'I hold myself to how it’s supposed to be done'

Sharon Dooley | sklscoops@cox.net

On a mid-September day, the kind tinged with a touch of autumn, on the Pettis family farm in Laurel Hill the horses enjoyed their idea of the good life.

Blacksmith Josh Lewandowski paid a visit.

Blacksmith Josh Lewandowski serves several horse owners across Northwest Florida.

“I grew up with horses,” Lewandowski said. “We call it blacksmith in Michigan. Down here, they call it the farrier.”

Lewandowski left Michigan in 2001 for Florida, although at the time he had another career path in mind.

“I moved down to Florida for the housing market. We were building houses, but in 2003, there was a big housing crash,” he said.

The decrease in construction work gave him a chance to reevaluate, and he made his way to Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Blacksmith Josh Lewandowski works on a horse at a farm in Laurel Hill.

“I enjoyed it — graduated with the best test scores in my class,” Lewandowski said.

Despite the test scores, getting started in the profession came with hard work.

“It’s definitely not an easy trade to get into,” he said. “You have to plan to be broke for at least the first 10 years.”

Now past those lean years, Lewandowski said his experience allows him to choose his clients.

“I do only performance horses and work horses,” he said, adding that they are more often corrected by their owners, so they stand still. “There’s a lot of horses that don’t stand good. I don’t deal with them.

“That’s the stuff for the fresh farriers — that are fresh out of school,” Lewandowski said with a laugh.

He added that he took care of his share of hooves on the difficult horses during his younger years.

On that September day at the Pettis farm, his last two clients of the day were Fast Eddie and Jazz. Eddie carries owner Bacarra Pettis through her barrel racing events, while Jazz and 10-year-old Laynee Pettis participate in junior rodeo events.

On-the-spot adjustments are made to a horse shoe to ensure comfort.

Both horses have specific hoof needs, and both stand well. Jazz, in particular, suffers with a negative palmer angle, which requires a pad between the hoof and the shoe.

“It’s when his heel gets too low, basically like when you wear the heel off your cowboy boots,” Lewandowski said, as he removed the old shoe, cleaned the foot, trimmed the nail growth, added a medicinal salve, then replaced the pad and adjusted shoe. Jazz isn’t his only special hoof client.

“I do forge work,” Lewandowski said. “I make therapeutic and other type of horse shoes.”

In the last year, he has expanded his forge work to making knives and other blades, just because he felt like doing something a little different.

Lewandowski serves a large portion of Northwest Florida. As a single parent to 14-year-old daughter, Rylie, he keeps his work week down to five days. His regular clients are on a five- or six-week schedule.

For Lewandowski, it’s about the horses, but it is also about how he approaches the craft.

“I hold myself not to anyone else’s standard,” he said. “I hold myself to how it’s supposed to be done.”