STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
The post office, general store and one-room schoolhouse at La Boca south of Ignacio are dim memories, but a modern-day farrier keeps the forge glowing in the blacksmith shop.
He’s Dan Verniero, who leases the former llama ranch to raise dairy cows, make Gouda cheese, grow winter vegetables and graze cattle.
“I’ve been shoeing horses for 40 years,” Verniero said. “I spent more time learning to become a certified journeyman farrier than I did to get a degree in animal science at Colorado State University.”
Verniero spent his formative years in New Jersey.
“You might not think of New Jersey as horse country, but there are a lot of them there,” Verniero said. “I worked for three farriers while in high school, tending to race horses, polo ponies, show horses and backyard pets.”
Shoeing isn’t all that a farrier does, Verniero said. A horse’s hoof grows, so it has to be trimmed even if new shoes aren’t in order.
Hooves left untrimmed can affect a horse’s gait and how it moves, Verniero said.
“A certified journeyman farrier learns equestrian anatomy and physiology,” Verniero said. “As a final test, you have two hours to make a set of (four) shoes and mount them. You have to get a grade of at least 85 percent.
“In college, a score of 85 percent gets you a B-plus grade,” Verniero said. “In the farrier final, you flunk with 84 percent.”
Verniero has been at La Boca for about four years.
La Boca, seven miles south of Ignacio, at one time was a water stop on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. It was a bustling community by 1930, but faded with the departure of the railroad and urbanization farther north.
In 2003, the La Boca Center for Sustainability, an experiment in sustainable agriculture and communal living, was created with the hope of building a research and education center.
But lack of funding and violations of the contract with Craig family members, who own the ranch, brought its demise two years ago.
The Craigs keep two residences for their use, but Verniero said he leases the remainder of the about 170 acres.
Verniero’s son, Will, 21, has joined his father and is learning blacksmithing skills. The only other ranch tenant raises Berkshire hogs.
Verniero keeps a few Jersey cows for milk, grows vegetables and a couple of specialty crops in a greenhouse, irrigates pasture to graze beef cattle for others and works in his blacksmith shop.
If he’s not shoeing horses, Verniero said, he makes objects from worn blacksmith rasps and scrap metal to sell at craft fairs and art galleries.
Horseshoeing is physically demanding and can be hazardous, said Verniero, who’s been sidelined twice as a result of being kicked by a horse.
“Both times, I was shoeing loose horses – horses where the owner wasn’t present to hold it,” Verniero said. “The first time, I was kicked below the navel and the second time in the right shoulder.”
It took six months each time to work his way back to full recovery, he said.
“I know I won’t be doing this forever,” Verniero said. “But as long as people use horses, there’ll be a demand for horseshoers.”