Ranch rings with sound of farrier's art

It's quiet out here at the ranch. Oct. 1 officially stops irrigation according to the Alpine water decree. There's still enough green grass in the pastures as the fields turn dull yellow, before dried up brown later this fall; so supplemental feeding isn't required, yet. Weaning won't happen until November. Only leased pasture cattle moving in and out on busy cattle trucks right now. Plenty of time to watch the cowboy shoe his horse and think about health care.

You hear the clang of the hammer against the metal shoe standing on the iron anvil a few times to realize a horse is being shoed. Shoeing is a backbreaking chore. I know, I watch it being done. You are bent over, like you are always looking for something on the ground while holding a heavy movable hoof, aimed at your face, between bent knees. Do cowboys have good health coverage?

Straining, cleaning up the horse hoof happens first, clipping, rasping, trimming, then checking bone alignment before putting on a shoe. Don't want to cut too much, to cut live hoof. The hoof starts oozing and infection sets in. But you don't want to leave too much on the hoof or it won't stand up correctly. Decisions, decisions as the hoof gets heavier and heavier.

Sweat breaks out on your forehead from all the picking, cutting, pounding, lifting. And then there is the constant questioning. Why do you use the rasp like that? How do you know when you've cut enough? How come you use that on the shoe? Detailed inquiries, like someone at a hometown health care forum. Why do some horses have completely round shoes when most have a U shape? How often do you do this? Grueling work for the shoer, but he answers.

Some horses have a problem hoof and the rounds are like orthopedic shoes, helps to correct a problem. You rasp a fine line under the nails pounded into the hoof to help "set" the nails. Shoeing now because you're going to be doing a lot of riding. This particular buckaroo claims to have shoed about 12 horses a day in his younger years, but now likes to just do the front feet on one horse a couple times a year. Why the front? Because that is where a horse carries most of its weight.

From previous watching experiences I know the process of pounding a non-heated shoe on an anvil into the right shape and size is called cold shoeing. One can use a cheater pry to spread the shoe a tiny bit to fit it exact on the hoof. Should send one to Washington to help this health care issue get settled.

I can't remember what metals horseshoes are made of, just that they are pretty shiny, silver gray for a while, then get a rusty dirty look after they fall off and they're found later in a field.

I don't want to ask too many questions after seeing sweat on the cowboy's bare forehead, which he has tied a rolled red kerchief around. It is obvious you cannot wear your cowboy hat while shoeing. The brim is too wide. Anyway, the chore is near done and not wanting to be too informed at the art of shoeing, because I might be expected to do it myself, I decide to follow the yard dog around, see what else is going on that needs investigating. October is pretty quiet here on the ranch.

Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.


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