Part of the Saddle Up Working Girl series!
More than half of my fingers had blistered in places I’m not sure I have ever had blisters before. My legs were bruised and the small burn from the molten metal had just begun to stop throbbing. Wednesday was clearly the center point between comfort and pain. I can only describe it as a pain that comes from using your hands, muscles, hammers, grit and apparently making a horseshoe from a raw piece of metal. Blisters and all, I checked one more item off my list and eagerly looked forward to relying on another just to recover.
My horse focused 6 month deployment (read: keep me out of the loony bin) coping strategy is to Learn, Explore and Revive. With no surprise, my goals are mostly horse related. One of my specific goals is to learn how to make a horseshoe – from a raw piece of steel. Notice I said one. I have pretty good insight suggesting if I can make one even closely resembling a horseshoe I should leave well enough alone.
Saturday was the big day and I was eager to try my hand a making my very own horseshoe. Why, I am not quite sure. Perhaps because I have always prided myself in having a greater respect for the way things were originally done and for traditions of yesterday? Maybe because I am simple girl with one or two headstalls in the barn, tack made only of leather and certainly nothing synthetic if I can help it? Or possibly having seen my farrier make several shoes and gracefully hammer away at a molten piece of steel as he readied himself for blacksmithing competitions, I simply grew curious and intrigued?
Of course, my curiosity got the best of me and Friday night I did a little late night research. Knowing full well I could not learn everything there is to know, I comforted myself with the idea I could at least know the names of some of the tools and potentially spare myself complete embarrassment. After a simple Google search, I learned:
- I was completely overwhelmed.
- The word farrier comes from the Latin word for iron, ferrum.
- This project was going to be hard.
- By the end of this little project my farrier, who is also a friend, might grow frustrated with my utter inability to use a pritchel and may not be my farrier or my friend anymore.
Saturday morning we wasted no time trying to beat the heat as we worked to set up shop. We fired the forge and agreed on the size of the shoe we would make. Suddenly I realized not only was I making a horseshoe, I was taking a math test and perhaps passing geometry the first time in high school would have come in handy. With the math behind me for now, I marked my center and was excited to grab the tongs and place my steel in the forge. Let the hammering begin! How hard could be? Let me answer that now: Hard.
Key lessons learned:
- In the world of blacksmithing, everyone has a dumb hand and a smart hand. The smart hand holds the tongs and makes all the fine movements, places the steel in just the right section of the anvil. Meanwhile, the dumb hand does all the dirty work of holding and using the hammer
- I have two dumb hands. I did not poll my feet but I think they are also dumb.
- Most skilled blacksmiths can create a functioning shoe from a steel bar in two heating sessions in the forge. (Functioning, meaning, it has nail holes, is balanced, level and fits the appropriate foot.)
- I can make something shaped almost like a horseshoe after about 10 visits to the forge. Okay, maybe 15 and do not count on the nail holes being in the right spots or the right angles.
- The anvil is a work of art itself. I thought it was just a hunk of metal suitable for hammering on. Wrong. It is a well-designed tool with built in measuring guides, levels, sections devoted to hammering, shaping and bending.
- Understanding the parts of the anvil coupled with having one smart hand prevents frog eyes (little uneven bumps protruding along the edge of the shoe) and fish lips (puckered heels from over zealous hammering). My shoe had all of the above and more.
- My farrier is still my farrier and is still my friend. He has more patience than I thought and did not charge me for all the extra propane required to heat my shoe 15 times in the forge.
- I was right. It was hard.
With the pain of my blisters subsiding and the knot in my arm brought on by all the pounding finally loosening, I was ready to check one more item off my list. I committed to exploring new places to ride. There are so many neat, safe places yet undiscovered. I am committed to finding them.
Find them I did. The flat coastal land of South Texas coupled with a boarding stable environment rarely offer the opportunity to ride out and time away in the hills always requires hauling. When a friend invited us to ride in the Hill County of Texas on a ranch in Center Point, I was delighted to accept the invitation. We were to travel to Center Point, Texas, so named because it is literally the center point between the neighboring towns of Comfort, Kerrville, Bandera and Fredericksburg. The convenient location fostered development of a popular trading post for wayward travelers and cowboys traveling the land.
Wayward traveling cowgirls we were as we packed our ponies, headed north and endured the four hour drive north. The trip was not without worry. My trailer wiring developed an intermittent short nearly half way there and after a quick adjustment, we were back on the road. We arrived at Aqua Verde Ranch just before lunch and were greeted by our friend and our host. Before long, we were horse back and exploring the 800 acres of winding trails, riverbeds and rocky terrain. I managed three great rides in less than 24 hours, swam in the river with great friends, created new memories, explored a fabulous new place to ride and found my own Center Point tucked in the hills of Texas. Life is not so bad.
What is one thing you have accomplished which proved harder than you thought but turned out to be quite rewarding?
About the author: Saddle Up Working Girl is a 30 something Navy wife and New Jersey transplant living in Texas and trying to make it all work. Her more than 60 hour per week job with a Fortune 500 company job keeps her flying around the country. While her house is lovely, it isn’t always clean. Her horses are fat and she still manages to slide into the saddle 4-5 times per week – hence the weeds in the flower beds. She invites you to come on the journey as she juggles kicking off her heels and heading out horseback only to change in the car and make it to the gym. She is certain you will empathize with the careful art of balancing working, planning dinner, mucking stalls, standing horses for the farrier and still managing to sleep every once in awhile. Follow her on Twitter!
Photos by Mateusz Atroszko (top) and Thorin Nielson (bottom).