Sunday, October 21, 2012

Worms....the Bulgarian variety.

Once More Into the Maelstrom...Smiling!
For Now Anyway.....
Boy, one thing's for sure, farriers have a hair-trigger when it comes to subjects close to the heart...or maybe in that frustrating realm where the creativity of the mind makes unreasonable demands on the far clumsier actions of the hands.  Yes, we are talking about art.  A subject of wildly different interpretations and appeal.  But we are also talking about architecture too, for very often beauty and utility are thrown together in common purpose.  Sure, the building must be pleasing to the eye, to the sensibilities of its audience, its surroundings -- but it is of even greater necessity that it doesn't collapse in a heap.  And it is on that note that we visit one of our most humble of creations:  the horseshoe.

What happened next in this story was that a pretty fundamental historical (academic), discussion on a shoe (named for some country), turned into a monstrous firestorm that promised to scorch the landscape and crucify all the heretics.  Uh, huh;  the Bulgarian hind.  Or the Bulgarian hunter hind....or the Bulgarian hunter hind ala massolettes...or Vlad Dracul's favorite sneaker.  We never got far enough in the discussion to find out exactly.   [Better warm up the tar and pluck the chickens -- we're sacking Budapest next!]  

The question was an honest one by someone new to the profession and I might add, new to the United States.  You can guess from where.  The reason for the question was because the shoe, in its current, rather stylized form, bore little resemblance to the traditional Bulgarian shoe and seemed to contradict the 'utility' behind its development.  In her letter, she went to great lengths to explain her enquiry:

But instead of getting an honest answer to an honest question, the person was ridiculed in a rather vulgar fashion by members of this trade who insist that your validity as a student or aspiring farrier is only sanctioned by kneeling at one particular shrine or another.  Pretty pathetic for a bunch of folks that supposedly seek camaraderie in a common pursuit of personal ideals -- most centered on helping the horse and not the needs of a sometimes errant ego.   And to be honest, I don't speak or read Bulgarian, but a friend did.  Here's what HE said that SHE said:
     "Ah yes...the Bulgarian hind horseshoe. Some history here.  See, during World War you have any Vodka?  This is a terrible story.  So, in the Bulgarian resistance against those Nazi fellows -- well, there were six or seven of us...not big resistance because, well Bulgarians drink a lot and lose track of things and ya know, we got the cabbages to tend, but a blacksmith here came up with shoe...quite different from this one in contest, but the toe was designed to look like German military boot print. So we put them on the horses. When troops search for us in woods, they see boot prints from horses and think, "Oh, troops already go that we go this way."  Germans weren't too bright, uh, maybe why they didn't win war.  So while they chase around we ride off and blow up train or something.  This new version of Bulgarian hind shoe...gosh, wouldn't fool even the dumbest German I don't think.  Okay? You got the Vodka?"
  [Better take a break here -- I hear the tar boiling over.]


But let's back up a minute and look at a few personal observations:  mine of course.  Because this issue is really about horseshoeing competitions and an existing split in ideology between those that compete and those that apparently have better things to do.  And no that's not a negative pejorative but rather a personal opinion.  We're a country of personal opinions -- probably way too many of them.

Believe it not, I did compete way back when -- in the days when the AFA and state associations were an amusing and highly volatile concept.  Reminded me a bit of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th....Continental Congresses in that the only broad agreement was who would end up wearing the chicken feathers.  In these early days of competing, the work itself covered a broad spectrum from good to...well, some bar shoes were handed in with the tongs forge-welded to them.  (And a certain unnamed person was known to use a crescent wrench in an emergency.)  But, we had a lot fun and it was an excellent venue to connect faces with names and perhaps temper a bunch of competitive animosity that existed in the workplace.  Competing still offers that rare opportunity to share what is a common thread:  shoeing horses -- which apparently is why we bought the $$5-figure truck with the chrome wheels.

However, once competitions evolved a bit, they became more and more of a 'mechanic's' convention in that the actual shoeing of the horse gradually devolved from the picture.  Contest shoes became a matter of schematics, mathematical determiners...worthy of examining with slide rules and calipers.  See, shoes you judge according to standards; i.e., by a template -- horse shoeing?  Well, just ask a certifier (and I was one), how much fun that can be.  It is not an subjective exercise because it calls for one to make a judgement on the execution of a job that has no definable rules. More accurately, few rules that are without debate.  Excessive bleeding probably qualifies as one, but the rest are best left to Tarot cards and tea leaves.  So, with the changing emphasis, the meticulous detail involved, I decided my time was better spent elsewhere.  So I studied horses, their jobs...the politics of trying to remain in business in a different sort of competition.  The one with the mortgage.  In the end, I became, in Michael Clayton's analogy: 'a janitor.'  I fixed things.  It is a wonderful niche to own because the only thing that matters is the results -- that judgement left with the horse and rider.  And no matter how beautiful the crease, how immaculate the clip...the horse will intentionally destroy it or leave it to be admired hanging on a wire fence.  And no, he won't be apologizing for that disrespect any time soon.   

But, that wasn't the only issue.  Just as today, with 'glue-on applications,' various alternative approaches to hoof maintenance, ad was changing the playing field back then as well.  Yes, we still had to make shoes, particularly in the case of the rising trend in imported Warmbloods, etc., but manufacturers were also polishing their skills.  The need to hand forge shoes became less and less, which by any reasonable standard, successfully accomplished the intent:  to make the job of horseshoeing less labor-intensive.  And of course, sell lots of horseshoes.  The horse population was growing (after decades of stagnation), and better shoes and more farriers were the rule of the day.  Ah, the caveat?  Apparently, the message for some was that technology also meant that those with lower skills could compete equally in America's free-wheeling system.  And why not?  Farriers abhor regulation of any kind -- even when it is designed to protect their own livelihood.  So instead of dusting off our collective house, we blame the individual who embraces a less arduous path.  And it is nothing new and certainly not surprising, for there is great personal security in assuming you have a non-perishable skill.  Hold that thought for a minute and stir the tar.  That crap can catch on fire.

Oddly (maybe), this same resistance to technology showed up earlier in this century with the advent of manufactured shoes.  The source of the loudest hollering?  The racetrack platers.  Prior to the horse making its grand entrance into the world of recreation (things like chasing cows around for fun instead of a purpose), the racetracks were one of the few venues where farriery remained a viable enterprise.  And believe me, swaging shoes by hand, forge-welding grabs and stickers or the even more complex Standardbred shoes were no walk in the park.  In many ways, these platers and shoers probably appreciated  the convenience -- but what lurked in the background was what they saw as an erosion of what had always been seen as a highly valuable skill-set.  The short version:  these new inventions threatened their security as skilled tradesman...artists really, in a world where technology and manufacturing were threatening them with a degree of obsolescence.  It is precisely why the platers' unions held on to their rather archaic testing standards for as long as they could: a well founded fear over the impact of a rapidly changing world and what that meant to a secure living standard.  They failed to realize however, that shoe-making was merely one of many skills needed to service the horse properly and to be realistic, the least important element of the job.  With a well-trimmed foot, a decent degree of balance (no, I have no idea what that means), a person could cut shoes out of plywood and probably get around a course just fine.  Yeah, the truth hurts, but life is full of disappointments.       

So now we come to the part where we bring in the psychiatric community for a little behavioral gibberish combined with historical realities. [See, bet you have already forgotten about the Bulgarian hind thing.] 

 Nietzsche, Freud  and Jung
Not much help here actually.  They're dead and not talking. However, they did establish a kind of 'emotional blueprint' for that 4lb. lump of fat between our ears. And whether you believe that a pritchel represents a wondrous monument to phallic penetration of the iron of life; the forge, with its eternal flame is the sacred womb of all the ample gifts of earth, fire and water...and the horse --  well... he is just a horse, so forget that part...and we're completely off track here anyway, though Freud is quietly smiling. 

Who we really need here is Abraham Maslow. He seemed to understand that farriers were actually almost the same as most humans.  Almost.  See, he is really smiling.
THe came up with a hierarchy of sorts for human needs, based somewhat loosely on how you might be wired.  Somebody else (probably a math major), came up with the pyramid.  I colored this one myself since it has been kind of a slow week.  The way it works is that as a person develops emotionally and intellectually (gotta do both or it doesn't work), their true needs migrate up the scale. The orange at the bottom deals with just staying alive (many farriers can relate to this one), while the top blue section is for people who say, "Piss-off on staying alive, let's see what's going on over there!"  Also notice that safety is two notches down. That means a lot of people are interested in staying alive through safety.  Dull.  But safe. Also note that people that ask intelligent questions about the origins of Bulgarian hind shoes hang out in the blue and purple zone, while those who offer personal and vulgar retorts wind up in the red.  In case you still don't get it, red means either stop doing that or get T-boned by a large truck.  So now that we're completely confused, let's talk a little about 'safety.'
Safety is really about security; more accurately [in]security.  Explains why some people can turn defensive in the middle of an overly long kiss.  See, they suddenly notice that the other person's eyes were open.  Break my trust, you have broken my sense of security.  But please don't dwell on that statement too long, especially if you've got an optimistic rendezvous planned tonight.

[In]security comes in many forms.  Personal, national, global....emotional, sexual, mechanical -- the lock on the front door of your house.  It somehow makes you feel safe in spite of the fact that the house has 27 windows made out of glass so fragile that a wrong-way sparrow could shatter it.  Hmm.          

My favorite has always been national [in]security.  Anthropologists have determined that we invented this concept at Catal Huyuk, in modern day Turkey (Anatolia), about 7500BC.  How did they conclude that?  Architecture. The structures were defensive in nature and quite permanent.  Hence, they determined that early homo sapiens had  decided to stop 'hunting and gathering' and instead teach chickens and cows how to obey the leash law.  And immediately thereafter, came the bane of civilization:  'private property.'  And we've been killing people over that concept ever since.

Now in case you haven't noticed, America puts a lot of stock in [in]security.  Kind of our trademark around the world.  That is why we have about 28,000 nuclear warheads in all shapes and sizes. Course that led to some other folks (pictured), wondering about their own [in]security:   

[image: wikipedia]

So they collected about 32,000 of their own and the result was something called: MAD.  Mutual Assured Destruction.  That made everybody feel better.  I guess. 

Oh. What does that have to with farriery?  Nothing, other than the fact that we we work in a field with few absolutes and no enforceable rules.  But it does show how [in]security can stifle friendships and goodwill in a profession that is 80% opinion.  And I suppose how wars start over a simple and honest question about the origins of a modified Bulgarian horse shoe.  So, as good members of civilization (my least favorite word), we yank up the razor wire over our brains and prepare for the siege.  Hell, it is a damn horseshoe -- and whether you make them, buy them, sleep with them; or like my cat, spray them in urine and call them his own...they are simply a mechanical device designed to aid a horse in his daily rounds.  And no, they are not going to add to your personal security.  Hopefully, that lives somewhere else inside you.

The moral of this story?  That mentors and role models have a responsibility that lies outside their personal beliefs.  And that it is just as important to listen as to talk.  That means you need to respect your audience and weigh your message according to the sophistication, naivete or even vulnerability of the listener.  Balance your approach and try to understand that your road, my road or the highway, isn't the only way.  Respect comes with responsibility attached.  And instead of becoming needlessly defensive (which greatly cheapens your opinion), just fess up. "Yeah, I changed it.  I like this version better."  Oddly, so do I, but that doesn't mean I would put it on a horse and it certainly does not diminish the skill required to make it.  So, how can that possibly threaten some body's [in]security?

Lastly, and once again, on a more personal note, I have had many young (and not so young) aspiring farriers query me about the business, about schools, competitions, certification....the drinking age in Idaho -- my answer has been mostly the same:  Try to find an apprenticeship with somebody well-grounded in what this business is about: shoeing horses for money.  Pick their brain, listen and watch. Doesn't matter if they make shoes, buy them at the feed store or steal them from other horses.  Get under a 1000 horses and then figure out what you might really want to pursue, or in some cases, if you want to pursue it at all.  And that is not a bitter or prejudicial statement by any available definition.  Farriery is a lot like the NFL -- your career can be over tomorrow.  One of the last fellows that worked for me (I was on the way to the hospital for one of four retirement parties with the surgeons), was a very skilled fellow of the mechanic's school.  He could engineer just about anything and normally made better shoes than I did, but he wasn't terribly ambitious.  On top of that, he was a bit older than most, had a wife with an excellent teaching job, two kids and a mortgage.  He had a couple of options:  take over my business (remember this point -- there is nothing to sell when it is over, except a few tools and some rather hollow goodwill), or...he had an inside slot to the Electrical Union's apprenticeship program.  Tough to get in, but lucrative via salary and benefits.  Oh...wife was expecting number three.  My answer?  Become an electrician.  That was what he needed to hear and quite frankly, wanted to hear.  Because it was the right truth for his situation, though in some ways it might have been a bad reflection on me.  And as far as I know, they lived happily ever, actually I don't that, but I did want a nice ending before you folks show up with the tar and the bald chickens.     
[image: dennis haskett]

Okay....Well, you'll have to Fed-X the tar and feathers since I'm moving.  No, I don't plan on sharing the location. But someplace [in]secure.  Try to remember that life isn't nearly as serious as the alternative.