Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Show Season! Let the Excuses Begin...


Anvil Archives: anvilmag.com
Rob Edwards, Publisher.
Webster's defines scapegoat as a "person made to bear the blame for others."  What this has to do with goats is subject to debate.  I guess when your goat escapes, the best thing to do is blame it on someone else, especially if the goat takes a fancy to a neighbor's $50 Egyptian Foo-Foo bush.

In horseshoeing it seems the goat is always escaping.  A lot of farriers dislike goats.  It is not that they have this ingrained bigotry towards animals that will eat anything from your shirt to a small foreign car, but that most farriers end up on the wrong end of the goat.  The end that escapes.  Which means that they get the credit for everything from Flossie's splint to nuclear winter.

The trouble is that most horse owners need to point a finger elsewhere when the warranty on their horse expires midway through Test 2, at Training Level Dressage.  Kind of causes the same emotional reaction as the Check Engine light on the brand new BMW.  And of course, the path of least resistance seems to travel directly through a horseshoer's forehead.  History refers to that process as collateral damage --  instead of shooting the horse, you just shoot the guy that's already got his back to you.  Hell, if there are three horse owners on the jury -- acquittal is a sure thing.

Take our friend Bob for example.  (You remember Bob.  He gave up a lucrative and satisfying career stealing recyclables to become a true professional at something.  Didn't matter what.  He just wanted Ikea furniture for his trailer.  Farrier school was much cheaper than truck driving school.)   In the beginning, Bob liked horse people...well, he did like the horses, but after ten years of waiting for the checks that were somewhere in the mail, Bob didn't even like his dinner.  Actually, Bob was beginning to dislike Bob too.  He tried self-improvement classes, figuring it was probably his fault because most of the horses he met seemed somewhat mentally balanced.  He tried a Dale Carnegie Course, tried Buddhist meditation, African primal screaming...even hypnosis.  He even joined Fight Club, but couldn't talk about it.  Nothing helped much. So now he spends most evenings reading magazines about Central American mercenaries and putting flies in the microwave oven.  Bob has been become a bomb in search of a fuse.

Bob's day starts the night before, with the answering machine.  It's Debbie Delay on the tape: a twenty-four year old blond who had her brain removed because it clashed with her earrings.  "Bill," she starts out, (Bill was her last horseshoer.)  "I waited all day for you to shoe Velvet.  You know I have a show tomorrow and Velvet's moving funny because her toes are so long I think.  I mean really, if you can't get here I'll just have to call Bob!"  Bob shuts off the machine.  He decides that he has a split personality and he's sure which one to have dinner with.  Besides, her appointment was last week and he had to shoe Velvet tied-up to the neighbor's barbecue because Debbie was missing.  But of course, Debbie is always missing.  That's why her picture keeps showing up on milk cartons.

The next morning over breakfast, (Bourbon and Alka-Seltzer -- no ice), Bob checks his appointment book.  Three calls and one meeting with a veterinarian:  Dr. Grisly, a man who is absolutely positive that the word farrier was derived from the Latin for "fairly stupid."  Bob cringed.  Everybody liked Dr. Grisly because he was cheap...and the doctor part didn't hurt either.  Popes and Panamanian Army generals have the same sort of advantage.  Bob wasn't a doctor and wasn't cheap.  He based most of his prices on the current costs of decent mental health care in his town.

But that was later.  Bob headed out the driveway, not noticing that his neighbor Lupe was still working on the truck's brakes.  Bob was busy trying to tune the radio.  All he seemed to get was a Spanish-language, acid-rock kind of grunge song.  It was three blocks before he realized it was Lupe screaming at the top of his lungs.  It took him an hour to get him out from under the truck and dropped off at a hospital.  Already late, Bob roared up to his first appointment, positively convinced that he was probably fired.  Standing in the driveway was 13-year old Buffy Gallagher, daughter of Justin Gallagher, CEO of something Bob couldn't pronounce anyway.  Buffy was so spoiled that if she stood near a loaf of bread too long it would grow mold.

"Where have you been?!"  she demands through Bob's rolled-up window.

 "Oh stuff it in...," Bob mumbles into his appointment book.  "Sorry," he continues.  "My wife's appendix burst; what a mess, all over the kitchen floor..."

Buffy has already moved on to subject number two:  a small crack under one of the nails.  "Brie has been lame since you shoed her last!"  (Which was three months ago.)

"Oh."  Bob deadpanned.  "Did the vet look at her?"

"Oh yeah.  While back I think.  He said you should pull out that nail where the crack is.  It's probably putting pressure on something."

Bob's face starts to resemble a ripe tomato.  "When did the vet look at her exactly?"

"Oh...maybe it was yesterday.  I was at tennis lessons I think."

"Yester..." his voice trailed away.

"Yeah, Dr. Grisly said to just pull the nail, but don't shoe her yet.  He wants to talk to you first."

Bob pulls the nail, picturing his pull-offs securely attached to Dr. Grisly's lower lip, nose...scrotum.

HE DID IT!!!!!
[image: tomspencer.com.au]

Fifteen-minutes later, Bob pulls into stop number two:  The Lucky Lazy-U Ranch, a Quarter horse operation that specializes in halter horses.  Puck Johnson, the resident trainer brings out Double Lucky Moon Shot, one of his new rising stars.  Puck never holds a horse for a shoer...NEVER!

Bob starts pulling a front shoe.  Puck is quieter than a dead cat.  Finally he clears his throat.  "You know," he starts, like maybe he's talking to nobody in particular.  "We didn't win at Tucson last week."  Which is like saying that Ford doesn't make trucks.  "Uh, the judge kept starin' Moonie's front legs, like somethin' was wrong," Puck continued, easing his way into the point of all this sudden conversation.

Meanwhile Bob stops working, but continues to stare at his shoes. 

"I think we oughta lower those outsides a little more, what da ya' think?"  Puck blurts out as he snaps Moonie into the cross-ties and takes a couple of steps backward.  "Yeah, I think we should do that," Puck continues, as he backs further and further down the aisle-way, acting very much like a guy on the bomb squad that knows he just cut the wrong wire.

Bob starts rasping the outside of the foot.  And rasping and rasping and rasping until the floor is about four-inches deep in shredded, almost gray-looking coconut.  About the time that the coconut started looking a little pink, he nails the old shoes back on and packs up, leaving Moonie still standing in the cross-ties.  Well, sort of standing.  More like grimacing a little.

Bob skips the third appointment figuring that he can save himself anymore grief by simply not showing up.  Besides, it was getting close to three o'clock and his appointment with Dr. Grisly.

As he drove, Bob kept rehearsing his speech.  Hunched over the steering wheel, he kept reciting all the lines.  He was going to have it out once and for all with that pompous ass.  No quarter spared, no backing down this time...this was Waterloo and Grisly would feel the cold steel!

Bob pulled into the driveway of a plush estate, leaped out of his truck and strode over to where Dr. Grisly stood talking with a rather well-dressed couple.  Bob was so tight that you could have played Beethoven on the back of his neck.  "Doc," Bob started, all ready to make THE speech of his life.

"Oh, Bob," Dr. Grisly said.  "Good to see you.  I'd like you to meet the Connors.  I've been telling them all about you.  They wanted the best man available at any price to do their show hunters.  I told them that you were the man for the job. They have seven head and you can name your own price."

Bob's mouth dropped.  His neck muscles collapsed so fast that you could hear the vertebrae snapping.  "But, but..." Bob stammered, not knowing which direction to go.  Finally, he just shook his head.  "Well, sure...we can certainly fit them into my schedule."

"Good!" Dr. Grisly beamed.  "That's great.  But listen, could you make sure you leave the bay horse a little high on the inside.  You know how I like it, about a quarter of an inch."

Bob sighed, "Yeah sure Doc, a quarter of an inch."

"Yeah, big deal, huh?"


Sunday, June 16, 2013


Heroes...Of the Equine Variety

From my columns for the
The Washington Thoroughbred--
[Note: From about 1984 to 1989, I was a regular columnist for The Washington Thoroughbred in Seattle.  Many of these columns were the core content in my semi-autobiographical, somewhat delusional book, "Mares, Foals & Ferraris."  Working with horses; perhaps the case with all animals, is that sometimes what we ask them to do, what they choose to do -- fate itself -- incurs losses.  Life itself on some days is not an adventure for the timid.  So, I choose to celebrate the life, the passion...a relationship that is judged by many -- truly experienced by the few.  They say that in racing, "nobody wears short pants."  It is a statement on the heart, for if you let the animal in, you must one day bear witness to their departure.]    

I have never truly understood the equine mind.  Less powerful than the heart, more frail than the limbs, it never really demands the recognition that great feats and great moments should endear.  Instead, it derives its passion from the moment, its necessities from a millennia of calculated reactions, and its ultimate judgement by the flickering conscience of man; a specie late to the game, who quite often, chooses to wield recklessly his vast arsenal of intelligence over an animal who lives by a more primal instinct.  And yet, this animal still decides to serve us so very well.

I have always kept my heroes -- those horses great and small whose lives were spent in our loftier pursuits:  for gold, for glory, or for some spot on that pedestal of life; that lesser men or lesser times may truly never share.  And in their brief lives, they leave us awed and inspired, frustrated and saddened.  But they never really leaves us.  For they are our heroes.

Ruffian was my first.  Big, raucous and rough, she gave me my first glimpse at the tragedy and triumph of Thoroughbred racing.  An equal to the boys, she had beaten every filly in the country and seemed a sure bet to prove her dominance in a match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.  I remember watching the race in my mother's living room.  She was quietly knitting a future Christmas sweater that nobody would wear anyway -- while I was perched on the edge of my chair.  The two broke from the gate and pounded head and head down the backside, the filly barely a nose in front.  I remember the bad step, the faltering stride, the jockey rising in the irons, desperately trying to pull her to a stop.  I remember seeing her standing on the backstretch, her leg shattered.  But I also remember her eyes.  Fixed on her rival, following his trail all the way to the wire -- a half-mile -- suddenly, an eternity away.  I never saw her again.

Char D'Assaut was another such hero...perhaps the kind we all have in our life.  Purchased in Kentucky as a broodmare, she taught me a lot about the power and responsibility of motherhood.  Severely hurt having her third foal for us, she endured the pain, our constant and futile efforts to save her life, and the demands of her newly born foal.  And for eight days and eight nights, she never allowed her own misery to win.  She was a mother to the very end of life itself.  Her halter and a lock of her mane hangs on a small apple tree on the old farm -- where time and the ever-growing bark has made the horse and tree into one.

From the poem, "Dark Ivy."
A. Allan Juell, 1987.
Many others passed my way in the ensuing years.  Honest horses, game horses...horses that educate humans of all ages in the matters of humility and trust.  I recall the pony hunter Calypso, owned by the Parkside Stables of Dr. and Mrs. Joe Bergevin.  Of poor health, but gallant heart, she carried three different daughters to numerous championships in the childrens' and pony divisions at horseshows throughout the Northwest.  The pony taught them how to win, but more importantly, she taught them how to lose.  And for every ribbon won and every ribbon lost, she gave them the enduring integrity to truly understand the difference.

In 1987 the horse world lost the grand steeplechaser, Dark Ivy.  A magnificent grey, he entered Aintree's Grand National as one of the favorites.  Crossed by another horse at Beecher's Brook, he never felt the ground again. 

I also choose to remember the less than famous.  Those horses that quietly fill the voids of human frailty with their uncompromising presence and their innate ability to calm the harried soul or reassure the fragile heart.  Nut was that kind of horse.  No bigger than a dog, Nut spent most of her life walking a slow circle at the Woodland Park Zoo.  Bringing joy and a certain measure of anxiety, she introduced thousands of children to the thrill of a first ride.  But time seems to change all things and when the pony rides were finally shut down, Nut was sent to auction with the rest of the equipment.  At 22 years, her prospects seemed dim.  But one of those children remembered.  Redmond, Washington farm manager, Martha Wickstrom took one of those early rides on Nut and when she heard about the auction, she returned a two-decade old favor.  Nut was retired to Martha's farm where she lived to the ripe old age of 38.

Finally, I want to remember Benoit.  A grand prix jumper, this bay Thoroughbred was owned by nationally known trainer and rider, Robert Ridland of Indianapolis, Indiana.  A winner of over $78,000 in the show ring, Benoit lost his life in a fall at the 1989 Seattle Grand Prix.  Tragically, both horse and rider had come out of retirement to once again compete as a team.  They were the best of friends.

I remember standing in the show ring, holding a cooler as a shield -- part of a solemn circle around Benoit; other trainers, show officials, grooms -- shielding the scene from the crowd.  Like pall-bearers, we attempted to add some dignity and compassion to his death; to somehow cheat the cynics of their moment.  But most of all I remember the eyes.  Tough men, professional men -- they too caught in the horrible vacuum of sudden reality.  And their respect for Benoit was etched deeply across these many faces.
Robert Ridland and friend;

I helped carry Benoit off the field.  I heard the announcer call the next horse.  I once again heard the applause echo the effort of a clean round.  I watched as somehow life went on.  For in this world, it must go on.

No, heroes never really die.  For somewhere in the green fields of human memory they all compete again...and we will cheer!