Archive Article #4 - 12/20/02
A Horse of a Different Breed
T. J. Jones' story as told by Linda Ralston Jones
published in ANVIL Magazine, February 1997
As a farrier in a prestigious area of Florida, most of the horses I shoe are show hunters and jumpers. Recently, however, I had my first experience shoeing Arabian horses. Rumor has it in my circle that Arabian owners are a bit eccentric and their horses are spoiled, so I was a bit apprehensive.
My initial appointment proved to be unique. The farm owner (whom I might have found attractive under other circumstances) gave me a 2000-year history of this "ancient and noble" breed, along with a review of each and every horse's pedigree, some of which rivaled the Prince of Wales'. I bore all of this gracefully, reminding myself that I had just quoted her $20 more per horse than I generally charge. Words such as "intelligent" and "playful" were frequently used in her biographies which I continued to endure while she watched me shoe the first five yearlings, all of whom were teething.
The last horse of the day was obviously her favorite. A many-time National Champion, he was now retired, and was, of course, the most remarkable horse of all. After a few more war stories about his illustrious show career, she led the large chestnut gelding out into the aisle. Placing him directly in front of his stall door, she dropped his lead on the floor and said, "Whoa!" I started to protest, being somewhat worn out from the jerking and nibbling previously experienced that day, but she just rolled her eyes and left me standing there, so I went to work. Much to my surprise and delight, the gelding never moved a muscle and even seemed to be half asleep.
I finished in record time and returned to my truck for my bill pad to write up a statement. When I returned to the barn, I found the gelding still standing quietly. I began packing up my tools, but couldn't find my apron which I had rolled up and left on the floor alongside the gelding. Returning once again to the truck, I tried retracing my steps exactly, but still no apron. Then, re-entering the barn, I combed every inch of the aisle and even looked into the open stall next to the gelding.
Just when I thought I was going crazy, in walked the owner with her checkbook. She must have noticed me looking around intensely as she returned the big gelding to his stall, because she asked me if there was anything wrong. I told her I had somehow misplaced my apron. Her response was a strange one. "All you farriers seem to lose things. You're almost as bad as vets." Not knowing exactly what she meant, I finished closing up, thinking that with the tidy profit I made today I could buy a new apron. About four miles down the road, however, that apron really bothered me. So I turned around and went back to the farm to take another look - up and down the aisle, in the tack room, back out to the truck - and still no apron.
I was about to give up when the word "playful" came to mind. So I went back to the stall of the big chestnut gelding, the last place I saw my missing apron. I opened the stall door to see him peacefully eating his hay in one corner. I saw nothing in his stall except an empty feed pail and a narrow slat of boards designed to hold a square of hay. The hay opening, which measured no more than four inches wide and approximately two feet long, was obviously obsolete space, as the gelding's hay had been carefully shaken into a loose pile. I kicked around in his straw bedding and even looked in his water pail. None of this disturbed the gelding, who continued to munch nonchalantly.
About to leave, I was instead drawn back to the narrow hay slot. When I started to approach the opening, my four-legged friend who, during all this, had never missed a bite, flattened his ears, wheeled, and came toward me with an annoyed look. For a moment I was taken aback, so mimicking his owner I yelled, "Whoa!"
To my relief, he froze in his tracks. With that kind of a reaction on his part, I was determined to look inside that slim opening. At first I didn't see anything, as the space was narrow and dark. Cautiously, I reached my hand down inside the opening and touched something stuffed in the bottom that felt vaguely familiar. I pulled hard and out came my very wrinkled apron. With it came another even more wrinkled apron, which I assumed belonged to a predecessor. There was more, though: a good pair of G.E. nippers, two rasps, a stethoscope, a dental float, several hoof picks, a twitch, and a leather halter. Clutching my bounty in amazement, I turned around to meet the soft and, yes, "playful" eyes of the chestnut gelding, who suddenly looked a lot more "intelligent" than the first time I saw him. I had a sudden urge to rub his neck and when I did, he responded by nuzzling his soft nose against my chest. I was hooked. I probably stood there for 15 minutes just rubbing him, no longer in a hurry. After all, I had $120 above and beyond my usual fees, an extra apron, a new pair of G.E. nippers, assorted horse equipment, and I could now cross over as an equine dentist.
On the way home that night I passed Dr. West on the road, and when I honked he pulled over. I handed him the stethoscope and twitch. "Thanks, I've been looking for these months. Where did you find them?"
"It's a long story," I replied, "and I've got to get home." Somehow I just couldn't 'snitch' on my new buddy.
For the remainder of the ride home, I thoughtfully reviewed the stories I'd been told about the chestnut gelding and his extraordinary show career. I realized how boring retirement must be for him.
Lately, I've been more tolerant when those Arabian owners brag about their horses. From time to time, I've been seen feeding "Old Red" a carrot. Most peculiar of all, however, I have recently begun to refer to Arabian horses in terms like "intelligent" and "playful."