View From the Backside

by Barry Denton

View From the Backside

Purple Monster & Pony Boy

Here I am in Kentucky shoeing some race horses in a large training barn. The barn was saturated with the acrid smell of burning hooves as I was swedging my own racing plates in those days and burning them on hot. I wonder if that still happens anywhere. The owner wanders in and asks me if we could trim some hooves on his broodmare band.

Keep in mind that the trainer would never ask his racing blacksmith to trim broodmares. I asked him how many he had and he said four hundred and twelve. At first I thought are you nuts, but the entrepreneur in me took over and I said of course. I had no idea how I would get them done, but I figured I could hire some helpers.

As luck would have it a guy that had helped me in the past gave me a call that very evening looking for work. I told him that he was in luck and could go to work on the broodmares as soon as he got here.

Orvis McCalla was an interesting sort as he had a PhD in some sort of microbiology. However, Orvis preferred ranch life to research labs. He opted to work on Wyoming ranches most of the year and to work somewhere in the warm south during the winter. McCalla’s father had been a great horseshoer in his day and had taught his son very well.

Orvis was very handy with a pair of nippers and a rasp and horses liked him. Even though he was very talented his keen academic mind often got in his way when it came to common sense problems. He was a little sawed off guy with a great big black hat and always had jingle bobs on his spurs. Orvis could never sneak up on anyone as they would hear him coming. Orvis always walked erect and never slouched. He was very kind to women and animals, but would fight a man if he looked at him cross eyed.

Orvis’s academic curiosity kept him seeking out new ways to train and handle horses. He was never satisfied with the tried and true methods. According to Orvis there had to be a better way.

Gawani PonyBoy was a popular horse clinician at the time and Orvis attended one of his clinics. One thing about Orvis is he listened and retained information quite easily. After he came home from the horse clinic he could repeat just about everything the clinician had said. He was very anxious to put his newly learned horse training techniques to use.

According to him these methods were developed over thousands of years by Native Americans. I never could quite figure that out as the Native Americans have only had horses since the Spanish arrived in the late 1500s. He was armed with new ways of horse handling and trimming broodmares that would give him a chance to try them out.

Orvis finally arrived in Kentucky and was eager to get right to work. The horse farm provided two men to catch broodmares and a groom to hold them for the trimmer. Keep in mind that broodmares are only handled about four times per year and are turned out on big rolling pastures. Needless to say, some of the mares get pretty independent.

Orvis started trimming at first light and was making good progress. Most of the mares were well trained and would settle down with a little encouragement. Right after lunch that day the groom brought up a dark bay mare that stood over seventeen hands. She seemed a little nervous and the groomed warned Orvis about her. The Big Purple Monster, as she was named, had been a stakes winning mare and her progeny were winners as well.

Orvis tried to comfort the mare by talking to her and petting her which was clear she didn’t like. There was no point in trying to pick up her foot at this point because getting near her was impossible as she whirled around the groom. Next Orvis tried rubbing some pressure points he had learned about to calm her down. The Big Purple Monster’s answer to that was to strike him on the arm and destroy his watch with the silver Navajo watch band.

Why he was wearing a watch to trim horses in is beyond me? Wrist watches typically get caught on everything around a horse including manes and tails. Like I said, there was nothing normal or typical about Orvis. He lived in his own world and had his reasons. The groom thought the horse broke his arm, but after a few minutes Orvis went back to work.

All this time I had been shoeing in the training barn about one hundred feet away. Orvis called me over so I could see the best thing he had learned from Gawani PonyBoy. While I was waiting for my groom to bring me another horse I ventured over to see what was so interesting to Orvis. He then walked up to the nervous mare and proceeded to gently blow in her nostril. With the speed of lightning she reared back and with one swoop of her hoof struck Orvis on the top of the head. It cracked like thunder when it hit. I swear it drove him into the ground. All that was left was a smashed black hat. We had to pick up the hat to see if Orvis was still under it.

There he was all crumpled and bleeding, but not moving. We thought perhaps he was dead so someone went to get some water to throw on him. The water did nothing other than get him wet. Finally someone brought a truck around and we loaded him in the back of it. They drove him to the hospital where he still didn’t wake up for a few hours. Around supper time that night Orvis woke up and we were all relieved. You might have guessed that he had quite a headache for about a month and I think he lost an inch in height. After he was awake we all thought it was pretty funny and we made sure he got advance notice of all future horse clinics.