Farrier has brush with the Kennedys

Published 5:49 pm Friday, May 4, 2012

BLOUNTS CREEK — A Beaufort County farrier once had the unexpected opportunity to work on one of the most-famous pets to ever live at the White House.

John Palmieri, who resides in the Blounts Creek area, recalls being summoned to a zoo while living and working in New Jersey. He was asked to tend to several donkeys and ponies, and he learned, to his surprise, that one of the ponies was none other than Macaroni, a childhood pet of Caroline Kennedy and a media star in its own right during the presidency of John F. Kennedy.

It was quite a few years after Kennedy was assassinated and his wife and children had left the White House, Palmieri said, and he’s unsure just how the pony found its way to the zoo.

Blounts Creek farrier John Palmieri works on a horseshoe destined for one of his equestrian clients. Palmieri once tended to Macaroni, the pony owned by Caroline Kennedy when her father was president. (WDN Photo/Kevin Scott Cutler)

“He was up there in age, but he was in good shape,” Palmieri said. “They were taking good care of him.”

Tending to Macaroni wasn’t Palmieri’s only brush with the Kennedy clan, arguably America’s “royal family.” He used to see former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at a stable where she boarded her horse, and he once saw her at an equestrian event in Pluckemin, N.J.

“There were a couple of big guys, bodyguards, I guess, with her, and I told the people with me that she was Jackie Kennedy. She was sitting just a few rows in front of us,” he said. “They didn’t believe me, but the next day, in the newspaper, there she was.”

Palmieri has been a farrier since 1968, when he signed on as an apprentice in New Jersey. He learned the trade through on-the-job training.

“I worked with a farrier for three years and then he got out of the business,” Palmieri said. “I just continued on shoeing and started picking up my own customers. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The work a farrier does is important to the health and well being of a horse, according to Palmieri.

“Just like your fingernails, the hoof grows,” he said. “When you put the shoe on, the hoof continues to grow longer and longer. After anywhere from four to six weeks, the show has to be taken off and the foot trimmed to normal proportions.

And then the shoe goes on again.”

A trained farrier can trim hooves and shoe a horse without hurting the animal. Palmieri likened it to a human trimming fingernails and toenails.

“It’s all experience,” he said. “There’s a sensitive part of the hoof and there’s an insensitive part. Each hoof you pick up is a little bit different. … You just have to determine how to trim that hoof.”

Palmieri and his wife, Darlene, moved to Beaufort County in 2008 after spending nearly 20 years in Florida. He began rebuilding his farrier business here, starting with one horse. He soon had a growing list of clients across eastern North Carolina, including clients in Williamston, Plymouth, Swan Quarter, Tarboro, Wilson, New Bern and various communities in Beaufort County.

Palmieri’s wife often goes along for the ride as a partner in the farrier business.

“She’s like customer relations. While I’m working, she’s talking,” Palmieri said with a laugh.

Palmieri may be contacted at 252-946-9553 or by email at johntodivefor@yahoo.com.