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. 


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Okay, What Would Happen?

Universal Birthdates for Children:

"What this all comes down to is that Thoroughbreds race at a fairly young age and they don't get to feel special on their birthdays.  Imagine doing that to a child.  Little Billy sharing his special day with three or four million other Little Billy's.  Plus, how would you handle the invitations?  Little Billy #1 couldn't attend Little Billy #2's party since he had to host one at his house.  Little Suzy couldn't come either because she needed to welcome the no-shows at her own gala event.  The only presents would come from relatives, which meant that everyone got socks, school supplies and pants that didn't fit.  A whole generation would grow up unable to grasp the subtle nuances of self-gratification, external validation, conceit, avarice, jealousy and selfishness.  Sulking would still be an issue, but then you get to eat a whole chocolate cake by yourself.  How bad can that be?"

Monday, January 2, 2012

Zuke: The Price of Admission

Anvil Magazine Archives [Rob Edwards, Publisher]
The Price of Admission
Part I

Sometime around 1971, I got this wild hair to shoe horses.  Personally, I think it was because I fell out of my crib at some point and damaged my brain.  Actually I didn't have a real crib.  My mother just kept me in the sock drawer till I was ready for kindergarten.  Now don't me wrong though.  Horseshoeing and brain damage are not mutually inclusive...well, maybe, but let's not get bogged down over the details.  Nailing shoes on a large, disinterested and angry herbivore is really not too different from working on the bomb squad.  Unless the guy with the wire-cutters just found his wife's underwear in your car.  Always a bad idea to keep souvenirs.

Okay, so it's a really odd way to make a living, especially the first year or so when you suddenly realize that everything the horseshoeing instructor told you about the business was based on depositions from three divorce cases, random observations on back-to-back tours in Vietnam, and a severe addiction to watching re-runs of Gilligan's Island, admonishing the class daily on the notion that the damn boat will get fixed! 

So while he lectures away on balance, conformation and elementary ship construction, he fails to inform our anxious and empty brains about:  dumbbloods, psychotic clients, obtuse theories -- welding doorknobs on shoes, curing white-line disease through prayer -- horse psychologists who find your problems more interesting than the horse's, what Izumi really means in Japanese and why most veterinarians assume the word farrier is derived from 'fairly stupid.'  And of course, how to ask for directions to the nearest dialysis center.  Why?  Leading cause of death among novice horseshoers: urine retention.  Every time I tried to pee in a stall, some 13-year old girl would wander in looking for a bridle, a pony or some other stupid thing.  Finally made a catheter out of a Bic pen, an old stomach douche tube and some duct tape.  Yeah, patent pending.  $14.95 at Wal-Mart.

Even so, the 70's were a great time to take up horseshoeing.  The money was astronomical:  $14.00 a head.  We all got to wear ripped jeans with a bunch of fringy stuff on the bottom and we weren't slaves to the hairstyling industry -- that only came later when disco was invented.  We also took more drugs than the horses for a change, and most of our marketing strategy was based on rumor-mongering over the moral shortcomings inherent in most other shoers.  See, we had cold shoers and hot shoers -- or both.  Nobody knew what in the hell it meant anyway.  The idea was that it probably took more brains to start a fire, though that was merely an assumption of the times.  The real skill was in putting out the fire before in consumed the truck.  Coal was like that. 

Aside from the chronic bladder problems, the slow deterioration of a body that used to look good in jeans and the complete loss of body hair (gas-forges were invented), the real point of this monologue was a horse named Zuke.  I say was because I'm assuming the miserable hair bag is long dead and fertilizing some slob's rose bush.  Now, before I present the more intimate details of Zuke's behavioral profile, as prejudicial as it is going to sound, I'd like to cast a little personal and historical perspective on this sordid little affair.  That means I'm probably going to throw in a misdirection or two.  Like change my name to Bob for starters.

I will stick with my earlier confession though -- that I actually did graduate from horseshoeing school in 1971.  I was proud, bruised and according to popular opinion, more than likely incompetent.  But I was a survivor.  The eight-week course started with 21 aspirants and graduated six, though graduation might be a slight exaggeration.  They left the certificates blank until the last moment.  Something about a subpoena and some medical records.  Tetanus was assumed to be fatal sometimes and the school didn't want to waste a diploma on a dead guy.  And yeah, horseshoeing school was pretty sexist in 1971.  The only girls we ever saw were emergency room nurses and they wore masks.  Not sure why, but it was either to protect their identity or something to do with those long hours experimenting with hot-fitting.  Something about barbecuing chickens without the feathers.  Even the instructor finally turned up missing after an exciting demo he gave on side-lining a horse that likes to kick people.  At first glance it seemed like a remedial IQ test, but after a few minutes it was mostly first-aid & CPR.  The doctors were able to wire his sternum back together, though they strongly suggested that he not sneeze for at least a month. 

   The first horse I shod -- I mean, for real money somehow developed a bleeding problem so severe that I had use a mop and bucket to clean up the mess.  I tried to explain  how some horses have extra arteries in their feet, but the owner was more inclined to simply chase me around the parking lot with .357 magnum.  Fortunately, she was a bad shot -- missing me, but making one hell of a mess out of a couple Harley-Davidson's parked near by.  I thought that might be the end of it until she gave them $50 to finish the job.  No, not the shoeing part. 

Once I got out of town, I decided to take my instructor's closing bit of wisdom to heart.  He had said to me:  "You know, Andy Bob I mean. You really ought to start your business somewhere that you don't like, live.  Kind of get rid of your mistakes on strangers.  Might be safer."

I took his advice and moved to a small, economically depressed farming community where I had been assured by a local real-estate agent that 82% of the population couldn't possibly afford a lawyer.  Of course, given the social depravity of the inhabitants, I was also required to lower my prices to $12.50.  And here it began.  The slow, tortuous trek to professionalism -- or really, the grand initiation rites into the world of real shoers.  You all know the speech:  "Why don't you get somebody else to shoe that rotten son of a bitch!  I know a guy.  Give Andy...I mean call Bob.  He's lookin' for work, I here."

to be my leisure

Happy Birthday to all 31, 727 New Thoroughbreds!*

Notes From Chapter 10:

"In order to insure that an afternoon or racing could be followed by beer and ribs, these early organizers (The Jockey Club), implemented a universal birth date of January 1st for all Thoroughbreds born in North America.  Actually The English Jockey Club came up with this plan in the 1700's and it's one of the few archaic English customs that survived the Tea Party.  Since the Brits aren't big on barbecuing, it probably had something to do with either the Cod season or the Irish.

Since Mother Nature wasn't consulted by The Jockey Club, 'Mom' has responded by enforcing the old-fashioned tradition of identifying real maturity according to actual minutes spent sucking air.  Think if they did this to people.  All the restaurants would fill up on January 1st, Hallmark stores would go nuts and everybody would spend the day singing Happy Birthday.  It would be like a cross between a mass escape from the local zoo and a polka festival with a no-host bar.  The country would come to a standstill because everybody would be too hungover the next day to even sort the mail.  Trust me, the old Soviet Union would take advantage of this guttural orgy and overrun Europe.  Before everybody digested enough aspirin and tomato juice, the Red Army would be dining in Paris.  Once Russians tasted real food, they'd never go home."

*A wild guess based on obsolete and useless information.

Next Time:  What if we tried this with our children?