by Andy Juell
|Published in the June 2001 Issue of Anvil Magazine
In response to Anvil Editorial from May 2001 ...One Man's Viewpoint by Brian Gnegy
Sure, recycling is politically correct, socially responsible and even a little chic, in a garbagy sort of way. I meet some incredible women at the plastics bin. Great `come-on:' "Is this a 5 or a 4 ?" They really want to get to know me better when they notice that I actually rinsed the dead mayonnaise and peanut butter out of my jars. Better pick-up place than the produce section at Safeway.
Other forms of recycling are less appealing. High on my list is the Dead Mystic's Society, composed primarily of psychiatrists, English professors, political analysts and horseshoers. The club's key appeal is that every decade or two they recycle some theory, turn it into a fad and call it something else. Freud has been exhumed so many times that they had to put a zipper on his coffin and, once again, I'm forced to endure another session on the couch.
All of these potential Nobel laureates operate on one principle: all human memory suddenly evaporates after a decade or two. It could be seen as a `male' thing, but we already know that those tapes rewind every 2 1/2 seconds. Society members really hate guys like Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton because they hammered their theories first time out, leaving the skeptics and heretics to the ugly task of extracting their foot from their mouth in a public place.
By now you're wondering what in the world I am talking about. Last month's issue contained an editorial by Brian Gnegy, euphemistically entitled "Physiodynamics of Equine Locomotion and the Foot: A Pathology." It was hardly new news, though the author did seem to have an issue with the "four-point trim," even while failing to utter the term. All of the current shoeing fads seem to be based on the notion of the `natural foot,' an anomaly rarely seen in the real world where farriers actually work. Both Jamie Jackson (farrier and author of The Natural Horse) and Dr. Ric Redden compiled a great deal of statistical information on feral horses, which was useful to a limited extent in defining parameters for an animal that probably spent 23 hours a day walking from place to place with its head to the ground trying to find a decent blade of grass.
Galloping was confined to those random times when a mountain lion started looking at the appetizer menu. And let's be clear: the word Mustang is derived from the Spanish, Mestengo-which means `stray.' These horses have value as a study group, but they are basically a bunch of mongrels that are forced-repeat, forced-to inhabit a certain environment, that being the most useless real estate in the American West. And if you watch most of these horses trot, it becomes evident that the only thing likely to founder is your backside if you're brave enough to ride one. The only way they relate to a $100,000 hunter in New York is that they happen to be the same color.
Mr. Gnegy also skewed the paleontological record a bit. Zebras are a member of the broader classification of equidae which includes asses, tarpans, hassans and burros. In scientific terms, equidae is the order, equus caballus (the modern horse) is the specie. The modern horse evolved from the rhinoceros and tapir, both offshoots from the pig family, which goes a long way in explaining the behavior of certain Warmbloods. The only true wild horse is Przewalski's Horse (pronounced su-val-ski) that once roamed the vast plains of the Altai Mountains of Mongolia. The majority are now in captivity in an effort to save them from extinction. Sure, North America had some wild horses at one time, but like the dinosaurs, they wandered off about 55 million years ago and didn't leave a forwarding address.
Gnegy's concerns are not the real issue. The real argument in all of this passionate debate is that reality is traded in on something more fashionable and the farrier ends up wasting a lot of oxygen on what he or she already knows. It is further aggravated by quasi-homeopathic zealots who feel compelled to promote an "iron-free" society to horse owners that don't have a clue. And the sales staff has never shod a horse in their collective lives. Does `Hoof Bond' ring a bell? It is a form of manipulative recycling that has failed at least a hundred times. You can either have a performance horse or an oversized pet. Shoes are an offshoot of domestication, an accepted compromise, and no amount of wishful thinking, magic wands or a bag of ground-up chicken bones is going to change 3,000 years of proven necessity. When horseshoeing was finally introduced in Europe, Charlemagne commissioned the training of 500 farriers because he knew that his army wasn't going to get a hundred miles without them. Very little has changed since, except perhaps the passion that accompanies the latest version of the hula hoop.
The four-point trim is nothing new. I shod performance horses that way for 25 years, mostly because I was taught by someone who had shod performance horses for 25 years before me. It didn't have a name then, but it did have 50 years of success with some of the best horses in the world. And granted, a few horses could probably skate through life barefooted. But the fact of the matter is that I've never seen a feral horse win an under-saddle class and if I needed to get from Seattle to Portland before the next millennium, my horse better be packing something more than his birthday suit. Theories are fine. In fact they are educational. But they are not the `do-all,' `cure-all' panacea they are often painted to be. We are never going to achieve that mystical ideal in our work, because it simply does not exist. We manage the genetic junkyard that domestication invariably produces. Our success lies in digging through the assorted parts and finding something that works on a particular horse on a given day. And wishful thinking or recycled wishful thinking is not going to change that fact. The horses of today are specialized to meet certain needs and desires of humans, not to drive the Bureau of Land Management crazy. As farriers, we need to focus on what is staring us in the face. And that's a horse that better win next week no matter who engineered him.