After all, hes met so many of them. As a blacksmith and farrier, Mike shods or pedicures an average of 600 horses throughout the region every two months. He drives 60,000 miles per year making his rounds to farms and horse ranches around Northern Michigan. Its been his labor of love for nearly 30 years.
Ive had horses all my life, says Zerbe, noting that he and his wife Donna currently have seven horses of their own on their farm in Lake Ann. My interest turned into a career. I moved here in 1975 and have been doing it full-time ever since.
But the kicker for Mikes career (no pun intended) is a project hes working on with Nancy Kilte, a Hereford cattle rancher from Leelanau County. Theyre trying to raise $480,000 to build a new 24,000-square-foot livestock arena at the Northwestern Michigan Fairgrounds.
UP TO SPEED
Currently, hundreds of 4H kids who participate at the annual fair use a field to show their horses and cattle. Unfortunately, that means that it can be difficult to attract quality judges from far-off communities.
The kids are showing their horses and cattle in the mud and its hard getting good judges up here under those conditions, Zerbe says. They dont want to be working in the hot sun and rain.
At one time, the Grand Traverse area was noted for one of the most progressive programs in the Midwest for its 4H showings, but those were in the long ago days when the fair was held in town at the Grand Traverse Civic Center. Zerbe notes that many other downstate communities such as Midland and Ludington have moved on since then, building covered livestock arenas and advancing their programs. He adds that Emmet County spent $3.5 million upgrading its fairgrounds in Petoskey.
And activities like 4H are no small matter to the region: in addition to some 800 kids directed towards healthful, positive pastimes and the continuance of farm traditions, theres also a huge amount of money involved that benefits the region.
We have a one billion dollar livestock industry in this area, Zerbe says. I know of two horses which sold in the multi-million range here and there are many spin-offs.
For instance, out of those 800 kids, an estimated 50 will end up in the livestock business, benefiting the region. Then too, a recent Horseshow on the Bay equestrian jumping contest brought new hotel, restaurant, shopping and casino traffic to the area, as well as the kind of well-off folks interested in buying time share condos. But we didnt have a facility they could use, so they had to bring one of their own here that was just for temporary use, Zerbe notes.
The new arena will be named in memory of John Haberline, a beloved veterinarian who died in an auto accident last year.
I think that just about every large animal in Northern Michigan spent a night in a barn with John nursing it back to health at one time or another, Zerbe says of his lost friend. He didnt work with dogs or cats or birds, he was purely a pig, cow, horse and livestock vet.
Haberline was legendary among local farmers. Once I started telling people that this arena project was in Johns name, I got a huge response. He and I worked a lot together over the last 25 years, putting these horses back together. We worked really well together and he is truly missed.
He adds that Haberline was a Vietnam vet, a founder of the Church of the Living God, and the father of six. Ironically, he doesnt believe that his friend would approve of his plan to name the arena in his honor. Hed want us to build a mission instead. But we wanted to use this opportunity to name this building after John so that when someone asks us over the next 20 or 25 years who John was, well be able to tell them.
Zerbe and his friends at 4H hope to build a new 120 by 220 showplace on the site of what is now a tree-lined yard at the fairgrounds. Were going to build it from the ground up, covering the outdoor area there, he says. We have a classic old-fashioned setting at the fairgrounds and were trying to preserve as much of that as we can and still bring it up to speed.
Thus far, more than $80,000 has been raised, with $35,000 pledged by Garfield Township. Another souce is offering $100,000 in matching funds. Zerbe says that if and when the arena is completed, it will be a nice complement to the townships new minor league baseball stadium going up just down the way, with new family-oriented recreation pursuits.
His fundraising plan is simple and direct: We need 480 people who have $1,000 they can donate to the Northwestern Michigan Fair, he says.
If youd like to make a donation, call Mike Zerbe at 231-275-6481, or Kay Wagner, treasurer of the fairgrounds at 231-263-5686.
If the shoe fits A job you cant say neigh to
Want a career with great job security and satisfaction? Become a blacksmith and farrier like Mike Zerbe.
Its a job where youre literally a horse manicurist and shoe salesman, working in the fresh country air all day with grateful customers who may say neigh now and then, but never talk back.
Zerbe, 53, has far more work on his hands than he can handle. As one of about 25 farriers who tend to the hoof care of horses in Northern Michigan, he has to turn down work just trying to keep up with the 600 or so horses he services.
Most horses go without proper hoof care because there are not enough farriers in the area, he notes. Part of proper foot care is to keep people educated about their horses because the hooves can break or split and the horses get lame as a result. If a horses feet arent balanced, they can walk crooked and theyll develop arthritis over time.
Originally from the Flint area, Zerbe grew up with a love of horses and attended the American Farrier Institute in South Lyon in 1972. He also learned the trade of blacksmith, and although he tends to use premade shoes, he knows how to make them the old fashioned way with a hammer and anvil.
Hooves are a bit like your fingernails, except that theyre made of densely massed hair that grows together to form the hoof. If our horses were running free, they would naturally wear off their hooves, but since we confine them in barns, their hooves just keep growing, Zerbe notes.
Sometimes, sand or other hard substances can get wedged in fissures within the hooves, causing them to split. Ideally, Zerbe prevents the problem before it can happen by filing down the hooves on a regular maintenance schedule. If he spots a fissure, he binds it with a gluelike substance.
At the Triple-T Farm south of Traverse City, Zerbe examines the hooves of Continental Jacci, a 23-year-old paint mare who is pregnant with her 14th foal. Jacci had a crippled front leg when she was purchased years ago by her present owner, Tammy Schill, who breeds showhorses on the 37-acre farm. Tammy nursed her back to health. She had improper care early in her life and her foot got deformed and out of balance, Zerbe notes.
Another customer that morning is Chicago Shakedown, aka Chico, a 17-year-old quarterhorse stud. Zerbe has to take care because a stranger is in the barn taking photos, making the well-muscled stallion nervous while his hooves are being filed.
Horses are creatures of habit, Zerbe notes. His natural defense is to flee if hes threatened. If Im not exactly the same as he remembers on the last three times I saw him, he has a justifiable concern.
But the task of tending the hooves goes well, and Zerbe reflects that his life around horses has been a good one. On his time off, he even serves as a 4H leader and took 22 kids and 16 horses to the fair this year. One 4H member hes most proud of is his 14-year-old daughter whos president of her club and cares for four horses.
I love what I do, he says. I work with good people and animals and wake up everyday and love going to work. You learn something new every day, either about horses or people, and Im truly blessed. Ive been really fortunate and Ive been doing this 12 hours a day for 30 years.