Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Today I discovered what must surely be the hardest work on the farm – shoeing and unshoeing horses.

I have very little farming experience on my side – seven weeks now – to be able to make such an assessment with any authority. (For example, I've yet to work the hay collecting rig nicknamed "The Man Killer.") Nonetheless, I can't imagine anything being more intense than the tryst I had this afternoon with the feet of Mac the workhorse.

For my money, the squat is the most grueling weightlifting exercise there is. Now, to remove a horseshoe, just imagine holding yourself in a suspended mid-squat position. During this uncomfortable time, you will also be holding up the foot and leg of a large horse by squeezing it between your crotch and your knees. Meanwhile, your hands will be required to perform with both strength and dexterity as they operate a pliers-like tool that grabs a nail in the bottom of the horseshoe and wrenches it slowly out. Multiply this action by eight nails in each shoe, consider that horses traditionally have four feet each, and then realize that getting the horseshoe off is probably the easy part compared to trimming a hoof with clippers, filing it flat, and then nailing on a new shoe, acts that require not only all that is described above but also the eye and skill of a craftsman.

In all, I took the nails out of one horseshoe and started to clip two hoofs. And that was on Mac, who is the oldest, smallest, and most docile of the six horses on the farm that still do work. After completing just a fraction of the shoeing required for a single horse, I was utterly exhausted.

Part of it is that I might just be a 170-pound weakling, no doubt. But in the next stall over, Tom was working on Barney, the second smallest, oldest, and most docile horse. I heard him exclaim aloud, "This is hell," and that's before he shouted in pain a few minutes later as he tweaked a muscle in his back.