by Barry Denton
View From the Backside
by Barry Denton
Let me take you back to the early nineteen nineties in America. George H. Bush was still the president and we had just rescued Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion. Michael Jackson was at the top of the pop charts and guys like Alan Jackson and Toby Keith were on country radio. The economy was good and most folks were working.
It was a pretty good time in America. Because we Americans are a curious lot, so began the “information age” to the chagrin of many a horseshoer and other equine professionals.
Suddenly with the mass availability of information everyone became an expert on many different subjects. Computers were starting to become more common and the number of magazines became mind boggling. For years the great magazine the Western Horseman was a staple of western life as it carried news about rodeos, trail rides, ranchers, and horsemen. Everyone that wanted to know what was going on in the horse world west of the Mississippi subscribed as it was pretty much the best source of news for western folk.
I used to like Randy Steffen’s articles and drawings about some clever gate latch he had seen on some ranch or other useful tip. Mostly the magazine was full of news about the western way of life. Then the nineteen nineties began.
I was shoeing lots of horses at the time and traveling constantly. One day I would be working on an expensive race horse and the next day I might be at a horse show.
Every once in awhile a special job may arise at a ranch where an injured horse might need a bar shoe made or may have torn part of his hoof off in the rocks. Ranch cowboys took care of ninety five percent of their own needs, but sometimes a horse might need a special forged shoe. I always enjoyed these jobs as they were challenging and a good break from the high pressure farrier life of working in show or race barns.
One such instance involved a torn up hoof on a broncy, but necessary ranch horse. On the phone the rancher told me this horse was pretty tough to shoe, but said he would have him fouled so I could work on his injured hoof safely. Since real cowboys know how to tie animals down that is what I expected when I arrived. When I got there the horse was tied down with a fifty five gallon drum between its legs. Bolted across each end of the drum was a four foot hard wood two by four. Attached to each end of the two by fours were horses pasterns laced carefully to rings in the board.
I thought that was a pretty clever set up and asked them how they came up with that idea. They said there was an article in the Western Horseman about shoeing unruly oxen and they thought it might be easier for me than just having the horse tied on the ground. It was certainly easier as they just rolled the horse into whatever position I needed it in to work on. Thanks Western Horseman!
A few years after that I was summoned to the barn of Erline Zook in eastern New Mexico. Erline told me that she had a horse with a special problem and needed some special horse shoes made. I went a little early on that appointment as my directions were sketchy and I thought it might take awhile to find the place. I tend to be an early morning person so I arrived in the little town and decided to have some breakfast at the one café that was there. The café was typical as there were a bunch of locals. Everyone was very friendly and advised me to pull up a chair. I asked if they knew where EZ Horse Training was located and they all laughed. One ol’boy piped up and said sure do. He explained it was about 4 more miles just outside of town. Finally I asked what was so funny and they explained that she had lots of boyfriends. After finishing my eggs and chorizo I was on my way to EZ Horse Training.
I arrived at a very nice barn and well kept place. A split rail fence surrounded the entrance along with a vivacious flower garden. Erline met me at the front and asked me to come and look at her horse. I could see the problem right away and knew I could help. Instead of Erline letting me get to work she brought me a copy of the Western Horseman. She had read an article in there about a particular type of horseshoe she wanted on her horse and could I make her one? I said I could, but I thought there was a much more practical solution that would be better for the horse.
Of course, Erline would not hear of it and insisted on the shoe described in the magazine. I said “okay” and started to unload my tools. While doing so I noticed the young lady that worked there preparing some horses to ride and was cleaning out their hooves. I asked if she cleaned out all the hooves there and she assured me she did as her boss’ back always hurt. With that information I went ahead and shod the horse the way I thought it would benefit the horse the most. When I was finished she asked me to shoe another one, for which she had another copy of the Western Horseman in hand. This time her reasoning was completely nuts so again I just shod the horse the way I thought was best.
Pretty soon six weeks had gone by and I got another call from Erline. She was ecstatic about how well the horses were going that I had shod. She asked me back again to reshoe the two horses. When I got there she asked me to shoe the rest of her horses as well. She had a few more Western Horseman articles as time went on. As always I nodded my head and shod them how I thought they should be. This was the only horse trainer I ever met that never picked up her horses feet or if she did couldn’t tell what was on the bottom of them. Still clients paid her every month.
There is nothing wrong with the articles in Western Horseman, and today there are lots more “How To” articles. However, the unintended consequences of inexperienced horse people interpreting this information is frustrating for professional horseman. Like Mark Twain said “Never read medical books as you may die of a misprint”.