A Few Lessons from Horseshoeing School...

by Andy Juell

Published in the July1999 Issue of Anvil Magazine

This issue’s focus on tool sharpening really brings back some fond memories for me from horseshoeing school. Fond? I guess I can laugh about it now. As many of you know, my nickname was “The Bleeder.” Even though I couldn’t sharpen a hoof knife for the life of me, I was still able to find a way to bleed profusely on a regular basis. It got so bad that the Red Cross stopped off twice a day with a bucket looking for a contribution. I guess I should feel good about that. Think of all the heart bypass patients I helped out. My doctor figured I was having an unhealthy relationship with a vampire, given the degree of my anemia. Then he had me shoe his horse; at that point, it took him less than five minutes to establish the source of my condition. It had a lot to do with Doug Butler’s recent book about the left brain/right brain conflict. It appeared that my brain operated on cruise control, unable to associate profuse bleeding with either pain or a reasonable explanation for all the self-induced carnage. I think it was because I’m ambidextrous — I could never figure out if I should buy a right- or a left-handed knife. I think if the horses I worked on had known about this condition, they probably would have sought asylum at some foreign embassy — or at least another horse barn in which I was not the farrier on duty. What if I had gone to medical school? Not a pretty picture, with nurses screaming and running from the operating room, while I’m busy amputating my own arm. I’d end up suing myself for malpractice.

The true irony is that my horseshoeing instructor, Tom, had this habit of breaking any tool we handed him that wasn’t sharp. I’m pretty sure he even dismembered my chain saw and confiscated my pocket knife. I guess it was one of those peer pressure things whereby somebody takes your toys away for lack of proper maintenance. Given my history, he should have revised the rules in my case, since with all the blood everywhere, it was making it a little hard to recruit new students.

I thought my tuition was rather high. But you should have seen my tool bill! I think Tom broke everything I owned, including my hoof gauge, and a ‘62 Datsun that I had only borrowed. I mean, this guy was tough; the real paradox was how I could garner a reputation as a chronic bleeder when I couldn’t even sharpen my own fingernails. Even my coffee cup became a lethal weapon. By the time they forced me to graduate, I looked like I was trying out for one of those 1930s “Mummy” movies. I owned enough gauze to supply my own hospital!

Anvils were just about as bad. The first one I bought weighed more than I did. I think it was a “guy thing” — you know, the bigger the better. I had also just purchased a ‘72 Datsun pickup, since most of the Arab world had decided we could do without oil for awhile. It was not a marriage made in heaven. Once I put in 400-odd pounds of shoes, all those dangerously sharp tools and that confounded anvil, I found I wasn’t able to even get out of the driveway. Seems the front wheels were no longer connected to the ground. I never realized that pickups could do ‘wheelies’ on their way to work. It really sent the neighbors scrambling for cover whenever I left the house. Even the dog refused to ride with me.

Eventually, I did learn how to sharpen a few tools and I got a lighter anvil that turned out not to be nearly so painful when I dropped it on my foot. I still managed to do the Hansel and Gretel thing, but instead of using bread crumbs to retrace my steps, I just looked for those little pools of O negative. When I finally retired, I got a really nice card from

Medic One — not to mention a bill for $1800 and a suggestion that I take up something safe, like journalism. All in all, it seems to be working, but people still tend to duck when I get near the pencil sharpener.

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