Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 12-5-11
I don’t know which is more unpredictable – horses or women. I guess if you asked most cowboys, they’d say it was a toss up. After almost a quarter of a century of marriage, my husband knows better than to say, “My wife would never …” And he knew better than to trust a 4-year-old horse one time. It had never offered to buck or go berserk for no apparent reason before that fateful day. But that’s another story …
My horseshoeing buddy, Dale learned the hard way that most men shouldn’t declare what their horses – or their wives – would or would not do. At the time, he was young and naïve, just getting started as a farrier. And if a customer said that the horse would act a certain way, he assumed the guy knew what he was talking about. He no long relies on their word.
He had gone to a ranch to shoe this man’s horse. It was a new customer – someone he said he “didn’t know from Adam.” When he arrived, the man had the horse tied to one of those old-timey, aluminum Lifetime gates. It was a lightweight, flimsy affair fastened to a fence post with a few loops of baling wire. Dale got out of his truck and immediately began untying the horse intending to move it to a more secure hitching post. The man stopped him and reassured him that the horse would be fine there, and to proceed with the job.
He trimmed the first foot easily enough. He then walked around and picked up its other hoof. Something scared the horse. That set off a dangerous chain reaction. First, it lunged forward and then rocked way back straining the rope. Its weight pulling on the gate jerked the baling wire off instantly. With the tension released, the horse stumbled backwards over Dale’s horse shoeing box – scattering nails, tools and horseshoes everywhere. Then the horse tried to flee from whatever monster lurked behind him dragging the wide cumbersome gate with him. Every time he took a panicked step, the gate clattered. Dale lost his composure and yelled some choice words as he tried to catch hold of the anxious horse as it skittered by. All the while, the horse’s owner was running around shouting, “Do something! Do something!”
Finally, a couple of the horse’s feet slipped between the rails of the gate, which in effect hobbled him. He came to a halt, trembling and breathing heavily through flared nostrils. Luckily it only had a few superficial cuts and scratches. Since he was calling on a new customer, Dale kept his tongue in check. He resisted the urge to ask the obvious yet rhetorical question, “What the heck just happened?” Like I said, that was a few decades ago. Nowadays, he wouldn’t be so polite or restrained.
He gingerly lifted the horse’s feet that were tangled in the mangled gate and walked him over to a stout post set in concrete and tied him up. He collected his scattered tools, wiped the nervous sweat off his young brow and went to work. In a few moments, the man sauntered over to Dale and offered what at first seemed to be an apology. With a sheepish grin and a shrug, he said, “I sure am sorry about that.” It would have been infinitely better if he’d left it at that, but he continued, “He hasn’t done that … in a long time.”
Fearing his blood pressure would skyrocket and his heart would explode if he uttered a single word, Dale clamped his mouth shut. He quickly and quietly finished the job. He collected his pay, and wisely chose not ever to return to the scene of the incident. Fortunately, he had enough other good customers that he could do without that man’s business. From that day until this, Dale never takes someone’s word about their horses’ temperament nor does he leave a horse tied somewhere that doesn’t look secure.
That wasn’t his last runaway and probably won’t be his last. In his line of work, he has come to expect a wreck now and then. It’s not the safest, cleanest or most predictable job, but then again it’s never boring.