Had an Internet conversation the other day with a friend/farrier back east...you 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 one...one 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 prix...in 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 thickness...as 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.|