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Irons in the fire: It’s what I got that counts

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 30 October 2020

There’s a lot I like about fall. You know, the typical stuff like gathering cows off the mountain, beautiful fall colors and mornings cool enough to slow the flies down and keep the gnats at bay for the first part of the day.

I am not particularly fond, however, of some of the chores that accompany the changing of the seasons. One of the fall chores for which I hold very little affection is resetting shoes on the brittle, bone-dry feet of work-weary horses.

Now, I’ll never be mistaken for a highly skilled farrier, but I’m just handy enough and cheap enough to do all my own shoeing. I try to time it just right so I only have to shoe each cow pony twice during the summer. Yes, the steel gets thin and the feet sometimes get a little too long before I get through the whole bunch of them – but my system, with all its flaws, usually gets me by until the snow flies. After that, it’s barefoot time for most of the horses unless we need one sharp shod for feedlot work or something.

Horse shoes

This summer, I tried to press my luck. I thought I could get away with forgoing the second summer shoeing on a couple horses. I thought I might not need them much. But as it turned out, there was folly in my lazy plan. There was more gathering and necessary cowboy work on the mountain than I had hoped for, so every cayuse needed some footwear. Most of our summer country is rough, steep and rocky, and the surest way to lame a horse is to spend a day in our rocks.

Here we are now: back at my original lamentation. In the late summer and early fall, tacking a shoe on a horse who spends most of his leisure time in a hot, dry pen is like popping a zit on Rushmore’s famous granite faces. It’s hard. I mean the job and the feet. Sometimes I can barely drive a nail through the hoof.

So it was with this attitude I set out to shoe the old bay gelding. As I gathered up my shoeing tools from my weathered toolbox and old five-gallon bucket, and commenced with the task at hand, I allowed a smoky haze of melancholy to slip into the cracks of my consciousness – cracks made wider by a dismal, pitiful attitude.

I figured the job would be a lot more bearable if I had some new tools. My hoof knife was as sharp as a spoon. I had only one half-decent rasp. The head of my hammer barely stayed on the handle only if I soaked it in water an hour before I used it. My chaps were pretty much in tatters. That got me thinking about everything else I didn’t have. It’d sure be nice to have some good tack. I somehow lost the only nice silver bit I ever had. I have a nice bosal, but I got it used from some guy in Red Bluff. I’d sure like a nice horsehair mecate, instead of the black and white rope I got from the co-op. And what would it be like to have four good tires on a pickup whose mileage was under six digits? Woe is me. What have I got? I decided I ain’t got much.

I was about 10 minutes into my voyage on the sea of self-pity, when my old friend George Strait came to my rescue. Through the speakers of my old pickup, with only two good tires, crackled some musical wisdom from King George.

“And I said, ‘Well, I got a car’; she said, ‘There’s something.

At least it’s a start.’ I said, ‘It’s better than nothing.

I ain’t in no hurry, but I’m ready when you are …

I can’t promise you the moon and stars.

But I got a car.’”

If you haven’t heard the song “I Got a Car,” put this magazine down and go give it a listen. It’s a catchy little ditty that takes the listener on a short, melodious biographical journey through the courtship and ensuing lives of a young couple as they gladly struggle through a life of not much, but enough.

For some reason or other, horse shoeing time is quite often my reflective, contemplative time. With a little nudge from George, this again turned into one of those times. I was instantly overwhelmingly grateful and ashamed of myself, all at once. I had all I needed, and all I really wanted. How many people in this troubled world can really say that? At that moment, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. At least I knew how to shoe a horse, and I could actually do it.

I don’t really know how it works, but I do know for sure that when I focus on “what I got” instead of “what I ain’t,” it’s a lot easier to sail life’s seas, no matter the storm.  end mark

Getty Images.

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter or email Paul Marchant.

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