The other day I was following a truck indicating the occupant was a farrier, a person who puts shoes on horses. Other than getting three points for a ringer, I know nothing about horseshoes, so I decided to learn more.

I called Paul Ruppert, a professional farrier, and spent the morning with him. I could say, “What a kick!” but that would be giving too much of the story.

Shaking hands with Paul is like shaking hands with a vise. Not screamingly tight, but so firm one is not able to disengage until he releases his grip. Years of grasping sensitive hooves will tone anyone’s arm.

Having engaged in his profession for a mere 40 years, Paul feels as though he is just about to master it.

Paul engaged in conversation easily as he guided both his horses and me to our assigned safe places. He used hay to bribe those who had no idea where to go or would not be quiet. Hay is crunchier than I would have thought.

For thousands of years, humans have asked horses to do work for which their feet were not adapted. Therefore, even from the beginning, there was a need to cover and protect their hooves. The first horseshoes were made of woven grass, a method still used today in some parts of Japan. Later, leather cups were substituted for grass. A few hundred years later, iron shoes emerged but were fastened with straps. By 1066, the troops under William the Conqueror began securing shoes to hooves with nails.

Paul continued his dialogue with both horse and me as he worked. Truth be told, I think he enjoyed the contributions of his four-legged companions more than anything I could offer. But I watched as he cleaned and trimmed each hoof then adjusted the fit of a new shoe with the skill of a surgeon.

Just to add another superior skill to my résumé, I asked permission to drive in a few nails. I own a dinky little hammer at home, so I figured it would be a piece of cake. So, after Paul and his horse consulted for a minute, permission was granted. Whoopee! Grasping the hammer I aimed and swung. Bam!

My thumb was black for days.

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