This story was submitted by reader Dan Manning.
Randy Cate, like all old cowboys, readily agrees that he has put a lot of miles on himself. At about the age of 6, after he and his brothers had ridden the buck off of a bunch of ponies, his father hauled them like a pack of gypsies across the country. They’d set up at carnivals and fairs to give city kids rides for money while their mom played the guitar and entertained folks on the side.
During those barely-making-a-living days, Cate remembers that he and his brothers would even take on the bad horses, mainly for the challenge. He says, “Folks would say about an ornery horse, ‘take it over to the Cate boys, and they’ll straighten him out.’”
Choosing to quit school after he’d finished the 9th grade, Cate began working alongside his dad as a builder. It didn’t take long before he made the decision to quit pounding nails and tried making a few bucks (no pun intended) as a rodeo bronc rider, which was not a great choice. About that same time he became interested in working as a farrier after hanging around an old horseshoer who he helped by pulling off shoes and trimming hooves.
Before long, Cate learned how to nail on horseshoes and crimp them down. Then one day, the old man thought he’d done enough of that kind of backbreaking work so he handed over his hammer and turned the whole business over to Cate, who suddenly realized, “I was in charge of caring for three hundred head of horses ... on my own. I began reading everything I could find about shoeing horses.”
Cate also began picking up day work on nearby ranches. His dream of being a cowboy had finally come true. He proudly tells stories about riding for he brand on some of the biggest outfits in Oklahoma, such as the J-T, the B & L’s Circle Y, the Arrow-Head, the Davison, the Roos, and the Thompson Cattle Co.
Always interested in the knowledge of old-time cowboys, most of what Cate learned about working cattle was by riding with and learning from the old-timers. He’s done every horseback job imaginable, and has done pen work (branding, castrating, de-worming, and de-horning calves) for more years than he can count. Still in his possession is a taped-together, weather-beaten, 3-ring notebook filled with sweat-stained field notes and wrinkled maps of back-country trails that describe his years of working as a cowboy. If he ever needed to seek a job in the cattle business, this handwritten testament would stand well for his past years of work instead of an immaculate, perfectly-typed résumé.
Cate realized that he needed to ride a school desk for a while if he wanted to go any farther in the cattle business than being a cowhand. So, directed by his new dream of becoming a ranch manager, he was able to successfully complete a course of “Cattle Management and Breeding” in 1987 at the Graham School in Garnett, Kansas. Now, with a good amount of book knowledge to go along with what he had already learned from the school of life, he was more aware of better ways to feed, breed, and medicate cattle.
In the meantime, Cate’s mother needed him to help her in Missouri with his father, who was nearing the end of his life. Understanding that he was giving up a budding career in the Oklahoma cattle industry, he had no regrets about leaving it to care for his much-loved parents.
Having no trouble finding plenty of horses to shoe in Missouri, Cate was soon busy with his farrier business. Word about his work was spread from one satisfied customer to the next. What he found puzzling about horses living in Missouri was how many of them had bad feet. He realized that when they were turned out too early in the springtime, horses were becoming foundered. He began looking for a solution.
More correctly termed as laminitis, this hoof-traumatizing disease can eventually cause a horse to become completely crippled. After much trial and error with different techniques, Cate has learned the healing methods to bring horses back from the brink.
On many occasions, Cate has been called to see what he can do with a foundered horse. First, he locates the specific sore spot by squeezing around the affected area with a set of hoof-testers. Then, he trims the place and daubs a pine tar mixture on it before using only enough nails to keep the shoe (fabricated by Cate with a welded-on piece of bar iron to correct the problem) in place. This shields the area from any pressure at the proper point by keeping the horse’s weight off of it. From then on, his recommendation is to have the horse’s hooves trimmed properly every four to six weeks.
Nowadays, with the assistance of his wife, Christy, who is also a farrier, and Jake Wieberg, a young apprentice who looks to him as a mentor, all three of them carry on the mission of saving lives.
Much of their farrier work is done at Rita Reason’s Ranch not far from Sparta, Missouri, or they will drive their well-equipped pickup to shoe horses in nearby counties. According to Cate, “We’ll go anywhere to help a horse in trouble.”
They have literally helped hundreds of horses get back on their feet.
photo courtesy of Ron McGinnis