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Putting shoes on their feet

APPLEGATE - The ring of the hammer against metal, the sizzle of water quenching fire. The snort of the horse, the swish of his tail, the soft tone of the man gently lifting a hoof off the ground.

These are the sights and sounds in the barn of Applegate cattle rancher J.B. Roberts as he practices a trade that dates back centuries before the birth of Christ. Roberts will demonstrate horseshoeing Saturday during Americana Jubilee, the 150th anniversary of gold's discovery.

— — — — Americana Jubilee schedule

— 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. - horseshoeing, horse harnessing, — wagon hitching, miniature horse log-pulling, tomahawk and knife throwing at the skateboard park — area; Walker Mountain Long Rifles, Little Butte Mountain Men displays, arm wrestling contests on — North Third Street; quilt show at Doc Griffin Park; Geo-Science Fair in front of City Hall, Main — Street.

— 11 a.m., 12, 1, 2, — p.m. - History lecture by Larry — Smith, Jacksonville Cemetery.

— 11 a.m. , 12:30, 2 and 3:30 p.m. - Gold mining slide — show presented by Southern Oregon University geologists, Jacksonville Community Center, 160 E. — Main St.

— 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. - Music and dancing, Third — Street Stage.

— 12 p.m. - Children's games, Doc Griffin Park.

— — p.m. - 1866 Vintage Baseball game, Cascade Christian — High School, 525 East E St.

— 3:30 p.m. - Sister City Dedication with Jacksonville — Mayor Jim Lewis and Yreka Mayor Jim Griffin, Third Street Stage. — — Jacksonville will have a science fair, wagon rides and the official sister city signing with Yreka, Calif. In 1851, gold was discovered on Jackson Creek in Jacksonville and on Greenhorn Creek in Yreka. The two towns were connected by a wagon road that climbed the Siskiyou Summit, carrying miners, supplies and pony express riders.

Loaded with gold and galloping furiously over rocky roads, pony express horses quickly wore out their shoes. But their riders' lives depended on well-shod feet. And that's where the ancient art of horseshoeing came in.

"There's a lot of old ranching skills that everybody had to do that just specialists do now," Roberts says. "Because ranching was so much a part of our background, so much of the settling of the West, the skills that go with it are awful precious. It's nice for people who don't have need or use for them to get to see them."

Roberts looks the part of the Old West with a flannel hat, leather cuffs around his arms and farrier chaps that hold clinching tongs, nails and driving hammers. It's not out of character for someone whose career has gone from ranching to rocket science and back to ranching. He retired 12 years ago from Hughes Aircraft, where he served as program manager for the Infrared Imaging Maverick missile used during the Gulf War.

He is not a professional horseshoer, he emphasizes (there are several certified farriers in Southern Oregon). But he's mastered the skill so he can groom his own horses and sometimes those of his neighbors.

"They say a horse has five hearts - one in its chest and four in its feet," says Roberts, pointing to the sole's resilient structure called the "frog." "Every time he steps down, it presses in and helps circulate blood through the hoof."

Horses need shoes to prevent the hoof from breaking down on rough ground and to distribute the ground pressure evenly around the wall of the horse's foot, he explains.

"If put on properly, the horseshoe prevents damage to the joints and enables the horse to travel fast over rough ground," Roberts says. And as the pony express scouts knew, a well-shod horse was less likely to fall and crush his rider.

Roberts files and trims the hoof of Ziggy, his neighbor's thoroughbred quarter horse, selects the shoe size and heats the metal until it's a cherry-red 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. He hammers it into shape as it turns gray and cools to 200 degrees, then he presses it against Ziggy's sole to burn a mark where the shoe will sit. The calm horse doesn't move a muscle as smoke rises from the hoof.

Roberts nails the shoe to Ziggy's hoof, smoothes the clinches and applies an epoxy. He surveys the heel's angle and alignment with the shoulder blade and steps back with a smile.

"Now that looks more like a hoof."

Roberts will demonstrate the art of horseshoeing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the new library grounds, situated behind the post office, between the city's public parking lot and Highway 238. Americana Jubilee is free and sponsored by the Jacksonville Events Guild.

Putting shoes on their feet