairline, Bergeleen says.
He has developed and copyrighted a technique for trimming and shoeing a horse to achieve that symmetrical hairline.
Bergeleen, who wears a baseball-style cap and dresses more like a Palouse farmer than the classic cowboy one might expect, conjures up images of famous humorist-actor Will Rogers with his friendly, insightful demeanor. He sprinkles folksy observations and quips from famous people into his conversation when talking about himself and his experiences, and he speaks from a just makes sense philosophical point of view.
Born in the small town of Wessington Springs, S.D., Bergeleen was raised on a farm and worked as a boy in the service shop of his fathers John Deere dealership. After high school, he became a mechanic; he says he was making $6 an hour in the late 1960s when he first saw a man shoe a horse.
He got paid $16 and used $1 worth of materials, and it took him 45 minutes, Bergeleen says. I said, Im not going to get my hands greasy again as long as I live. Im going to be a horseshoer. His father wasnt enthused by the idea. He wanted to know if that horse had kicked me in the head, Bergeleen says.
He started shoeing horses professionally in 1969, then was drawn away from it for several years while he served a military stint with the U.S. Navys Seabees, including a number of months in Vietnam, and worked at other jobs upon his return. Finally turning his attention back to horses, he graduated from a professional horseshoeing school at Montana State University, in Bozeman, Mont., in 1977, then moved his family to the Spokane area the following year.
It wasnt until after he had arrived here, he says, that he began to question some of the tradition-bound methods of the horseshoeing profession and became obsessed with finding what was natural and comfortable for the horse.
He obtained a degree in education from Eastern Washington University in 1990, founded HoofTalk in 1992, and published his first book, HoofTalk: The Hairline Tells it All (Everything Your Horse Wants You to Know about Good Horseshoeing), a year later. He produced the two related videos, which he shot with his own camera equipment, in 1997 and published his second book, The Natural Trim, in 1998.
Bergeleen operates the company from his modest North Side home, and he says his wife, Beth, handles the mail-order side of the business. The Bergeleens have five children, three of whom still live at home.
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