On a race day at the Meadows Racetrack, the paddock is bustling with activity, with grooms tending to their horses; drivers rushing around to get ready for post parade; and horses heading out to the track to warm up in preparation for their race. In the middle of all that activity is Jake Jones, the on-site farrier who is busy taking care of the horses’ shoes so that their time on the track goes smoothly and seamlessly.
Jake is a second generation farrier, having learned his craft from his father, Jeff Jones, who has a shop near the Meadows as well. Jake originally had no plans on a career as a farrier.“I grew up around Washington, PA, and went to Chartiers Houston High School,” Jake said. “I never thought I really wanted to do it, (be a farrier) but I was always at the track. Once I graduated, I was doing a little construction, and working with my dad, and then I started liking it and liking the horses! Then I started to learn more while I was still doing construction. Then I rented a shop up on top of the hill, and ever since then, I’ve been shoeing at my shop and in the paddock during races.”Jake jumped right in to his new career with confidence and ease, but admits there was a little apprehension in the beginning. “It was overwhelming at first, but helping the horses to get out there and race, getting to a part of that whole process, and seeing everything come together, it’s exciting.”Difficult and uncomfortable horses may require a tranquilizer before work can be done on them, but some can be calmed with just some gentle handling. “It’s all about getting them to trust you; petting them, talking to them; sometimes I just stand in front of them and let them sniff me. It’s kind of a guessing game as to how they will behave, especially those in the paddock, since I don’t know a lot of them.” Working on a quick shoe repair during post parade of a race also requires a cool head and a little attention to calm down a horse that is already anxious and ready to race.Jake is appreciative of being able to learn his craft from his father, Jeff, and he had to learn a little differently. “He’s right-handed and I’m left-handed, so I was learning everything backwards,” he laughed. “But he did a good job, and taught me everything I need to know about this type of shoeing, and then I branched out. Now I work 6 days a week at the racetrack and I don’t have to travel, and it’s a luxury to not have to take my stuff everywhere.”
Jeff Jones has been in the harness racing business since he was in his teens. “I was a groom at the Meadows when I was 15 years old,” he remembered. “My goal was to be a trainer and a driver when I grew up, and I did that for a while, and then Jake’s mom and I were having a baby, and I had to go get benefits, so I left the racetrack. I started working for a company, and then got laid off, and ended up coming back to the racetrack. While I was laid off, I talked to one of my best friends and biggest mentor, Tim Dempster (farrier at the Meadows until his passing in 2019) for days, and I said ‘I’m going to go do this’ and I went to shoeing school, and that was probably 25 years ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since!”While training and driving were physically challenging, Jeff admits shoeing is physically demanding as well. “I’m getting older, so it’s getting harder every day. I’ve been through a back surgery because of it. Training and driving was competitive, and that’s why I wanted to go into the shoeing part of it, because I like being competitive, as well. I can still be competitive that way. My horses still win and they still lose.”Jeff enjoys working with the horses, and points out that the majority are gentle and calm. “Most of them are touched every day. Every single day, they’re touched, they’re loved, they’re handled, so 99% of them are perfect! But then you get that 1%, they’re just too much, too big, too strong, and I’m too old! I know the horses so well by now that I’ll have the horses tranquilized if I need to before we start, because that way, it’s easier on them, it’s easier on me, and nobody’s flustered.”Teaching his son “the ropes” was a source of pride for Jeff. “He picked it up so fast, you wouldn’t believe it! He was nailing on shoes within a couple weeks. He was smart as a whip at it. All he had to do was watch what I did, and he did it how he does it.” And the left-handed vs. right-handed issue? “The techniques are obviously different, but he’s kind of crazy anyway! He shoots right-handed, he kicks right-footed, he shoots bows right-handed, so he’s pretty ambidextrous anyway.”Both father and son have successful farrier businesses today, and are happy to have learned from each other. Jake remains mum on the subject of whether or not there will be a new generation to learn his business, and Jeff is looking forward to that day in the future. “I hope he does one day, and I hope they make him as proud of them as he has made me, because, what a perfect son!”