Monday, December 29, 2014

Why Am I Still Here? Oh...damn Begonia needs watering.

Working Out New Year's Resolu...No, Delusions!*

*According to this rather obscure author:

1)      I am not going to let Doc breed a mare that is worth less than his lawnmower.  She is going to have to find her own date.

2)      The next time a horse knocks down a fence, I’m going to declare it ‘environmental revisionist thinking ’ and leave it that way.  I have no idea what that means and nobody else will either.

3)      I am never going to lose my temper with a yearling again.  (Well, maybe.)

4)      The stallion will learn some manners.  I’m sure I can hire somebody mean (or terminally ill) to deal with that one.

5)      Maybe consider moving my bed a little further from the window.  Just a foot or so.

6)      I will live to see a vet bill under $500.

7)      I’m going to find a cat with some degree of loyalty and table manners.

8)      I will deal with the manure pile before it decides to deal with me.

9)      All halter breaking will take place in-utero.

10)   I’ll hear a trainer say, “You know, you could be right.”

11)   I am going to check my rubber boots for slugs before I put them on.

12)   I am not going to get my thumb caught in the manure spreader¼again.

13)   I will confess the whole sordid story of farm finances to Elaine.  Actually, I’ll send her an anonymous telegram from Mexico.

14)   I’m never going to try to look smart in front of a woman again.  Boy, that’s an easy one.  Wonder why it’s so far down the list?

15)   And, if it happens to work and she’s willing, I am going to ask that woman to marry me.  Or go steady, or¼still, I’ll have to quit smoking.  And maybe reconsider the advantages of a college education.  Who knows?  Might write a book or something.

Well, that about covers it...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Oxy-Cotone Chronicles: "The Heartolope."

First, it was a 10-foot tall Ed Begley Jr., terrorizing me in a shopping mall. I wanted to get new underwear -- I got Ed instead.  These things seem to happen to me whenever a doctor says:  "Take two of these and call me in the morning." I know it is only a coincidence, but the guys's name is Dr. Charles Sheen. Hmm.

Last night I met the Heartolope while walking past a Manhattan Poodle Parlor. One of those places where people have their uptown pets bathed, perfumed and made to look and smell like a furry hooker.  I only caught a glimpse of this strange animal as a very large woman led it by the window and into another room.  Curious, I went in.  She was busy muscling this thing into a large tub. Over the noise of the cascading water, I inquired as to what this odd-looking animal might be.

"Hell if I know.  Smells like a goat, but it ain't got no horns. Doesn't seem to have any other parts either. Fellow says it's a Heartolope, so I Googled that and it came back, 'page unavailable.'  Freaky. Guy that owns it says it's extinct. Ought to be the way it smells."

"Where do they come from?"

"Guy said somewhere in southeast Africa.  They lived in a crater there. Sort of, I guess. Guy drinks like a fish. You know, perfect pet for a rich guy. You don't even have to feed it."

"Why's that?"

"Doesn't have a look for yourself.  Doesn't have an asshole either."

So I decided to go to southeast Africa and find out about this animal. Seemed like the thing to do since I had no idea why I was in a Manhattan Poodle parlor anyway.  But seeing how this was a dream, it wasn't long before I was standing in a crater in southeastern Africa chatting with a grizzled old buzzard of a man holding a spear. He had all kinds of tattoos, scars and sharp things shoved through his lips and eyelids.  Really wondered if he had a belly-button piercing, but that seemed a little personal for a first encounter.  Fortunately, he spoke English or otherwise the dream would have ended right there.   

"He was called the Heartolope by the early Masi.  He was known as the Szxxcohtzx to us, but we were never good with words, so we adopted the other name.  We were great hunters until they opened the Wal-Mart."

"Are there any left?"

"No. The last two were eaten by Christian missionaries. The said we needed to be saved from our Pagan habits. You see, we thought that maybe the Heartolope might be a god, since it needed nothing in this world."

"The name?  Heartolope. Why was it called that?"

"The old man scratched his head and spat on the ground.  "Bad teeth.  The story is told that the animal is born with all heart and no organs. His life is sustained by slowly giving his heart to all around him.  A scientist came by once and said that the story is a metaphor for something else. Lions got him though, so we never found out what the 'something else' was. Happens a lot around here...I mean with the lions."

"Well, how did they...uh, reproduce?  I mean, make more Heartolopes."

"I don't think they knew about sex.  They seemed to have just come out of the ground in the crater. And then, in my grandfather's time, less and less of them were seen.  And they began to smell bad.  There were many stories passed down about these strange creatures who saw with no eyes, spoke with no tongue and left the land as it always had been."

"Like what?"

"It is said they leave no tracks on the ground.  And according to the Masi, other animals would bring their young to see them.  It is said that Wildebeest mothers brought their calf's to the crater to teach them to have self-esteem.  If I looked like a Wildebeest, I think I would have such issues myself."  He spat again. "They say I need a root canal."

"What will happen now...I mean, now that they are all gone."

"Probably nothing.  Nothing much happened when they were here really.  We lived, they lived, the lions ate stupid scientists.  But you know, nothing grows in that crater anymore..."

"It is a sad story."

"I am not sure about that.  You know, I miss them at times, but I never know why.  Then I kind of miss my 6th wife too, but I am not too sure about that either.  I am old.  Maybe soon I will go where all things go and find out."      

Then I woke up...and it seemed like the bed was full of sand...and my belly-button was pierced.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why in the hell would...

...somebody start shoeing horses in:


Oh yeah...that guy.  Seems he was overly interested in my active participation in a little get-together in southeast Asia.  Something about 'winning the hearts and minds' with 500lb. bombs.  At various times, I tried to tell the Selective Service that I was a little busy...what with overthrowing the existing government and doing a few random drug tests on myself.  Besides, I'd already filled out the form stating that I was a homosexual, cross-dressing communist with anarchic tendencies.  I mean, seriously, did they honestly believe I was one of those "few good men" that was going to achieve 'peace with honor' using the business-end of a loaded gun?  
Our team conducting field research. 

Then, there was the other problem: my associates and I were actively engaged in research to determine the connection between ingesting certain substances and the prospects of getting laid. But midway through our hypothesis, we all got a bad case of the crabs; a variable we hadn't built into the model.  

However, the government still remained extremely interested in what conclusions we were able to draw. But their zealousness was beginning to make us a little suspicious about their real motives.  I decided it was time to buy a horse and ride to Mexico. Not sure how I came to that conclusion, but it might have had something to do with either chronic, drug-induced paranoia or from eating too many Hostess products.  How did that work out?  You'll have to buy the book...I'll only give up so much personal dirt for free.        
"No, Mr. Juell...we'd rather talk to the horse."
Now you have to remember that the horse didn't become a wide-spread recreational item until the 1960's. Meaning that the animal was finally going mainstream once again -- kind of like when Henry Ford invented the Model A so poor people could learn to drive.  A beast for the masses.  Sure, we had jumpers in the east, racing all over the country, pockets of activity in Virginia, Kentucky...a budding professional circuit in California, but not (God forbid), the backyard equine.      
And then came the next question.  Who is going to shoe these ill-mannered, crooked-legged hair bags? Ah, well it seemed that there was a distinct shortage of trained 'shoers' (the common term in the wild west), and the tenets of capitalism dictate that one "should find a niche and fill it."  And this concept wasn't lost on a few budding entrepreneurs that either wanted a way out of the trenches, or more commonly at the time;  a surge in vocational-occupation schools that figured that producing a shoer wasn't much different than making up a new batch of Ford mechanics.  8-week wonders at a profit.

But where did the existing shoers come from?  Well, many were ex-Army taught;  Fort Riley, Kansas, the Army's remount camp still operating into the late 1940's or so. Others were refugees from the racetracks, ranch hand types and in the east, many were imported from Europe where the guild system produced highly-trained farriers, but not necessarily the income-level one could achieve in the US.  And demand was outstripping supply here.

Course, one rather foreboding conflict existed: administration sought to fill chairs with bodies; instructors needed students that had actually seen a horse or two in their young lives.  From "Mares, Foals and Ferraris:"

     "Wednesday morning we started the class.  There were about seventeen of us altogether. Three were on parole, two were sent down from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, two appeared to be cowboys of some sort and three guys seemed to be in the pharmaceutical business.  The rest of us just lied about why we wanted to shoe horses, all except this one curious soul who appeared to be a woman, although at about 240lbs or so, it seemed difficult to prove conclusively.  She did seem a little enamored with the anvils, spending a good portion of the afternoon stroking the horn on the biggest one.  Most of us shied away from her.  The police stopped by later that day and arrested one guy, so we were down to sixteen.

     There were two other fellows who stood outside the building for most of the day drinking something out of a paper bag and chain smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.  They had long hair and wore green army fatigues, with eyes that darted wildly at small noises and rapid movements.  I was thinking militant hippies, but one of the guys said they were sent down by the VA – coined locally as the Vietnam Administration, an organization known to operate like the Post Office on a Friday afternoon.  We nicknamed them the Siamese Twins since they seemed to be bound together at the brain.  Whenever they spoke it was in unison and they answered every question with another question.  They’d only discuss the war in the third-person, as if it were a movie they starred in, but never watched.  Mostly they answered everything with an all-inclusive, “Man, that’s just puppy shit.” ----

So, most instructors went out on mental leave shortly before their contract was to be renewed. It also meant that most shoeing schools in those days had an 80% attrition rate -- about the same recidivism percentage as alcoholics. But that didn't seem to diminish the number of hopelessly optimistic applicants showing up at the door.  Yeah, I graduated...the last positive on my horizon for quite a spell.  Which translates to: Farriers today are a bit spoiled... 

Welcome to the Dark Ages!


The basics:  Let's see...first off, all new farriers (we did get a name upgrade), were forced to inherit all the bad habits of the previous generation -- including all those 'catch-phrases' of the era; terminology like 'hot, cold and corrective.' We also got the antiquated price structure, the flaming animosity and a level of horsemanship just slightly more advanced than Genghis Khan's first cavalry school. And of course, the latest in technology.  Which meant:

We had 3 brands of shoes...two were awful and the third was mediocre. One brand of nails, two kinds of pads, one brand of rasp or knife, and the most remedial sort of hand tools. And no, gas forges hadn't been invented yet. Mine was a portable coal number made out of a swimming pool tank filter. Pritchels and punches were made out of coil springs from a '58 Buick. Spring vices, specialty tongs, made yourself. Sure, we were taught to make our own shoes during the '8-week rags to riches' class, but it seemed we were a little too busy making tools to worry about making shoes.  And with shoeing starting at $14.00 a head...well, you get it.

Agree to disagree...

Course, we didn't have homeopathic tree-hugging barefooters to contend with (Whoops! -- did have the Nature Plate!) -- just other farriers and veterinarians who assumed that farrier translated roughly to fairly stupid.  But then, considering our business model, they probably weren't far off the mark. However, we did have attitude...boy, we had a ton of that.

So after my initial 5-year sentence at hard labor was up...some questions were still festering in my thoroughly damaged psyche. So I and a few others turned to politics. This led to the rather tumultuous formation of both the AFA and various state 'professional' associations. The assumption was that we could take a collection of the world's most notorious outliers and agree on an agenda to make our profession more respectable -- thereby more mainstream and perhaps more profitable.  So that maybe we could afford things like health and disability insurance and maybe a Visa card that wasn't issued dependent on that night job at McDonalds.  Ha, ha...what was I thinking?  

See, we had elephants in the room.  Very large elephants. And while they were busy tipping over the furniture and pooping all over the carpet, nobody wanted to discuss the smell or seriously consider evicting them. To discuss prices, business practices, real credibility in a world that demands it -- relations with allied trades, insurance matters, a fair apprenticeship system, regulations...etc -- all taboo. The very things that encompass and define 'professionalism.' Instead, the focus was on self-certification, contests, clinics -- things that may (and did) bring social gains and a greater sense of community, but did little to address the overriding credibility gap in a highly litigious world -- one that doesn't seem to think that toys can break for no reason. And 30-odd years later...the status quo is alive and...well, alive.  

So I took my football and went home and started writing a whole series of articles on "Elephant Maintenance," with the help and support of Rob Edwards at the Anvil Magazine.  Course, that was an experiment that defined how many times you can fart in church before the parishioners have had enough. Yeah, the natives got a little restless with me, but that's old news anyway. However, one article I wrote at that time was on this kind of proto-Renaissance in the manufacturing and marketing of materials TO farriers. For it seemed that we had finally advanced to the point that others were willing to seek profits through our perceived needs.  Meaning we were gaining recognition...but only as a source of profit by others.  Which I guess is a good thing, though the US Department of Labor still classifies us as, "casual farm labor."  No worries though.  Few lawyers are going to seek damages from a grape picker. 

"Then came the 80's. Now anvils are slotted and cammed, elongated and bent until some resemble a cross between an aircraft carrier and a 1950's bra."  

So I wrote in 1989...lamenting that I'd need a 40' Kenworth to pull all this shit around.  Actually, I did surrender to inventory in some ways -- my last shoeing rig was a 16' step-van.

Circa 1989
But the point really was, 'how much technology is enough?'  The question really had to do  more with the equation that greater stock-on-hand, meant the more we could offer in services -- subsequently, the more options we made available, the more junk we would need to pack around. Which is probably okay to a certain point, except that in farriery, the business is always about labor, not materials. Which translates roughly into the idea that stock (inventory) is a liability until it finds its way on to a horse's foot. We don't sell shoes...we sell a service. So in effect, that inventory then becomes a detriment to our cash flow.  

But why sweat the small stuff when as the ad below the article is going to sell you a "No-Blow Hardie."  Sounds like a silly addition to your tool box? Then you don't remember the thrill of working with Japanese horseshoes. Yeah, the nostalgia is making my arm hurt all over again.

So here we are today...almost 25-years after the first revolution and the marketplace is more crowded than ever, while many of those old 'elephants' are still having their way with the furniture. Two questions arise.  The first is whether farriers are better off?  Personally, I was probably more progressive than most. In my area, I was the first to accept credit cards, the first to install a cell-phone in my truck.  And maybe the first to question where all this 'technology' was headed.  See, I was far more interested in raising the level of professionalism in my business AND the industry at large.  I saw the latter (and the politics) as a dire necessity in the real world; knowing full well that an improvement in economics should follow suit. Instead, I felt the resistance of those who appreciated the new 'toys,' but not always the accountability that business legitimacy demanded.  Now, if I fast-forward all this to the present...a different beast emerges: life in our corporate plutocracy, where money is seen as value, not the honest efforts of men or women.  That causes me to close to the toilet as possible.

Then the second question, that being is the horse better off?  Yes, and perhaps no. Some of the greatest advances have come in the area of adhesives and repair materials; a vast variety of shoes and pads.  Veterinary diagnostics and research have also advanced, as too, the nature of vet/farrier relations in general, mostly brought about by the advent of the internet and social media, combined with open educational forums that allow all opinions a place at the table.  Yet farriery still remains a largely unregulated, unrecognized endeavour and a continuing haven for charlatans and snake-oil peddlers, where facts are easily replaced by seemingly relentless dogma. And too, the horse industry itself is undergoing change, in some ways mirroring the overall economic disparity in the wider economy.  Yeah, the 99-1% split. Farriers today have a much better chance for advancing their skill level and by default, their economic prosperity, but far more dependent on geography today than ever before.  The overall horse industry is contracting; i.e., withdrawing geographically to areas of affluence, while the middle is losing ground as expendable income evaporates from the coffers of the middle class.  

Where is all this heading?  Hard to say.  But if one follows the lead of those most cynical about America's future, it would seem that a viable skill is quite likely to outweigh the value found in that 401k.  I'll check back in ten years and let you know on that one.  Wonder if you can still find those fine Japanese shoes?  Hmm.  





Sunday, July 13, 2014

Angst = Show Season....

You're Kidding....Right?

Had an Internet conversation the other day with a friend/farrier back know, one of those mid-show-season diagnostic brain-storming sessions that you hope to hell your own doctor doesn't resort to for your impending surgery.

Seemed there was a lot at stake for this particular rider (is it ever less than the end of the known world?), so we tossed a few ideas around and decided that if they didn't pan out, we'd meet up in The Bahamas and work out a Plan B.  But it reminded me of those angst-filled days on the show circuit where life and death showed up at your tent before the coffee did.

So if you have ever sweated blood...try this out:


No, not that that looks kind of like this:

Now this isn't Nero, but the job is quite similar.  This is actually Robert Ridland's late/great jumper Benoit -- a story for another day.  Nero was a jumper, a grand prix horse under the tutelage of Steve and Jennifer Newell in California.  I had seen the horse on the road, but had never worked on him until the Seattle Grand Prix...circa 1987 or so.  And in some ways, I wish that trend had continued.  But the problem with shows is that "no" is not an option and courage has its limits...especially when it is a big dollar class and a very talented horse.  

Nero's regular shoer was friend Butch Coggins, from Woodside, California.  A damned good shoer in his own right, but not in the neighborhood this particular week.  The first indication of trouble showed up on schooling day...when Steve (the trainer) -- not a groom or a mucker...the trainer -- shows up at my tent with Nero.  Not a good sign, but Steve and Jennifer are great folks and handle things like they are, not by wishful thinking or unrealistic ambition.  Steve simply said, "We need a plan."

It seemed Nero had a club foot...a bad one.  One that would have looked better on a burro, than 16.2 hand jumper.

Yeah, one of those...only as it turned out, a little worse than the one pictured.  Butch had reverted to a glue-on approach, but do remember that this was late-1980's and few options existed, other than an early Redden-cuff, which he had used here.  But since this show was on the lawn, screw-caulks were needed and the torque on this thing would be severe.  

So I took some measurements (the blind kind, since we couldn't see the actual foot) and built a spare shoe.  I used aluminum, since I could draw extremely tall clips and keep the weight down. We also put together a band system for the shoe using the tapped screw-caulk holes.  The real issue was the grand that if Murphy was in town, there would no time to glue.  This would be a nail job...or really, kind of religious experience.  Well, you know where this is going.  Murphy was not only in town, but somewhere very close at hand.

Sunday:  The big day.  We'd moved my menagerie nearer the GP ring -- common practice because the barns were some distance away. The GP had about 28 entries or so. Nero went fourth...clean, but at the second to last fence I noticed a UFO trailing him.  Yeah, you can fill in the rest.  About five-minutes later, trainer, groom, horse and a curious veterinarian were all looking at me.  It was definitely a Rodney Dangerfield moment.

Should have taken the easy out, called 911 and simply claimed suicidal tendencies.  The chewed-up mess was not even close to the size of our back-up plan and the wall was about bovine in, thinner than my skin at that particular moment.  Butch had also added a thick pad to increase the base support on that foot, so Plan B was now Plan C.

The only saving grace was that the horse had jumped fourth in the field.  So we had a little time before the second round.  I sent my assistant over to tell the announcer (a good friend) to stall as much as possible.  Maybe recite The Wasteland or something while I built a new shoe.  We'd have to skip the pad and taper the aluminum for width. (These club-feet are very unstable, particularly on a horse doing the big fences.)  Mark, my trusty co-conspirator, got the band made up, we said a few non-denominational prayers -- a bad time to find out who the real God might be -- and it was time to nail this Rube Goldberg contraption on what was left of this foot.  And it should be noted here that Steve and Jennie were great.  They just sat on my cooler and discussed their last vacation...which WAS appreciated.  The nosey vet was mostly scratching his head.

Nails?  I dug around in the van and found some #6 race nails.  Except that they weren't going to seat.  So we took some washers that come with copper rivets and shanked the nails with them to fill the void.  We managed six nails in the shoe (the fourth and fifth were finished in full cardiac arrest) and called it good. Mark clinched and finished and we attached and tightened the band. We used a set-screw through the band and into the dorsal wall.  Then we added a half-roll of electrical tape and the bell-boot.  About then, we both remembered that breathing is necessary to life.

Nero was saddled and off they went to gold, glory or...the barn for the duration.  I watched him jog off -- being somewhat masochistic about these doomed experiments, but he appeared sound.  He was third going into the jump-off (no schooling fences) and...and...and...jumped clean.  The shoe held, he was second overall in the grand prix and only got beaten by the clock.  Mark and I celebrated later that night:

Addendum:  After this show, Nero and his entourage returned to California -- to my relief, but probably not Butch's.  The horse continued to show, did well and I can only imagine how many farriers he destroyed along the way.  But then again, what would life be without these challenges?  On second thought.....

Butch Coggins (L) and the author in later, quieter times.  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Everybody Loves a Warmblood....

                    Sure They Do!

[Circa 1988, The Chronicle of the Horse]

Leave it Europe to create something as confusing as a Warmblood.  Part Thoroughbred, part plow-horse, and with personalities as varied as the terrain, or in some cases, none at all.  Still, America has developed a love affair with these horses only slightly less flaming than cheap gas.

In actuality, it would be hard for Americans to create such a horse.  We are too argumentative, too opinionated, and with more states and ingrained prejudices than Europe and Asia combined, the results could be scary.  Can one imagine New Jersey and Connecticut each having their own state horse?  Better yet, could anyone pronounce such a breed?  And then there is Texas...

There would also be the problem of state-by-state attributes, uniqueness being the selling point.  New York Warmbloods would be bred to accept bad drivers and random muggings with grace, Idaho Warmbloods could live on potatoes, and Florida Warmbloods would look great in a bathing suit.  And what about California?  How could a person resist a horse that was bred to appreciate surfboards, bad air and pink tofu?

No, America is a poor proving ground for new breeds.  Look at the Quarter Horse.  After 60 years of not-so-selective product improvement, they are still not sure if they want a short muscular horse, a tall muscular horse, or a Thoroughbred.  Or maybe none of the above.  Perhaps the real problem is little more than the American tradition of fashion by the decade, an odd belief that after 10 years of passionate commitment, the honeymoon is indeed over.

In Europe    

Each European country has its own version of the Warmblood.  The one exception, of course, is Germany, which has either absorbed the American concept of hamburger marketing or finds horse breeding to be the last vestige of feudalism in a shrinking world. Such district-by-district envy could be a source of unending friction for the Germans, except for the fact that they still have not answered their centuries-old dispute over who makes the best beer.  At Europe's pace, arguing over horses is still probably 200 years away.

The fervor of horse breeding in Europe should by all calculations be drawn along nationalistic frontiers.  Ranging from Sweden in the north, to the palm-lined beaches of the south, each country should by all accounts, produce a specialist in something.

Everyone knows that German horses can jump, but no seems to know why.  It has been theorized that a connection may exist between their diet of brewery wastes and the fact that their evolutionary development has been interrupted on numerous occasions by artillery barrages.  The military connection may also explain their propensity for dressage, as the Germans have always taken great pride in one form or another of marching.  It probably works off the extra calories associated with the question of who makes the best beer.

French Warmbloods were obviously created to be show hunters.  Such unbridled arrogance would surely be wasted on anything less than a French horse.  Aside from their ability to enter a show ring with all the panache of an Oscar night, they are easy to feed (they eat anything), and easy to name.  They are all called "Pierre."  Or "Capucine" if it's a girl horse.

Swedish horses are all blond and blue-eyed with good tans and a knack for skiing.  When brought to America they excel in grand prix events held on the snow or tundra.  For this reason most are assessed an automatic 4-faults whenever the footing comes up "cold."

Dutch horses are the most difficult to label of the Warmbloods.  Other than their ability to live around barbed-wire, most seem to have been bred by accident.  Almost all Dutch farmers seem to have three or four of these brutes around, but they are never sure where they came from, or if they should really sell them.  Farmers are like that.

And of course there are the English, but they can never leave anything alone.  Aside from the classic half-Thoroughbred-half-draft field hunters that they are infamous famous for, the English also produce an endless assortment of half-cobs, half-Welshes, half-Connemaras, and an experimental goat-cow combination that will produce two kinds of cheese on a diet of kippers and ale.  But the English have a huge advantage in marketing horses in America.  We all speak the same language -- sort of.

In America  

Once these Warmbloods hop off the plane, everything changes.  Like most new immigrants, they want to take a quick peak at the Statue of Liberty, then get on with dinner.  But the food is different, the rules strange, and the expectations practically overwhelming.  In America, horses are expected to lead well, cross-tie politely, and only step on humans with one foot at a time.  And the competitive demands are frightening. Imported horses are never allowed to fail at anything.  They must move like a gazelle, jump anything in the parking lot, and exude substance and poise from every pore in their body.  And that's before the show actually starts.

While new owners are busy admiring their new acquisition, the grooms are kept busy trying to convince the new arrivals that a vacuum cleaner is not a meat-eating version of an over-sized blender.  And vacuuming is important, considering that a Warmblood may have more surface area than some small farms. 

Then of course, comes the matter of shoes.  Europe has never been big on horseshoes, so most Warmbloods arrive with these large round things at the bottoms of their legs that resemble a hair pizza.  Farriers love these large feet, particularly when they find their way into tool boxes, water buckets or the occasional shirt pocket.

It is such activities that probably led to what farriers call the "Warmblood Surcharge," a small fee added onto the bill to cover such things as broken anvils, overturned trucks and missing apprentices.  These charges are also meant as compensation for a farrier's loss of height, which often occurs after being pile-driven into the ground by an animal just slightly heavier than a small house.

But one day calm prevails and the new arrival jogs around the arena with the authority of an old veteran.  Processed, refined, transformed and converted, the Warmblood is Americanized as apple pie.  No longer afraid of vacuum cleaners or weed eaters, indoor shows or brightly colored fences, the horse is ready for whatever America has to throw at it.

Then the door opens and in walks an Appaloosa.  

Gosh, I sure was generous back in those days.  But then, it was The Chronicle and they do get a little fussy about breed bashing -- deserved or otherwise.  So later, in order to set the record straight, I wrote my own book, including a chapter I entitled, "The Other Thoroughbred."  A primer follows:  

     "Sure, there are dumb-bloods around – I mean Warmbloods, but most have an IQ normally associated with poultry and have feet the size of garbage can lids.  Am I prejudiced?  Yes.  Emphatically.  These horses are bred in Europe, basically mongrels that end up with some royal tattoo on their butts in a wild attempt to get them adopted by Americans with more money than sense.  Europe is the dog pound of the horse industry.  Every farmer has two or three of these brutes just waiting for the adoption papers to be finalized.  They are basically a cross between a heavy horse – say a Percheron and a Thoroughbred.  The idea was to gain size and soundness from the heavy side and a little heat and ambition from the Thoroughbred influence.  The plan actually seemed somewhat reasonable if you ignore the ‘Irish Setter Syndrome,’ another human experiment in DNA intervention that scientifically established that an organism could fetch and drool whether it had a brain or not.  Now that kind of mental acuity may not seem important if you are a tail-wagging potted plant, but the story gets a little more frightening when you are trying to make eye contact with a 1500lb pile of indifference."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Origins of might not like the answer.

East to West

A little background is in order:

"Under the last of the Umayyad, the Arabian empire extended two hundred days journey from east to west, from the confines of Tartary and India to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. And if we retrench the sleeve of the robe, as it is styled by their writers, the long and narrow province of march of a caravan. We should vainly seek the indissoluble union and easy obedience that pervaded the government of Augustus and the Antonines; opinions, but the progress of Islam diffused over this ample space a general resemblance of manners and opinions.. The language and laws of the Quran were studied with equal devotion at Samarcand and Seville: the Moor and the Indian embraced as countrymen and brothers in the pilgrimage of Mecca; and the Arabian language was adopted as the popular idiom in all the provinces to the westward of the Tigris."  

"Manners and opinions..."  The Islamic invasions that began in the 7th century were not about selling monotheism to the locals. Instead, it was an expansion based on commerce; i.e., expanding trading opportunities in a wider world, this due largely to the political and military vacuum created by the decline of both the later period Western Roman Empire and the Persian Empire. These two had been fighting a long war of attrition that basically exhausted the resources of both states and eventually led to the complete collapse of the western half of Rome's great power base. The Arab expansion was also precipitated by conflicts within the Arab world itself and subsequently, a broader unification of Islam occurred following the death of Muhammad in 632, which established his right-hand man, Abu Bakr as the 1st Caliph -- if you like, the equivalent of Pope, General and Emperor of the existing Islamic world.  And as an aside, created the first sectarian riff within Islam itself, a conflict that remains to this day.    

Other historians suggest "that formation of a state in the Arabian peninsula and ideological (i.e. religious) coherence and mobilization was a primary reason why the Muslim armies in the space of a hundred years were able to establish the largest pre-modern empire until that time. The estimates for the size of the Islamic Caliphate suggest it was more than thirteen million square kilometers (five million square miles), making it larger than all current states except the Russian Federation."  Key word: "mobilization." 

But before putting forth the rest of my hypothesis on the development of farriery, a few myths need to be dissolved:  A good many amateur scholars, authors and other assorted pundits have prophesied much and proved little under the empirical model. Truth is, I don't plan to either, as I deal in the realm of history...which unlike the sciences, incorporates all the other academic disciplines to propose "a reasonable and rational conclusion."  A lot like anthropology...we think this is, but we don't really know for sure. So feel free to stone my temple. 

First and foremost, Charleton Heston did NOT invent horseshoeing, even though the producers of Ben-Hur thought it might be otherwise.  Yes, the Romans did bring much to the world (most of it swiped from the Greeks), but farriery wasn't one of the benefits.  What originally fueled this assumption can be attributed more to bad science and wishful thinking than anything based on fact. The assumption seemed to have come to fruition during the last heyday in horseshoeing literature: 1830-1900, where authors of the day often pointed to horseshoes dug up around England and France, attributing them to the Roman occupations that occurred over a 500 year span or so. Seems logical...perhaps?  Except for the fact that radio-carbon dating had as yet, to be invented, complicated further by the inability of this process to carbon-date inorganic material. Meaning that the only way to date these horseshoes would be to dig up one with the horse still attached to it.  Not a likely scenario.  So sure, they might be old, but how old?

Another tale dealt with the Roman poet, Gaius Valerius Catulus, who hung around Rome around 60BC. A well-known poet and social critic (the latter most likely an unhealthy habit in Rome at the time), but even so, many of his works managed to survive over time. Often critical of Rome's social schisms, his poetic license was often misinterpreted by later scholars, embracing poetic metaphor in favor of realistic scrutiny. Certain references exist to horses hooves, these related to 'adornments' often misconstrued as a shoe of some kind. The reality was that the hooves of horses and burros were often decorated for festivals and celebrations to advertise the status and wealth of the owner.  We do the same thing here with a high-end Mercedes. But let's back up a minute.

When I re-entered academics in my 40's, I was a little shy about the whole thing. So the first class I took was Art History. Figured it would be a class full of bored housewives and I could waste a few bucks to see if I really owned a brain. Well, I became a little amazed by the whole thing, for you see, much of antiquity is only explained through the surviving art of the time: statuary, frescoes, architecture, even the most utilitarian objects like pottery and utensils.  It is all that survives of a long-lost culture, and it is here where the forensics of history begin. And yes, like this particular blog -- speculative, but that's about all we've got. So the job then is to NOT let the thesis define the interpretation.  Not always an easy task. but back to the streets of Rome:

[2nd Century AD]
Fast forward:  Marcus Aurelius (original bronze, circa 175AD). The Romans very much adopted the Greek style of 'realism.'  Yet in the few remaining bronzes from the Roman period, none were shown shod.  This particular piece (life-size) did survive the centuries, but only by chance. Many of these bronzes were melted down as dynasties (leadership) changed. Most to make new coins of the realm, but once Christianity took hold, many were destroyed because they were considered 'pagan idolatry' -- Christianity already becoming a religion of intolerance. See, the locals assumed that this was a statue of Constantine, Rome's first Christian emperor and so quite remarkably it was spared destruction.                 
[Date unknown]

Two other issues play into Roman history. The first concerns the 'Roman roads,' a network of highways that existed throughout the vast realm. The obvious question is, "Why?" Certainly for expanding commerce, but more likely as an adjunct to move armies and logistical supplies quickly and with little attrition to wagons or horses.  As all of us know, a paved road is a lot less abrasive or destructive to a horse's hooves than rocky or sandy ground, not to mention the toll wrought on axles and wheels. And most of these roads were highly engineered -- constructed using the most direct route possible. (Even today, much of the M1 in the UK -- the main north to south route -- is constructed on top of a Roman road.)  Yet it is here, in the middle Roman years that we encounter the infamous: Hippo-sandal.

I've always had a few issues with this particular notion. First, it is not farriery. (Yeah, I'm nit-picking.) In fact it reminds me of the current 'barefoot movement,' which rescues the failure of their ideology by the application of a boot.  Secondly, the engineering, particularly in the bottom specimen, seems highly flawed. But perhaps the biggest issue is trying to imagine these devices used on uneven terrain, in the mud...charging wildly at a bunch of angry barbarians.  And the maintenance and application must have been a horrendous undertaking.  Spare tire?  Perhaps. What these devices do show however, is that all armies were limited by how much wear a hoof could tolerate over distance; in the case of the Roman Empire, over some of the most inhospitable ground on the planet.  

The Caveat:

The first thing to appreciate is that the Arab invasions were NOT conducted by a bunch of ragged Bedouins on camels. Hardly. They numbered in the thousands, sported a well-disciplined cavalry and yes...they had a formidable navy; so powerful, that by 700AD, they owned both sides of the Mediterranean Sea and had advanced from Damascus, all the way to the Atlantic and into western Europe.  And a good portion of their armies were also composed of Christians -- persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church as heretics to the one great Christian religion.  And yes, sectarianism and politics permeates all organized religions. But the key to the success of the Arab military advances seemed to lie in how they covered such tremendous amounts of ground with their horses -- over some of the harshest terrain in the known world -- and to do it with incredible speed. However, it should not be construed that the invasion went off like clockwork. The Islamic armies had many setbacks, including outright defeats, and continued to experience a great deal of internal dissent.  But in the end, they prevailed, marking the end of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) empire.

The Arab Dynasty

The Quran:

Now I suppose that for some, the Holy Book of Islam would not necessarily be the first choice for seeking out historical facts. The same could easily be said for Christianity's Bible. Yet, behind the poetic metaphors, the moral chastisements and the rest of the God is Great sale's pitch, they nonetheless can offer a peek at the culture and societal norms of the time.  They can even offer a clue to something as utilitarian as horseshoeing:

Verses from (1 - 5)
1- I swear by the runners breathing pantingly,
2- Then those that produce fire striking,
3- Then those that make raids at morn,
4- Then thereby raise dust
5- Then rush thereby upon an assembly

Strikers of Fire...

Hmm. Poetic it is, but how else do you make sparks with a hoof, other than having a ferrous metal of some kind attached to said hoof?  And knowing what we know to be true today, how do armies move that far and that fast with a finite number of horses? Sure, it is NOT proof, but I can accept the notion by what little evidence that actually exists today. But a few of things are also important to consider, whether you are willing to accept this conclusion or not:  1.) Farriery is much older than we might have previously assumed -- meaning that the skill pre-existed the Quran. 2.) The shoe itself was not the critical matter here.  It was the nail.  And 3.) The Arab armies made it into western Europe and subsequently the craft appeared in various literary references within a hundred years of the final Arab invasion. Even during the First Crusade, it has been noted that a widespread call went out for those skilled in the art of farriery.  And in later European conflicts, their existed a protocol within all armies, that when it came to farriers, the policy was "to capture, not kill" these skilled artisans. That was how valuable farriery became in the Age of the Horse.     

{The following section is a little tedious, but it attempts to explain the origins of the Quran itself:}

The compilation of the written Qur'an (as opposed to the recited Qur'an) spanned several decades and forms an important part of early Islamic history. Muslim accounts say it began in the year 610 when Gabriel (Arabic: جبريل, Jibrīl or جبرائيل, Jibrāʾīl) appeared to Muhammad in the cave Hira near Mecca, reciting to him the first verses of the Sura Iqra (al-`Alaq), thus beginning the revelation of the Qur'an. Throughout his life, Muhammad continued to have revelations until before his death in 632.[1] Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike disagree on whether Muhammad compiled the Qur'an during his lifetime or if this task began with the first caliph Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (632-634). Once the Qur'an was compiled, due to the unanimity of the sources, Muslims agree that the Qur'an we see today was canonized by Uthman ibn Affan (653-656). Upon the canonization of the Qur'an, Uthman ordered the burning of all personal copies of the Qur'an. The reason why Uthman gave this order is discussed further in the section below entitled "The Collection of the Qur'an". The copy of quran kept with wife of Mohammad named Hafsa was accepted for public. Until then, several copies of Quran were available in different regions of Arabia with some grammatical errors, so Uthman's order allowed only one version of Quran to exist to prevent any misinterpretation of quranic text or word of God (Allah).

So that's what I know and think about the whole matter. Couple of interesting side-notes in wandering down the yellow brick road of horseshoeing. Rome should get the Guinness Record for the most assassinations of Emperors in history.  Islam gets second for bumping off Caliphs and the Vatican runs a close third.  The production of crude carbon steel dates back to 8500BC.  Damascus steel to 300BC...only it originated in India as Wootz steel. And if you ever want to read an fascinating history on crucible steel: "The Arms of Krupp," William Manchester; 1968. Much more in this read than you might think.   Oh...and Genghis Khan showed up about 1200AD and trashed Europe all over again. Yet oddly, many Mongols remained in eastern Europe and central Asia, as permanent settlers, and eventually converted to Islam.  I suppose in this age, some folks might find it odd perhaps, but once the fighting ended, Islam offered the benevolent hand of their faith to all who cared to embrace it.  Other faiths were not so generous.  Oh, one more thing. The Arabs were the only outside force to ever conquer Afghanistan. Pentagon should have asked for a little advice before wading into that mess.