Friday, January 6, 2012

The Price of Admission, Part II

Anvil Magazine Archives [Rob Edwards, Publisher:]


Part II:

So basically, that means that Andy Bob gets every horse on every other horseshoer's cull list.  That includes foundered ponies, manic-depressive Warmbloods, Thoroughbred yearlings that last had human contact in-utero, navicular Quarter Horses (steroidal misfits that assume your spine belongs in your shoes), backyard mongrels with self-esteem issues -- which they passed along to their foals -- socially inept hunters, mean-spirited jumpers, dressage horses who assume you're part of the test, mules, the neighbor's goat and a whole assortment of horses deemed 'frisky' by the local Sheriff's department.  Oh.  Those are just the animals.  Andy Bob also is fortunate enough to get the clients who cover one bad check by writing another bad one.  Clients that pay once a decade.  12-year olds who critically evaluate your work and then fire you.  Horny fat women who drink too much and want you to do their horse once a month -- preferably on a Saturday night.  Wishful thinkers who assume some disconnect exists between the words 'chronic' and 'lame.'  People who love to quote obsolete magazine articles on shoeing written by dead people.  And of course, all those folks that assume the '81 Dodge you're driving is the result of your excessively high prices.  Which means that somehow you have managed to embrace one part of the American dream that apparently nobody else seems to want.

And then along comes Zuke.   Zuke was a pure-bred Arabian gelding that was very good at some task that now escapes me.  Could have been Arabian western pleasure, might have involved tractor pulling.  Whatever the case, Zuke represented what we all know as the 'rights of passage,' meaning that if you got a set of shoes on Zuke, you never had to see Zuke again.  He was like a returnable pop bottle with hair.  See, the key to this charade was the average length of horseshoeing school in those days:  six to eight weeks.  So every couple of months...a new batch of young men venture out into the world in search of fame, fortune, an '81 Dodge and possibly a new name.  Sorry, Bob is taken.  And waiting patiently for all of us is our friend Zuke.

Naturally, until your number was called, you were, in the vernacular of the trade -- screwed.  I mean, you had to do it.  Otherwise, the only respect you'd ever garner in the business would come from either your mother or the county coroner.  And not only would you be shunned by other shoers, but they wouldn't even bother to bad-mouth you.  Like those days when you still had training wheels on your bike.  You remember how much respect rolled around on those wheels?

Unlike most of us novice farriers, Zuke was no fool.  Hell, even a year out of horseshoeing school, desperation was written all over our business cards.  "Will Shoe For Food,"  "All Shoeing Guaranteed Six Weeks  Years,"  "Horseshoeing & Gutter Cleaning."   Only later would we specialize:  "Horseshoeing -- Regular or Corrective."  Not sure how it worked since they both cost the same.  And then there was always the public relations angle because every horse owner on the planet insisted that their horse didn't need any repairs.  Of course, these were the same people who had three cars parked in their driveway and still rode the bus to work.

Zuke was much smarter than the average horse.  Well, definitely smarter than the average shoer.  And the really frightening part about him was that he wasn't one of these spooky, neurotic, cat-brain kind of horses that couldn't figure out why his own tail kept slapping him in the ass.  Instead, he'd just give you a sideways look, the one hind leg resting -- cocked might be more accurate.  Little too casual for a near-death situation.  And from what I'd been told, he had a way of stepping on you with one foot, kicking you with another and somehow make the whole thing look like it was your fault.  The bleeding part was okay, but it was really hard on a young fellow's machismo.  See, Zuke's owner was about 23-years old, blond, height-weight proportional or better and extremely single.

I'd been in town just long enough to acquire a mentor.  He was an older shoer who took me under his wing because I seemed to be the only person willing to support his personal opinion of himself.  In fact, he was kind enough to set me up with the blond, only mentioning later that her horse could be 'a little tough' at times.  He couched that revelation by noting that 'it'll be fine -- the vet always comes by and tranquilizes him.'  Somehow that elevated my confidence just slightly above the terror level.  But it still wasn't enough to dissuade me from, in Daniel Boone's words, "Going to the cave once more to see the monster."  You know, death versus ego.  No contest.

I arrived at Zuke's boarding stable about 3 o'clock in the afternoon.  I scheduled it for later in the day since I had paying customers in the morning.  Seemed like good business sense at the time.  The vet was just leaving, having administered the usual five or six vials of Ace-promazine.  As he sped out the driveway, he yelled, "I hope it's enough!"  I really wished he'd left a little for me, since the fear was beginning to eat away at my fortified lunch.  Yeah, two cheeseburgers and a pint of Bourbon.

Zuke just stood there quietly, the very picture of drug-induced charm.  That is, until I dropped the tailgate of my truck.  At that moment, he looked me critically in the eye, then at the blond and casually snapped off the 4 x 6 inch railroad tie he had been anchored to.  With the timber in tow, he slowly walked back to his stall, stopping once to cast me a rather disgusted look.  I considered following him, but I was a little busy trying to unswallow my tongue.

The blond turned out to be extremely gracious about the whole thing.  She told me that it was just not Zuke's day.  She paid me for the shoeing job that never happened, but more importantly, she said that as far as anyone was concerned, 'I got the job done.'  I still thought about asking her out, but common sense dictated that one test a day was enough.  Later, I simply told my mentor, "piece of cake."  Sure, I lied, but it seems that some tests aren't about passing or failing -- just the showing up part. 


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