Bikers and Baptists: Travel Tips for the Great Southeast

By Andy Juell

© Anvil Magazine

published in ANVIL Magazine, February, 1999

Guild of Professional Farriers Second Annual Convention • Knoxville, Tennessee

Three things you need to travel in Tennessee: a satellite navigation system, the feeding habits of hotel restaurants and a good grasp of local culture. Good maps of Tennessee abound, but the state highway department rarely backs up the process by stuffing road signs in the ground. Instead, they rely on the information superhighway, a system that includes the following: “Well, y’all go down to the Texaco, hang a right an’ keep goin’ till you see widow Barker’s honey stand. Can’t miss it. She’s got this big ol’ inflatable honey bee and she’s always wearing a straw hat. Go a little further ‘till ya see Billy’s wreckin’ yard—but don’t stop cause Billy’ll probably steal your car. That boy has some problems. Anyway, just yonder of Billy’s, y’all see Highway 164—just take that one and y’all cruise straight into Nashville.” Only trouble was I was trying to go south instead of west, and, well, widow Barker had evidently taken the day off, probably to get her honey bee re-inflated.

The second problem is that Tennessee restaurants operate on the English system: open at noon, closed at 2:00 and if you miss it, you starve. That means no grits, no Southern-cured ham, no hush puppies—definitely no pan-fried catfish. McDonald’s is always open, but who flies 2000 miles to suck on the same old Big Mac? Not me.

Third on the list is a bit more complicated. I arrived in Knoxville on Halloween weekend and, quite frankly, the whole city was decorated in pumpkin orange. My first thought was that I had inadvertently dropped onto the set of the X-Files, maybe a regional exposéÆ on some Tennessee satanic cult that Geraldo Rivera had somehow missed. Being more of an investigative reporter than a sports fan, I headed uptown to seek the truth. I finally found a bar called Tennessee Bob’s, and after spending $22.50 on root beer, Bob reluctantly confessed. The University of Tennessee Volunteers (called the Vols) were undefeated in some sport that required an inflated ball. I pushed Bob for more information, but he got a little testy. He finally called me a ding-fod, which, according to the dictionary, is the primary gear in a trip hammer. I’m still investigating.

What brought me to Knoxville, Tennessee, was the second annual convention of The Guild of Professional Farriers, held at the Knoxville Convention Center, October 30-31, at the site of the 1982 World’s Fair. Most of the original structures from the fair still stand, including a rather large phallic-looking thing called the Sun Sphere and a bronze commemorative plaque signed by Ronald Reagan - or maybe somebody who looked like him. To be honest, most World’s Fairs build one of these giant, useless towers, but when the crowds go home, most cities are left scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to do with it. Knoxville is looking for suggestions.

The center also has some incredible outdoor pools filled with large,unidentifiable fish that look like they have been fattening up since the fair. Swimming with them is not recommended. However, eating them is a distinct possibility, especially after the restaurant runs out of salmon which, in Knoxville’s case, seems to be a regular occurrence. They also seem to run out of eggs, bleu cheese dressing, certain kinds of beer and the occasional employee. If they keep it up, they are going to run out of clients, which would be sad, since it is one of the most beautiful cities in America.

Over half the membership of the Guild found their way to Tennessee for the convention. Organizers of the event presented a rather interesting and diverse group of speakers, a few of whom focused on areas outside of actually shoeing a horse. Meredith Clarke gave an excellent presentation on business promotion (red dress and all—more on that later) that sounded more like a corporate pep talk than a horseshoeing get together. But her points were important. After all, this is a service business. Clarke emphasized setting personal and professional goals, and focusing on what type of horses you want to shoe and where you want to live. (Geography= real estate prices which = shoeing prices.) If you want to live in the San Francisco Bay area and get $225 or so to shoe a horse, then be prepared for the $3500 a month mortgage that goes with it. You play, you pay—simple as that. She also talked a great deal about selling your strengths instead of your weaknesses; i.e., if you’re disorganized (as I am), then hire someone to handle things like billing and scheduling. Don’t view a personal weakness as something to overcome (you probably can’t, since we’re all hard-wired certain ways, anyway). Instead, get some professional help. The frustration you will avoid is worth the price by itself.

But Clarke’s main point was presentation. First impressions are just that— like a job interview, there are no second chances. If you show up to shoe a horse and your truck looks like an urban renewal project, your clothes have been sharing your body for three days, your chin is dripping tobacco juice and you smell like a coroner’s lab in July, what kind of message are you giving to a woman horse owner who just got back from Saks Fifth Avenue? Woman? Yes, the majority of our clients these days are women, many of them professionals who take their roles far more seriously than men. Why? Because they had to fight for it. At all times, be and act professional.

Now, about the red dress. It was mid-thigh, sequined and totally flattering. Clarke had a point to make. She wasn’t interested in coming off as a Hollywood siren looking for a new movie deal. The dress was an analogy— the point being that no one would forget the dress. Think about that the next time you show up for an appointment. What is the client going to remember? Unless you totally screw up, it’s not going to be the job they’ll note, but rather how you presented yourself.

The convention was also blessed with having Burney Chapman on board. As many of you know, Burney has had a little white line disease of his own. The good news is that he looks great, feels good, and other than needing a few pounds on that lanky Texas frame, will no doubt keep contributing to this industry for some time to come. His son Blaine handled the lecture, which, in a way, paralleled 5S Equine Sole Support System owner Sandy Loree’s presentation on weight-bearing; vis a vis, sole versus wall. Both clinicians stressed the need to know exactly what is going on, either through radiographs or thorough inspection. Whether it is a heart-bar shoe or the decision to load the sole, both clinicians pressed the point that failures indicate that either the “appliance was applied wrong or to the wrong situation.” And further, as Burney has pointed out, when dealing with serious (or life-threatening) situations, “worry about pretty later.” Keep your priorities in order.

Other lecturers included Jerry Jones, a trainer and farrier who evidently graduated from the Baxter Black school of horse psychology. A highly entertaining speaker, Jones covered many aspects of horse handling, areas we all know can get a person killed. He emphasized the need to understand where the horse is coming from — basically an animal that, in the wild, “doesn’t get a second chance.” This tends to reinforce the entire “flight” response of most horses. He also emphasized repetitive training, the notion that horses need to have lessons repeated at least fifty times before the light bulb goes off. One of his favorite expressions is that “the only way you get on a horse is to convince him you’ll get off,” a good point to remember when trying to trim yearlings. Take the foot, but give it back—frequently.

Other participants included Clyde Caldwell and Allie Hayes; the pair conducted informal anatomy labs for convention attendees. Hayes has been creating freeze-dried leg specimens for a number of years, and her current inventory gives farriers a chance to get a post-mortem view of what they are dealing with in their everyday practice. As in laminitis, it is one thing to suspect a horse might be a “sinker,” and quite another to actually be able to compare where the coffin bone might be. Such models help to make that first nipper run a lot less scary.

Also on the lecture list was Bob Peacock (on balanced shoeing), Baron Tayler (on the Internet) and Gene Ovnicek, who conducted a live shoeing demonstration on a horse with ringbone. One of Gene’s theories is that “toe-landers will be lame, eventually,” and his demonstration centered on getting the demo horse back on his heels— and, more importantly, moving much more comfortably.

One of the more interesting round-table discussions was unofficially hosted by Dan Bradley of G.E. Forge and Tool. Held in the hotel bar after the convention was completed, the title was something like “Weird Animals I Have Trimmed.” Included in the menagerie were zebras (have to work really fast on these before they either escape or become a menu item), elephants, which give the notion of a “leaner” a whole new meaning, giraffes, camels, goats, guinea pigs, assorted bovines and my favorite: rabbits—no, not the toenails, but the teeth.

Now, about the title: “Baptists and Bikers.” Sundays in Tennessee belong to both groups. I left Knoxville on a Sunday morning and found the commute to be an easy one, even if I couldn’t find widow Barker’s honey shed or much of anything else. Next year’s convention (actually about 13 months away) is scheduled to be held in conjunction with the Laminitis Symposium in Louisville, Kentucky.

For information, contact the Guild at:
P.O. Box 684, Locust, North Carolina 28097.
301/898-6990, email:

Return to the Anvil Commentary listing page.

Return to the ANVIL Online Table of Contents for February, 1999.