Jack Montgomery – Never a Dull Moment

Published 8:00 am Friday, April 1, 2016

Jack and Susan Montgomery (Photo by Linda Williams)

Jack and Susan Montgomery (Photo by Linda Williams)

A couple of things struck me as I was interviewing farrier Jack Montgomery for this article. First, he reminds me of the recent Dierks Bentley song, “I Hold On,” which is all about sticking with the people and things that have brought meaning to your life.

Second, if you ever hear Jack say he’s made up his mind to do something, don’t bet against him.

Jack is right now celebrating a double 40th anniversary – 40 years as a professional farrier and 40 years of marriage to Susan, his high school sweetheart and first real crush. And neither of those anniversaries would be happening if it wasn’t for those personality traits I sensed.

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Jack Montgomery Jr. was born into a large Catholic family in Ionia, Mich., and grew up on the “lower class, wrong side of the tracks.” His father died when Jack was 13, so he and five siblings were raised by their single mom, who also worked at a bank.

The family had no particular interest in horses although Jack did spend time in his early teens working with his cousin on the ranch of a man from Texas. The boys broke two-year-old registered Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses that had never been touched. “We would bring them up to the arena, put on a bosal and a cutting saddle with the horn cut off,” Jack says, “then climb on and ride them until they quit bucking.” Jack says he never came off, and if a horse laid down he just stayed on till it got up again.


Plans Change

Jack survived the ranch work with no major trauma but had no plans of making a career in horses or even having a horse of his own. He and a buddy were going to build a stock car and get into racing. But all that changed when he got to 10th grade and the horse bug bit him – or more accurately, the horsewoman bug.

The Catholic school Jack attended only went through 8th grade so he had to switch to the larger public school as a high school freshman. In his second year there he laid eyes on freshman Susan Sexton for the first time, and that was all it took. “ I saw her and fell in love right away,” he remembers. “I knew she was ‘it’ – the girl for me.”

The feeling was not mutual. Susan was the daughter of a state engineer and Michigan’s first female property appraiser. They lived on the “doctor/lawyer” side of town and it seemed she was fated for a doctor/lawyer husband. Jack was cut from the classic bad boy mold and Susan didn’t like him at all. “When he’d come over to the house I’d pretend not to be home,” she says.

What Susan really cared about was the horse she had bought at age 13 after saving up $600 from fifty-cents-an-hour babysitting jobs. “4-H and babysitting was all I did,” she says.

But Jack was nothing if not determined, and after nearly a year had achieved a friendship of sorts with Susan. That’s when she told him, “You know, Jack, if you get rid of those friends of yours, sell that stock car and buy a horse, I might go out with you.”

That was all the opening it took. Jack told his mother he was going to get a horse and keep it at his grandmother’s farm. He found an unbroke one for $100 and, since he didn’t have a trailer, proceeded to walk it home. Which went OK until a car stopped beside him and the horse kicked a door in.

Jack says it took a few weeks to get the horse where he could ride it, and then he set out for Susan’s house. The cross-town trip took three-and-a-half hours. A fair amount of that time was spent trying to get the horse across the first creek it had ever seen. Jack would rather not share all the details but his eventual success depended upon having a lariat, climbing a tree, and being able to land upright on a rope. And then they continued on.

Susan lived in a regular neighborhood of houses and yards, so when Jack got there he tied the horse to her mother’s prized black cherry tree. Her mother looked out the kitchen window and started screaming for Susan to come look. Jack says, “The horse was a nag, really pathetic looking, but Susan had said if I got a horse she’d go out with me. So she did.”

That one date – sandwiches at a little local restaurant – was all Susan had committed to. “But he was just real persistent and broke my walls down,” she says. She also admits he was pretty cute. So one date turned into many and then they were going steady.

Since he was back in the horse world, Jack rode bareback broncs at the Sparta Rodeo through high school, and did a little bull riding. As he got near graduation – a year early – he remembered what an older friend from the ranch had said when asked about how to make a living with horses: “Farriers and vets make money – everything else is just a maybe.” So Jack applied and was accepted at the well-known Oklahoma Farrier College.

When Jack had completed college and Susan graduated high school, they told their folks they wanted to be married. Susan’s mother had never completely warmed up to Jack and neither mother was crazy about the other.

“Both of our mothers were so strong willed, it was like they were both planning their own wedding,” Susan recalls. So she and Jack threw up their hands, let the families plan the whole “big Catholic wedding,” and just showed up when told. Jack wore a custom-made pale blue western suit with navy trim and Susan was “covered from head to toe in the heaviest lace possible, with an actual hoop at the bottom – it was the ugliest dress I ever saw,” she says.


Life Goes On

“I had just got out of shoeing school and thought I had it made,” Jack says. “We were newly married, brand new in business, with a brand new truck (and a brand new loan). Not quite 10 months later, we had our first child, Jack Montgomery III.”

The family grew to four children including daughters Tara, Codie and Ashley. They were still in Michigan when two-month-old Ashley contracted encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that then led to cerebral palsy. After she had pneumonia three times in one winter, her doctors recommended that the family move somewhere with a more stable climate. Jack called a friend from the rodeo, champion bull rider Jimmy Misenheimer, and got a job shoeing with him in Western North Carolina. The family lived for a long time in Columbus across from where the library is now, before moving to Green Creek.

Jack still had customers in Michigan and traveled back and forth for years to shoe their horses. Then when Jack III was about 13, they were driving home along Lake Michigan in Chicago, through a snowstorm so bad that young Jack had to stick his head out the window to see where they were going. Jack decided that wasn’t worth doing any more and turned to shoeing in North Carolina only.

Meanwhile just about everyone in the family got involved in horses. Jack III helped Jack shoe and is now a farrier himself, working at the top show circuits in Florida and with Jack at home. (Jack proudly says young Jack “has gone way beyond me.”) Jack III’s son Matthew helps his dad with shoeing when he has time.

Daughter Ashley, a Polk County High School graduate, is a longtime rider with TROT. Her oldest sister, Tara Blackwell, showed all through her youth and is now an accomplished hunter/jumper trainer based in Greenwood, S.C. Tara’s 12-year-old daughter, Taylor McKenzie Blackwell, is following in her mom’s footsteps and doing well on the BRHJ circuit herself. Brothers Ian and Sammy also pitch in with shoeing when they’re around Jack and Jack III.

Even the moms in Ionia – who are now best friends sharing church greeter duties – have been active in horses. Susan’s mother got into Arabians and Jack’s mother ended up running 4-H for their entire Michigan county, including shows with 300-400 horses.

And thanks to Susan’s mother, who at 83 writes a “Blast from the Past” column for a local newspaper, they discovered that the Montgomery connection to horses is a longer than they realized. She unearthed an article about Jack’s Great Uncle Alex T. Montgomery, who owned Ionia’s largest livery stable from the mid-to-late 1800s.


Fishing, Family & Music

Jack and Susan no longer ride horses but have always found plenty to keep them busy. Jack, Susan and Ashley, who lives at home with them, won the 2005 Champion Striped Bass Tournament Trail, and Susan and Ashley were named the Top Lady Angler team that same year. One of their favorite things was introducing fishing and tournaments to other kids and adults with special needs.

The Montgomerys’ lives have always revolved around family, which now includes 11 grandchildren from age two to 16. In fact, Jack and Susan recently adopted two of their grandchildren, sister and brother Tristin (15) and Kamron (7), who now live with them full time.

Both kids fit very smoothly into another longtime family pastime, music. Jack played drums through his high school years, later switched to guitar and harmonica, and has played with local bands in our area.

Tristin plays cello, guitar and keyboards, is in the Henderson Youth Orchestra, and plays with PacJAM, the Pacolet Area chapter of Junior Appalachian Musicians, a regional movement created to connect kids with traditional mountain music.

Kamron has become a talented banjo player, sits in with adults at regular jam sessions, and was invited to join PacJAM as a first grader, two years earlier than normal. Jack III’s son Matthew plays the fiddle and is also in PacJAM.

The family plays in the Hope Church Praise and Worship Group in Spartanburg every week, and at Pigeon Forge on special occasions. Susan and Ashley are the non-musicians but happily lend support by cooking, cleaning and clapping.

Jack has supported this wide range of activities with his shoeing business and is proud to still have customers from his early days here, some 20 years ago. A new special interest for him is hand-building wooden shoes to help relieve pain and restore balance to horses with laminitis.

“I feel very fortunate to have been shoeing for 40 years and married to the same woman for 40 years,” he says. “I’m really blessed. Living with a shoer isn’t always easy, especially when he wants to do so many different things.”

Susan does not disagree with that assessment. “In the early days when he came home, I never knew if he’d bring cash or some thing in the back of his truck: a three-day-old calf, two black and brown coonhounds, or an old horse he thought we could feed up and make money from. One time he brought a full-grown goat that jumped out of the truck and over two gates – because he’d heard me say I thought pygmy goats were cute. That was no pygmy! But he has always tried to please me in his own kind of twisted way,” she laughs.

“It’s been that way our whole life. But they say when God puts us you together with your real true mate he’ll be the complete opposite of you, and it’s being together that completes the two of you to one. The things I’ve lacked he has, and what I don’t have, he does.

“That’s the thrill of being with Jack – he doesn’t just do things ‘out of the ordinary,’ he does things out of the ‘extraordinary.’ It definitely makes life more interesting.”

By Judy Heinrich