Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bull Shoeing...It Happens!

Sure, Why Not....What Good is Health Insurance
 If You Don't Use It Occasionally?


"Yeah, you and how many other idiots?"

[Note: Always use caution when a friend calls and says, "Look, could you fill in for me a bit.  Going on sabbatical for a few months and..."   So the second or third retirement ends and you find yourself in the Large Animal Hospital, UC-Davis -- once again wearing the rather weathered shoeing apron.  And that's when you notice the not-so-fine print:  large animals aren't always confined to equus caballus or some distant cousin.  Sometimes they include a fellow like this with the unassuming name:  Rodney.]
From Anvil Magazine, 1999:    The large Animal Hospital at the University of California/Davis pretty much takes on anything that walks, crawls or is carried through the front gate.  As a teaching hospital, it is oriented toward both research and education.  quite often, given the resources available at a large institution, a university may also represent the last hope for a sick or injured animal -- or ideally, a new beginning. An institute of last resort.  Both resident and staff farriers work with the veterinary staff and students on these complex cases -- in this instance, Dr. Meri Stratton-Phelps -- for try and find a solution to often highly complex cases. 
The case outlined here was somewhat unusual, because it involved a breeding bull with an abscess in one rear claw.  The abscess evolved into a case of osteomyelitis -- basically a bone infection.  The claw was removed, casted, and fitted with a wooden extension in an attempt to stabilize load bearing on the leg.  However, the opposite hind was experiencing an overload and the question arose as to whether this bull would be able to....well, date again.  Farrier Adam Wynbrandt of Wilton, California, got the call.  [Ha, ha...yes.  I got to sit this one out behind the camera.  Sure, I was disappointed...kinda.]

Pictures  1 and 2 show the damaged footSome of the residual casting material is clearly visible.  The material will have to be carefully removed in order to equalize the length of the claws.   

The damaged claw is beginning to cornify nicely. 
Upper photo: Farrier Adam Wynbrandt uses a side-grinder to remove excess material.  Needless to say, the bull is secured in rotating stocks in a reclining position.  Above: Dr. Stratton-Phelps debrides and cleans up both hind feet. 
Left to right:  (1): Adam makes the final preparation. The decision is made to use Resident Farrier, Kirk Adkins' Sneakers, an aluminum/urethane composite shoe.  The claws will be bonded as one unit with a sufficient amount of posterior support in order to prevent the bull from constantly rocking back onto its fetlocks.
(2):  The Sneakers are fitted and nailed on by Adam on one side of the claw only.  Goven the amount of damage, it is impossible to nail the opposing side.  And as anyone knows who has ever applied oxen shoes, nailing is tricky at best.
(3):  The prepared foot.  The shoe application is going to be half-nailed and half-glued.
(4):  The decision is made to use Equi-thane to bond the Sneaker to the damaged portions of the foot.
Left:  A heat gun is used to accelerate the setting of the bonding agent.
Right:  The finished fit. 
The finished job.  Both hind feet are stabilized and the prognosis is good.  This bull will make it back to breeding duties thanks to a little thinking outside the box.  Most of us consider ourselves strictly horseshoers, but in the real world, our expertise is both wanted and needed for all hooved animals, domestic or otherwise.
Well, I don't know about you, but this story really tired me out.  "Say, Doc...what do you think about getting a cold beer and some lunch?" 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Bu$$ine$$ -- Conclusions and Hindsights

The Bu$$iness of Horseshoeing...Conclusion(s)

Question and Answers...Maybe:

"Show me the money!!!"
1. Can you qualify for a truck loan on your signature?
2. Can you qualify for a credit card, a gas open account?
3. Do you maintain a legitimate state business license?
4. Do you pay required state taxes on your business or business income?
5. Do you pay federal taxes on your business income/profit.  That includes Social Security.
6. Can you qualify for a home loan (mortgage) of $60k -- extrapolate that figure to 2013 numbers.
7. What is your credit rating?  Do you even know what this is?
8. Do you bounce every third check?
9. Do you postpone major/minor purchases because of cash-flow problems?
10. Is your annual profit (intentional or otherwise) below the poverty line.
11. Does your wife/partner ever question your sanity over dinner?

These are some of the questions that even mediocre accounting can answer.  In the average horseshoer's business picture, the majority of these questions would be either, "no" or fall under the protections of the Fifth Amendment.  Other than at those farrier get-togethers where the truth gets skewed shortly after cocktail hour begins.  So, if the truth here proves painful, that is purely intentional.  Here is a second set of questions, directly relating to the first set:


1. Do you enjoy fourteen-hour days?
2. Do you feel that physical abuse is stimulating to the mind?
3. Do you buy your consumables (supplies) retail?
4. Do you think that you buy wholesale?
5. Do you know the difference?
6. Does the person who collects your garbage live in a nicer house than you do?
7. Do you think you are well paid?
8. Do you know what you are paid?
9. Do you know what your net-worth might be?
10. And how did you determine the answer to the last question?  No, the opinion of your bartender is not valid.

The average horseshoer's federal income tax return probably contains enough material to do a whole night's comedy roast at an accountant's convention.  Unorthodox may not even be a realistic description of how farriery, as a business is conducted.  Perhaps the most blatant example lies in the purchasing and maintenance of inventory.  Farriery is probably the only business in the United States that buys almost exclusively retail.  This is particularly true in the purchase of high volume consumables like nails, shoes, rasps...items that the client is theoretically consuming and as a practical matter, not charged for directly.  Remember, you are selling a service.  So really, any moron off the street can buy these materials piecemeal at the same price that you do -- only in your case, they become a net-loss in the equation rather than something that produces a profit -- minus any additional labor.  Rasps might get cheaper after the first hundred-thousand pounds purchased...nails, a monopolized commodity for decades.  So as a general rule, suppliers will sell to anyone at any price, without the old caveat of tax numbers or the confirmation that some business actually exists.  Blame this on the suppliers?  No, blame it on yourself for allowing producers to manipulate markets by adding what is basically a brokerage to the exchange.  But hell, getting farriers to agree on a chili recipe is easier than finding one ounce of mutually beneficial common sense. Agreeing to disagree is what we live for.

Once this retail buying has taken place, these items enter into the farrier's inventory.  Once there, they are immediately converted to a liability asset.  Most farriers (as noted), attach appliances to a horse's hoof in exchange for cash.  As such, he is happy to provide all the necessary materials for the job.  In this type of transaction (the shoes, nails and the bloody finger) are paid for by the farrier, not the consumer -- as the farrier is providing a service.  So this is a little like the smiling Barista who serves up your latte with a cup -- being sure to set it down next to the tip jar. Trouble is, farriers are too proud to accept tips and apparently too wealthy to really need one.

So in many cases it would appear that most of the profits from the consumption of certain materials fall in the lap of these ghostly wholesalers, while high-volume consumables are virtually brokered in the wider marketplace by those with the capital to profit by merely swapping ownership of the 'stuff.'  Whatever it might be.  Kind of explains why the price of gasoline changes daily, has little to do with gasoline, but a lot to do with who claims title to it in the 5-minutes previous to your purchase. So either the procurement system needs a change or the relationship between a farrier and his inventory does. At the very least, consumables need to be an asset and not just a convenient deduction at tax time. That means profit without the addition of labor.  And yes, most farriers are happy to inform themselves that they have included this in their pricing structure.  Along with the necessary contribution to their IRA.  Uh, huh.

Editors and publications should actively seek opinion and generate commentary on economic matters impacting the trade.  They have control of the only means of public discourse [pre-Facebook of course], available to farriers and aside from a pressing responsibility to provide the format, they also have the obligation to promote the truth.  The most beautifully balanced horseshoe in the world is only worth about six-cents a pound if the creator is incapable of writing a proper bill for it.  Instead of articles on pritchel mutilation, try basic accounting.  Bookkeeping in favor of blacksmithing occasionally.  Teach farriers how to balance a checkbook before trying to balance a horse.  Provide the subscribers with the tools necessary to evaluate their life situation and the desire to change it.

[Okay...yeah, that last paragraph deserves a yawn.  Bookkeeping just can't compare to making a French hind out an Oldsmobile ball joint.  I do get it.  And as everybody painfully knows, advertisers control content, not the editors.  Even mainstream media today is manipulated by agendas and interests that have more to do with a systematic brainwashing based on hysterics than any productive exchange of ideas or solutions.  All such free-presses have, quite sadly, left the building.] 

In conclusion (more to come), Evaluate very carefully and honestly the workings of your business in conjunction with your ideals, goals and choices. If it fits comfortably, wear it.  If it itches in places, then find out the cause and change it.  Every person on this planet should have the ability to meet their own expectations. Nothing is provided except air, water and life itself, leaving it up to the individual to make something of it.  In a society that treats money as the second-coming of Christ and business as a contact sport, financial success is not just match-play, it is survival.  Love your work, but make sure it works.

[Amazing what a mere 30-years does to ruin one's perspective.  That last paragraph has been a lost ideal in much of the world in the modern age.  A forced loss at that.  And here, it is losing traction as well.  Odd dichotomy here in that some of this material still rings a familiar bell while other parts present a rather frightening premonition.]                 

Hindsight...Always 20/20
As I alluded to in the first paragraph, way back there in Part 1, perspective is a matter of time and experience; certainly self-honesty as well.  When I started in this trade in 1972, farriery was just beginning to emerge from a stagnation that bordered on extinction.  Horseshoers had three brands of shoes, maybe two types of pads, Diamond tools, Frost knives, Capewell nails.  Supplemented by a coal forge.  Even anvils were scarce.  If you needed pritchels, fore-punches, specialty tongs -- you made your own.  Pine tar and oakum was your medical bag and working conditions, outside of the race tracks was fairly abysmal.  And too, we made shoes because we had to, not because we were overly interested in attending art school. Prices?  Minimum wage or less if you bothered to add it up.  And if you were ever short on hostility...well, just pull into a barn where another shoer was working.
The business climate was so bleak that the Japanese chose to stop producing horseshoes, rather than re-tool their manufacturing facilities.  And do remember, the Japanese approach to business has always looked 100-years ahead, not the standard American value of 20. [1970's]  Today, that view is more accurately set at six months or less.  Planned obsolescence seen as so much more lucrative than producing a quality product.
However, it wasn't the role of the farrier that changed, but rather the horse industry itself -- brought forth by an expanding middle class and the recreational avenues the horse created.  The same kind of middle class emerging today in places like India and China, where the horse is being re-discovered by populations quite unfamiliar with the idea of expendable income.  While it has created a number of political challenges, particularly in China, the momentum seen has attracted investors from Europe, the Emirates and elsewhere.

Here, in the 1970's, folklore metamorphosed into those child's first riding lessons; dual-income households made this possible and even for adults -- nostalgic perhaps over a childhood love...that was cherished and lost; choosing to re-acquaint themselves with the equestrian world.  And sure, television and film.  National Velvet being the greatest marketing tool ever invented by accident.  And of course, this laid the groundwork for boarding stables, professional trainers, equine practitioners and even allowed farriers to become specialists within the greater disciplines.  And innovators, entrepreneurs and manufacturers; farriers alike, suddenly took note that there was money to be made in the tangibles, backed by an enthusiasm rarely seen in other trades.  Today's farriers should take a look around their rig and be tickled to death at the options available to them.  For it seems we have entered the second great Iron Age of the new millennium.
But it is not all peaches and cream in River City.  Not by a very long and complex stretch of the imagination.  Many of these same issues remain:  health and liability issues, credibility in the greater world we inhabit, well-rounded and accepted standards in education, social protections and programs -- perhaps the self-respect that some of these issues can nurture.  And a lessening of the fears that these aspects generate.  Yes, fears. The ones we know about, but do not care to admit.  Don't believe that?  I often recount a song by Jimmy Buffet..."A Pirate Looks at Forty."  Well, ask a pirate about the road traveled and how the horizon rises in front of him.  There you will find more truth than you may desire.

A remarkable, but
very short career.

A lot of water has passed by my desk since 1972. Today, the horse industry is a changed animal.  The recession that began in 2008 has now become the socio-economic norm for many Americans.  The middle-class is under siege, while the top 10% of wealth in this country barely noticed the stench.  Farriers, as a rule occupy that middle-class ground, serving more and more the 10% that nourish the sport.  In many of the more rural areas of the country, the financial impact on the recreational use of horses has been compromised to various extents, combined with a long and devastating drought -- in some cases leaving vast areas uninhabitable for livestock, while escalating the prices of feed stocks. This equates to an advancing overhead on the basics of horsekeeping in general and an industry-wide contraction.

While on the other end of the scale; the show world, my world;  has both expanded and consolidated simultaneously.  Circuits are longer, offer more lucrative prizes and have based their operations in close proximity to large urban centers.  And the shows have gained a high level of corporate sponsorship in the process.  This due to live-streaming and various media-outlets, the step-children of a wider network of specialized video production.  It is, as Ron Southern (Spruce Meadows), pointed out in the late 1970's. "You have to put on a show to create an audience and you need television to do it."  Forward thinking.  Many critics scoffed when he personally flew in teams from Europe for his series of tournaments -- those teams bringing European television networks with them.  And while slow to catch on in America, it did, changing the very nature in the appeal of the high disciplines, in turn creating whole new generation of equestrians in the process.

Farriery too is shifting in response to the industry.  The sole-proprietorship is slowly vanishing as a workable model in today's world.  The physical demands are self-limiting, the exposure too great.  This is really not different from the realizations that equine practitioners noticed two-decades ago.  Which is exactly why most are multiple-member practices under a corporate umbrella. Safety in numbers, flexibility in workloads, managed liability with the door always open for expansion.  And as I pointed out miles ago in this tome...something of marketable value at the end, when Cancun starts calling your name.  However, farriers themselves stand in the way of such comparisons. Whether by pride, ideology...maybe what I have always referred to as the Outlier Syndrome, such concepts remain illusive --  primarily because we have defiantly refused to accept anything even remotely resembling a consensus.  That leaves most of these arrangements, or for that matter the entire arena of expansion via employer/employee, contractor or even apprenticeship opportunities wallowing in a bucket of mud; brought about by legal, labor and liability issues that nobody in this industry cares to address.  We all know that our educational system is not sufficient to produce anything more than a talented amateur, and since we won't embrace conventionality in our approach to these issues, the horse owner bears the cross of our continuing education while we continue to share equally in the backlash that substandard work produces.  This must change.  The nature of the horse industry today, and those invested in it, are no longer willing to accept our version of on-the-job product improvement.

One last note and I'll put this novella to bed: the social media in today's business world.  Farriers have a long history of communicating via rancor and an extended index finger.  Most of this at the back door of a stable or after that fifth cocktail at a convention watering hole.  All well and good, venting considered a better form of mental health than what happens at the Post Office.  Even doctors piss and moan about patients, but they do it in the operating theater after the patient has been anesthetized!    

"Yah, yah...this explains club feet
in those hoove things."

Today, we have the faux-scientist camp, the tree-huggers in the barefoot crowd, the hammerheads, the anachronistic purists; not to mention the theoretical reactionaries that change sides every five minutes.  Perhaps every farrier should take a moment to consider that a little professionalism, a few fundamental manners, an ounce less bile just might serve your business and this industry a little better.  Try to imagine a trainer with a 100-head show barn; perhaps an equine practitioner with a large, specialized practice -- either or both wanting to make a change in farrier services.  They've heard your name and start looking around -- you know, resume review without the actual document.  And they discover you referring to one of your clients or another professional as a...."the one-eyed offspring of an orangutan."  Toss in your own subject matter and favorite expletives.  These kind of comments might be fun, hell even appropriate for some audiences, but they are unprofessional, immature and simply exasperate the divisiveness that is at the very core of this entire article. So please, try to keep to the high road.  You know, there is a pretty nice breeze up there.