No pain, no gain

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Grime Pays is a semimonthly series focusing on area workers whose jobs are hot, strenuous or just plain dirty. If you think your job is tough enough to profile, call Rainier Ehrhardt at (706) 828-3853.

For farrier Mark Berchtold, injuries are just part of the job.

In his 20 years as a blacksmith, fitting horses with shoes and trimming hooves, he's had everything from broken bones to metal nails pulled through his fingers.

"I've been rolled on, stepped on, kicked and bit," he said. "I broke my left hand twice and my right hand three times."

Mr. Berchtold thinks he recently chipped a bone in his knuckle when a young horse kicked him.

"My knuckle is very swollen, and it feels like there's something loose in there," he said.

He also lost a piece of his thumb when a horse pulled back on him when he was hammering a nail into a horseshoe fitted to its hoof.

"Instead of horseshoe, I got thumb. It peeled the side of my thumb off," he said.

Aside from the injuries he has suffered from working with his equine friends, the day-to-day physical work of a farrier can be painful, Mr. Berchtold said.

"Because it's a physically strenuous job, you're always pretty sore," he said. "You basically go from one bent-over position to another all day."

That said, Mr. Berchtold wouldn't trade his job for anything.

"I can't imagine doing anything else," he said. "I'm outside every day, and I haven't punched a time clock since I was in high school. Sitting in an office or at a desk all day is just not something I want to do."

Originally from Minnesota, the 54-year-old has been involved with horses for most of his life. He began as an exercise rider galloping race horses.

Although small, Mr. Berchtold wasn't quite small enough to be a full-time rider, so he eventually became a blacksmith to continue working with horses.

As a farrier in Aiken, Mr. Berchtold has a workload that can be pretty hectic, depending on the season.

"Late summer and fall are my busiest time," he said.

He will work on up to 10 horses on peak days. He reshoes and trims race, event, polo and even hunt horses, each with distinct personalities.

Although most horses get used to the routine maintenance Mr. Berchtold provides, he says some just never like it.

"You're always going to have horses that aren't fun to be around," he said. "But you don't want to make your job any harder than it has to be."


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