Matt Jenkins is a relative newcomer to the hoof care industry. He was burnt-out from long hours working at the feedlot and ready for a change in careers. His father called him one day and said he was having trouble with a farrier and unfortunately this wasn’t the first time. Instead of dealing with the frustration of finding yet another farrier, he suggested Matt attend shoeing school and at least learn how to trim and shoe their horses. Matt signed up for school and after the first week, he knew he had found his new career.
American Hoof Association Conference 2011: Ida Hammer, Matt Jenkins, Mark Rudenborg, Ada Uphoff.
Four years later, Matt had a client horse he could not keep sound, nor could he keep shoes on it. Fellow farriers came to the barn to assist him, but to no avail.
The horse’s owner was in his late seventies and rode every day. On one of Matt’s visits to the barn, he handed him one of Pete Ramey’s books. Matt was not impressed at first and told him it wouldn’t work. The owner was very persistent but a full year passed before Matt took the leap of faith and pulled this horse’s shoes. In six months, the horse had recovered completely. "I was amazed and confused," said Matt. "This mentality was so different from my schooling and how I was taught to raise horses."
Matt secretly started to transition his own horses and could not believe the changes in them. He ordered his own copy of Pete Ramey’s book and started reading everything he wrote. Soon he started asking his clients to allow him to pull the shoes to rehabilitate their horses. Today, Matt has a client base of more than 450 horses.
He gets excited when he talks about the many advancements in the hoof boot industry. "There have been tremendous improvements in the quality, fit, and ease of application in the past few years. I have to admit I put down the boots in the beginning and would tell people it’s okay for a spare tire but nothing will replace the steel shoe."
Returning from 22 miles in the rugged Shawnee National Forrest on the River to River trail (all barefoot horses). Matt is in the black hat.
Matt comes from a modest family farm south of Marion, Illinois, where they raised cattle, vegetables, rabbits and horses. He has a bachelor’s degree in Beef Nutrition from Southern Illinois University of Carbondale. He paid his way through college by training horses and driving trucks in the summer.
Today, Matt lives with his wife, Rachel, in Vienna, IL. As an owner of ten Quarter Horses and one Missouri Fox Trotter, Matt attributes his success to patience with people and genuine care for the well-being of horses. All of Matt’s horses are booted: "We use Epics and Gloves. My favorite is the Glove but I still have a special place in my heart for the Epic."
He graduated from the Kentucky Horse Shoeing school in 2003. He also attended any certification clinic or educational class that he could find. "While transitioning my own thought process to barefoot, I worked at the Agronomy Research Center in Carbondale, IL."
The most rewarding experience Matt has as a trimmer is seeing the look on people’s faces and the hugs and tears shed when a horse has been successfully rehabilitated. Most of these clients thought they had done everything and as a last resort they reluctantly tried barefoot. "Yep, their lame horse with no hope walks again."
He can remember standing in a barn with a sad family, a vet and another farrier. The prognosis for the horse was grim: nothing more could be done. He remembers the vet saying to the owners "say your goodbyes, we need to put him down right away." As the farrier and the vet left the barn they looked at Matt and asked if he could fix the situation.
Matt wasn’t practicing barefoot hoof care at the time and this would be his first founder rehabilitation using barefoot methods. "The coffin bone had penetrated both front feet. His frogs were almost non-existent, destroyed by thrush. What was I thinking?" He drove an hour one way every week for several months, then went every three weeks, then every four. Eventually, the horse was doing much better and he moved him to a six week trim cycle. "I am proud to say that the horse is alive and well and guiding trail rides at a local camp. Later I ran into the original farrier. He just shook his head and told me I just got lucky."
When discussing the key to success as a trimmer, Matt’s first response is the ability to admit when he has made a mistake. "It goes along way in retaining clients as well as picking up new ones. Obstacles are forever present throughout life and someone is always watching to see how you overcome them."
In his opinion, the barefoot industry is moving forward at a rapid rate. "Everywhere I go, people are showing more interest in barefoot hoofcare. As rule books change in the competitive arena and barefoot horses start out performing shod, change will happen. I also believe barefoot success is parallel to boot success."