A bunch of young farriers stood looking down at a horse’s foot. They talked of what to do and how to do it, what measures to take to make the horse sound again, shaking their heads.

Under a shade tree, an old man sat, his hands twisted and knuckles scarred. He was slumped and tired, worn out by weather and horses, useless and empty.

At one time, this old man could shoe any horse with hair on its hide. He could make his hammer blows sing like music on his anvil. He did it for a hundred years until his knees were gone, shoulders ached and his arms grew weak.

He heard talk nearby, listened quietly to the voices of inexperience and slowly stood and limped over to where the boys stood in the sun. He groaned with each halting step.

The old farrier looked down at the horse and asked, “Mind if I put in my 2 cents?”

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Well, the young men snickered, smiled and looked the old, empty man up and down.

“You’re a little long in the tooth, old fella,” one of the young men said. “I reckon you’re here to give us some old time advice?”

Laughing, another chimed in, “Do us a favor, huh? Just go rest in the shade, ’cause we got this problem worked out. You see, times are changed and we’re specialists in the farrier trade.”

The old man smiled.

“I know you boys have it licked. You know just what to do for this old horse and I’m just in your way, but it sounded like you could use a little help. Don’t mind me I’ll just get on back to the shade.”

Hesitantly, one young man stepped forward and touched the ancient farrier on his arm and said, “I’d like to know what you have to say. You see, I want to learn what it takes to be a man like you, to have shod the horses you have. So, please stay and teach me something not in our books, will ya?”

The old man smiled, his face like dry leather and said, “Hand me your tools son, and we can make this horse run and play.”

With that, the stooped and gray old man lifted the horse’s foot and went to work. He trimmed, shaped the foot, flipped the rasp in his hand and pointed at a cracked and broken heel and said quietly, “Bar shoe is what you need.”

“Well, we knew that ole man,” the first guy snickered.

“We don’t have any bar shoes on the truck,” said another. “What now?”

The wrinkled old man went to the hot shot’s truck, fired his forge and cut a piece of iron. He slipped it into the fire and let it heat. Then, he fished it out of the inferno and began shaping the red-hot steel on the anvil. He worked fast and sure, tapping the hot steel here and there, making a miracle of beauty and grace, a shoe to make the horse stand straight and feel good.

Quenched, holes punched, rasped clean, he took the shoe, filled his mouth with nails and picked up a driving hammer. He limped over to the horse and groaned as he picked up the foot. Taking a breath he steadied himself and one by one he drove the nails.

He slowly straightened up and stretched out his back, curved with years of bending over. A young man picked up the foot and the kids didn’t say a whole lot, just shook their heads and one muttered a “Well, damn.”

The old man said, “That sure felt good! I always wonder about the last shoe I’ll nail on a horse. I hope this ain’t it. I hope God will spare me knowing it’s my last shoe. I will never get over the feeling you get when you’ve done a horse right.”

The old man replaced the kid’s tools and limped back to his chair in the shade. The young farriers watched. They knew they had seen something they might never see again, just an old farrier.

Last feet. Last horses. The last time you feel needed for your knowledge, for the skills you’ve worked hard to know. Someday we will all do those last things, and when our last breath rattles and close our eyes, a flight of angel wings will lift our souls and carry us away to where the horses always stand, it’s always cool and the anvil always rings true.