COLUMBIA — Between two barns behind the Boone County Fairgrounds, a group of four teenager rodeo competitors stand next to a brown horse with white specks across its mane.
They are dressed in western attire, wearing cowboy hats, button-down shirts with their numbers pinned on the back, and decorated buckles. They are chatting about the different horses they own and talking about past injuries and rodeos they've been to.
While they are talking, another competitor is off to the side hard at work. He is drenched in sweat from head to toe in the humid heat. He is busy filing the brown-and-white horse's hoof, finding a shoe to fit it and finally hammering it on the horse. However, while he works he has a smile on his face showing his silver braces, and occasionally joins in the conversation.
His name is Cody Gregory, he is 17, and he is the youngest certified journeyman farrier in the American Farrier's Association. By AFA standards, a journeyman farrier is the highest level someone can achieve in making and placing horseshoes on horses. One becomes a farrier by taking a grueling test. One must make four shoes and fit them on a horse in two hours, take an 80-question exam and make a specialized therapeutic shoe for the horse. Cody's father, Chris Gregory, says that a lot of people struggle to pass the test, but if they do the average age is usually 30 or 40.
"Cody became the youngest journeyman at the age of 15 years old, and there are less than 1,000 other guys certified. He's a rock star," Chris Gregory said.
Cody made his first horseshoe when he was only 4 years old in Lamar, but says he was brainwashed at a much younger age. Cody's father is also a certified journeyman and was once the youngest to be certified at 22 before someone else did it when they were 20. When Cody was a baby, his father would put Cody on his lap while he was making shoes. Gregory says that what makes Cody so successful is that he has always been around horses and horse-shoeing.
"Total immersion. His whole life is about horses; if we aren't doing anything with horses we are talking about them," Chris Gregory said.
Cody is also competing in four events at this week's Missouri High School Rodeo state competition. He is competing in the calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping and bull riding events. Cody says he enjoys competing in rodeos, but he is not as serious as other competitors. Cody says that many try to make rodeo their career, but he plans to continue horse-shoeing.
"It's mostly a hobby for me. A lot turn it into a career, but I'm really focused in the horseshoe industry," Cody Gregory said.
Cody's main focus instead is to compete and win the world title in horse-shoeing. The competition is held in Calgary, Canada, and he hopes to eventually win it all. He is even spending five weeks in England to learn from the current world champion blacksmith.
"He has a big desire to win at the world competition. He enjoys rodeos, but he lives for shoeing," Chris Gregory said.
While Cody has big plans for his future, he is still focused on trying to win his events in the rodeo to make it to nationals.
"I would like to claim I will win them all, that would be kind of nice," Cody Gregory said.
However, that doesn't prevent him from doing what he loves best during the down times before the rodeo.
"Even when we try to keep him out of the shop, he always finds his way back in," Chris Gregory said.