I didn’t even know what a farrier was until a family friend went away to a farrier school and became one. I still don’t know a lot about the specific skills and talents used in the practice, but I know it takes special abilities and a love of horses.
I had a few experiences with horses growing up. Some were very positive, and others included scary bits. Probably horses should be like cars. You can’t drive one until you get a learner’s permit, at least.
One scary memory was at a party with several families out in the country at a ranch. All the adults were gathered together on the patio enjoying drinks and conversation, and the kids were playing by the house on the grass—except for my sister and the girl who lived there. They were riding down in the corral. Everyone was happy, having a great summer evening. Some commotion broke through our fun from over by the corral, and the grown ups started moving toward there, then running. We kids raced down to the barn too, to see what had made our moms and dads run like that. Lying in the dust, not moving, was my sister.
The adults went into some kind of emergency mode, the kind all kids have seen. They stop talking to us, the ones not lying in the dirt not moving, and they exchange serious, strained sentences with each other. They decide what to do, what not to do. If they should call an ambulance. If she can speak, if she can move. If they should let her try. Terrified and silenced, the rest of us stand back and watch our parents huddle around her, hoping everything will be okay, trusting the grownups will know what to do.
It was a scare that made us leery of riding horses for a while after that, always remembering to respect the power and size of the animal. The gate had swung out and hit the horse in the muzzle and spooked him into bucking. My sister was okay, nothing broken. More bruised, scared, and the wind knocked all the way to Tuesday out of her.
My best friend in elementary school and junior high got a horse. I loved going over to her house and riding. She knew about horses, and I trusted her knowhow to get me on and off of the horse safely. It was way more fun than playing with Barbie dolls. And I never was thrown off. I loved opening up the throttle and galloping like in the old TV westerns (not the kind that sped up the film to make it look faster, all choppy and goofy—as though we couldn’t tell). The breeze in my hair, the power, the speed. Loved it.
Because of my good experiences with my best friend’s horse, I became more comfortable. In high school, we visited another family friend and I went riding with the daughter. We’d had a great ride and everything went fine. I had no idea I’d done anything to make the horse hate me. But after I dismounted, the daughter was taking care of something with the saddle and I turned and walked toward the corral fence. I didn’t know I was in a bull ring with a target on my back, that this angered horse was like a wild bear, the kind you don’t turn your back on. He charged me, lowered his head, and butted me squarely in the back. Totally panicked, I jumped into a crazed run (actually I was already kind of flying forward from the force) and I sprinted for the fence once I got my feet back under me. I didn’t climb the fence, I pole vaulted that puppy. I’m sure the horse could have caught me if he wanted to. He was probably laughing at me, thinking “sucker.” I guess he didn’t like how green I was. I probably violated some rules of horse riding etiquette that only he and experienced riders knew.
Another time, not to be cowed out of ever enjoying the wonder of riding on a horse, we visited other friends of ours who had a ranch in the mountains. It was dusk with new snow on the ground. The sky had cleared and the stars and moon were brightening in the fading canopy over the treetops. We went out, at first slowly through the forest, the horses stepping lightly through the snow, churning up pine needles and snorting out puffs of visible warm air. Then when we reached an open mountain pasture, we galloped beneath the stars. The image is forever imprinted on my mind. One of my Happy Places.
This week of recognizing farriers, my hat goes off to them. They don't just nail horseshoes on hooves. They are blacksmiths, experts in horse health, whisperers, caregivers, problem solvers, and lovers of living creatures. They have doctor’s hours, answering calls at any time day or night. They cry with grieving owners, and feel deeply; they cherish their own horses. They’ve been stepped on, bitten, and kicked. And they keep going back for more. Little did I know when I rode those few horses what expertise and love went on behind the scenes. Happy Farriers Week. Thanks for the wonderful rides.
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