Rural Heritage Village Smithy

by F. Thomas Breningstall

To be or not to be safe? Heck, that's not even a question. Around horses, safety is a must. From the get go, don't ever think a horse or any equine is totally safe. A horse that has never bitten, kicked or reared has the ability to do so—and will, under the right or wrong conditions.

One time I was shoeing a mare, not for the first time, while the owner held her by a lead rope. As I trimmed the left front hoof, for some reason the mare reared straight up and pulled her leg away. I lost my footing and went down on one knee.

A good horse handler would have yanked the horse back down, and pulled her to the side away from me. The owner, however, let go of the lead rope, jumped back, and screamed—scaring the horse even more.

As I turned my head to see what was going on, two horse feet came down on me. One struck me on the cheek, the other on my chest. I shot to safety at the mare's rear. When I got up, I showed the owner how to hold the horse, but she was afraid to. So I tied the horse's nose to the wall and finished shoeing, then went to see a doctor. Just bruises. But from then on, I tied that mare's nose to a wall when I worked on her.

Recently, I was trimming a quiet, friendly gelding I have done many times. I was relaxed and talking casually with the owner. Without warning BANG, the horse blew up and ran forward past me, almost knocking over the owner. I looked up to see a cat hurl through the air end over end, land on its feet, and run away. The young, curious feline had decided to see what would happen if he jumped on the haunches of the standing horse. Well, everyone found out, but no one was hurt. The owner knew what to do to quickly gain and keep control of the horse and herself.

The worst encounter I ever had involved a young horse, not even green broke. Just as raw as could be. It wasn't mean, just had never been handled. Its feet had never been trimmed, so we put the horse in a small standing stall with a 3' wall, and it seemed quite relaxed there.

The owner holding the horse was a “J.R. from Dallas”-type guy—a real big shot with a big house, big barn, big cars, big boots, and a big cowboy hat on his big head. You'll soon see why I speak so highly of this gentleman.

Anyway, while I got into the stall with the horse, the big shot stood outside the stall holding the lead line. I worked up the left front foot and began trimming it, and the horse seemed to relax. As I held the front foot up, I rubbed the rear leg some, to show the horse I meant it no harm. I completed the trim on the front foot and put it down. I talked to the young horse and rubbed it some more, and it looked calmer than ever. Slowly, I got the left rear leg off the ground, thinking, “it trusts me; this will go okay.”

I began trimming the rear hoof when BOOM, the horse blew. At the same time its four legs went straight, the horse went up in the air. Then it went backwards, hit the wall, bounced off, fell down, scrambled up, reared and pawed the air with its front feet, all the time swinging its head back and forth and flinging some kind of white stuff from its muzzle.

When the action started, from a crouched position holding the rear leg, I jumped and cleared that 3' stall wall in a single bound—landing a little heavily on the safe side. By the time I got to my knees, the horse had calmed down some, but was still tossing its head.

I turned my attention to the owner to see if he had a clue as to what had happened. There stood Mister Bigshot, holding in his puffy, non-calloused hands, a half-empty syringe of paste wormer.

I came off the ground on fire. “What the #%”*%$# you trying to do, kill me? You stupid **&#@*&%$, you ain't got the brains God gave dust!" I wanted to hit him, but I managed not to. Instead, I took a deep breath and asked, “What are you doing?”

He looked totally shocked and more stupid than ever as he tried to explain, “I thought the horse was standing so quiet that I would give it wormer.”

I told him I doubted he was able to think at all, and that I have never seen such an irresponsible, reckless act of stupidity in my life. I gathered up my tools and headed for my truck.

As I drove off, I looked back one last time to see him still standing there holding the paste wormer, mouth agape. The sight made me laugh so hard I had to pull off the road and stop, because it occurred to me that this wealthy big shot hadn't been talked to like that in a long time, if ever.

He never apologized for trying to kill me. I'm glad no one got hurt, but it was too close for me.

So, work safely around those horses and mules.


F. Thomas Breningstall is a full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. His column “Hoof & Hammer” appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column was in The Evener 1996 issue.

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31 October 2011 last revision