For 50 years Henry Calvert has handmade and fitted shoes for horses all over his home state of Victoria.
Story By Cormac Hanrahan
In his backyard smithy in Miners Rest, 12 kilometres north of Ballarat, Vic, Henry Calvert moves quickly to his anvil, shaping hot steel with a hammer while strips of iron glow red on the coals behind him. His back is straight, his step quick and his wit razor sharp as he turns and delivers the piece he was working on back to the forge, pulls a glowing rod of iron from the coals and in two fast steps is back at the anvil raining heavy and precise blows on the red-hot steel with an energy and agility that belies his 69 years.
“My father and brother and uncles were all into horses, either as jockeys or trainers, and I didn’t like school, hated it in fact, and I wanted to be a jockey, but grew too big,” Henry says, as he continues to shape and temper the steel.
When cutting school as a kid, often for weeks at a time, Henry would invariably find his way to Charlie Armstrong’s smithy. “Charlie used to shoe my cousin’s horses, so I’d just skip school and hang around the stables ’cause I loved horses so much,” Henry says. “Charlie saw me hanging around and started teaching me a few things in the smithy. He was a good man and treated me like a son, and everything I learnt, I learnt off Charlie who learnt it from his father, Dan Armstrong.
“In the beginning I used to do a lot of delivery horses ’cause back in them days in the ’50s people were still working with horses a lot for the milk cart and the baker’s cart, and they all needed shoes,” Henry says. But since the mid-to-late 1960s, when working horses became fewer and racing became bigger, Henry’s bread and butter has been shoeing gallopers at the track. At his peak, he had a permanent shop at the Ballarat racetrack, and was working seven days a week, shoeing as many as 17 horses a day.
“I was real quick once, had to be because I had so many to do, and it was good too ’cause that way the horses don’t lose their patience, ’cause when they get bored that’s when you get kicked,” he says, a pair of newly made horseshoes hissing as he drops them into a bucket of dirty water beside the anvil.
This story excerpt is from Issue #78
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2011