You’d be surprised how many heads will turn when you smell like the bottom of a horse’s hoof.
Walking through a gas station at the end of the day, I am reminded how strange and striking my cologne of manure and dead sole can be. But to me, the strong scent symbolizes the satisfaction of a day's hard-wrought rewards and more. To me, the smell is dedication to a transcendent craft, a connection to forgotten values, and genuinely life-changing companionship.
This year marks my third as a farrier’s apprentice. Schooling was beyond words. Besides being burned, blistered, and blooded daily, my legs were hot rubber and my knuckles ache even now. Standing beneath a well-behaved horse with a hoof between his/her legs will make anyone sweat — it’s like wall-sitting with a heavy weight. And guess how many horses are so well-behaved.
In my mere 3 years, I have been bitten, head-butted, and body-slammed. I have been cut open, crashed into, and caught by loose skin on jagged nails. I’ve nearly been mounted. Jealous?
The Dangers, The Dirt
Horses have taught me how to work. More than that, they have taught me balance — little considerations make major differences. Minutes of open-minded vulnerability can encourage hours of safe, healthy interaction.
A farrier’s work is almost entirely dependent on the behavior (and well-being) of the horse at hand. Ethical incentive aside, every farrier wants to work on well-trained horses; for trimming a hoof and nailing a shoe are more feasible without being dragged or jerked or bitten at a moment’s notice. To facilitate natural, humane co-operation and companionship, three fundamental principles must be established.
Both farrier and horse must observe and understand individual boundaries. In some cases, these boundaries must be tested and/or compromised. I will not give more than I take, nor will I take more than I am willing to give.
Upon mutual respect, horse and farrier must observe and understand individual ambitions. Knowing what a horse wants (or even what a human wants) can spare one worlds of trouble — even save one’s life.
Given trust and respect, time with a horse can be a human’s most remarkably human experience. Given time with a respectable, trustworthy farrier, a horse can learn to relax and enjoy the process of being shod and handled.
Do Not Misunderstand
No human is perfect-as is no horse. In compromising boundaries and learning ambitions, horse and human are often pushed to extremes. Expect some friction, expect some fear (on both ends); but commit to each moment of harmony and take the necessary time to ensure safe circumstances. In some way or another, these three principles have been essential to every successful farrier for more than a thousand years. If only more people practiced these same principles with each other.
In truth, the beasts have taught me to be more than human. Learning to think like a horse-to be like a horse — one gains clear perspective of his/her priorities, yet considers and appreciates the priorities of others involved. Learning to truly respect and trust any horse, one establishes self-discipline and masters instinct and emotion.
The give-and-take of a farrier’s work translates into every aspect of human life, be it personal or professional. And the satisfaction of hard-earned progress, beneficial to both man and equine, surpasses any shadow of immediate gratification.