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Confessions of a Horseshoer

Ron Tatum

Publication Year: 2012

Confessions of a Horseshoer offers a close and personal look at the mind-set of a professional horseshoer (farrier) who also happens to be a college professor. The book, an ironic and playful view of the many unusual animals (and people) Ron Tatum has encountered over thirty-seven years, is nicely balanced between straightforward presentation, self-effacing humor, and lightly seasoned wisdom. It captures the day-to-day life of a somewhat cantankerous old guy, who has attitude and strong opinions. Throughout the book, Tatum ponders the causes that led him into the apparently opposing worlds of horseshoeing, with its mud, pain, and danger, and the bookish life of a college professor. He tells the reader that it is his hope that writing the book will help him understand this apparent paradox between the physical and the mental. Tatum provides a detailed description of the horseshoeing process, its history, and why horses need shoes in the first place. The reader will learn about the dangers of shoeing horses in “Injuries I Have Known,” in which Tatum describes one particular self-inflicted injury that he claims no other horseshoer has ever, or will ever, experience. “Eight Week Syndrome” demonstrates the close, often therapeutic, relationship between the horseshoer and his or her customers. Tatum relates the story of an old Wyoming cowboy who could talk with horses, and consistently cure their injuries, lameness, and other physical problems after the veterinarians had given up. The humor in the chapters on chickens and rabbits will entertain any reader, as well as the sections on various dogs, ducks, llamas, goats, flies, and a sexually disoriented pig. Readers of western life and lovers of horses will find Confessions of a Horseshoer an informative, quirky, and delightful work full of humor, attitude, and off-beat insight.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Western Life Series

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Some people might consider nailing pieces of metal on the feet of large, unpredictable animals a questionable way to make a living. I’ll have to agree with those folks, and I often ask myself why I’ve been doing this for 37 years. I’m still working on an acceptable answer. Maybe writing this book...

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p. xv-xv

My four wonderful children have greatly contributed to this book and to my life by their unswerving allegiance to being themselves and loving me no matter how bad I got. No one could ask for more...

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Reflections Before Charging Ahead

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pp. 1-7

That sentence about my daddy’s influence has got me to thinking. Maybe before I go any further, I should try to figure out exactly why I’ve taken the paths I have. What were the influences that drove me toward horses and hard physical work, while at the same time driving me toward a bunch...

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The First Horse

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pp. 8-10

I put a shoe on my first horse at horseshoeing school. We students were all excited to finally get out of the classroom and put our hands on a live horse. We were working in pairs, each person required to put on one front and one hind shoe. The horses came from local skinflints who were willing to...

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Starting Out

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pp. 11-12

I remember clearly one of my first encounters with a customer’s horses. Just out of horseshoeing school, I had been an “official” horseshoer for about a week. The only dirt on my leather chaps was from dragging them around on the ground at the horseshoeing school. Everyone did this. It’s...

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What Do Horses in the Wild Do?

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pp. 13-15

This is a question I get all the time. People want to know how horses who aren’t privileged to have a visit by a horseshoer every eight weeks get along by themselves. I’ll try to shed light on that question, although, as with most questions about horses, there’s a variety of conflicting answers...

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Recalcitrant Horses

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pp. 16-23

This is a big part of every horseshoer’s life. A whole book could be written on this subject. When shoers get together, the main topic of conversation, after the usual bragging about their famous horse customers, quickly gets to recalcitrant horses. We talk about our worst cases, about worst cases we’ve heard about, and we listen carefully to each...

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A Wyoming Cowboy

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pp. 24-35

Recalcitrant horses can be tricked, outsmarted, manhandled, pushed, and shoved, but there is another way: listening to them.
All horseshoers talk to horses, but few horseshoers listen to what the horses have to say in return. One of those who listens is a tough old cowboy named Larry Swingle. At the...

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Druids, Celts, and Blacksmiths

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pp. 36-39

I’ve been a student and professor of Celtic culture and Welsh language and literature, even longer than I’ve been a horseshoer, and have always been interested in the status of the farrier/blacksmith in druidical societies in medieval times. Back then, one person did all the jobs we now associate...

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Horses and Marines

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pp. 40-44

Another experience I had with horses before I really understood them, was on active duty in the Marine Corps. The Marines don’t usually have a need for horses, but at one base I was the officer in charge of the stables at the Marine Corps mountain survival school, located high in the Sierra mountains of California. I was one of three officers and seven...

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Going It Alone

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pp. 45-47

That experience on the mountain taught me a lesson that comes in handy as a horseshoer. Up there, hanging off the cliff, I was alone. No one was going to save me or get me out of that spot. Just me. Horseshoeing is a lot like that. I don’t mean that shoeing horses is facing death every day, but...

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The Job

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pp. 48-56

Sometimes I wonder about this job. I stand around in nasty stuff all day, wiping sweat and flies off my face, driving nails into the foot of an animal who could squash me if he hadn’t been tricked into thinking that people were stronger and smarter than he was. It’s a job that requires fast talking...

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The Tools of the Trade

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pp. 57-73

Horseshoeing tools haven’t changed much since horses first started wearing shoes. If a Roman or Celtic horseshoer of old were to find himself in this century, he would have no problem shoeing a horse with the tools of today. I’ll describe them...

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What the Well-Dressed Horseshoer Wears

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pp. 74-77

Horseshoer’s clothes are not particularly distinguished, but there are some peculiarities. Steel-toed boots are usually a good idea for protecting the farrier’s foot from getting smashed, but there are always stories about some horseshoer or another getting his steel-toed boot stomped on by a heavy...

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pp. 78-82

Shoeing horses is not a pleasant way to make a living, but when the weather is extreme, it is downright miserable. The extremes are heat, cold, and rain. It’s best to stay home when these conditions are severe, but when you have no food...

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Injuries I Have Known

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pp. 83-105

Injuries, and threats of injuries, are constant sources of fascination to a shoer. In the old days, horseshoers had a hard time getting life or medical insurance, so great was the risk of working with ill-mannered horses. Perhaps those old shoers had more macho pride or needed the money, but nowadays...

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pp. 106-114

After the operation on my arm, and a short period of physical therapy, I was briefly forced into a fitness center for what the doctor said was a “more thorough recovery.”
I had never been able to see the value of a fitness center, maybe because I’ve always been in pretty good shape...

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More Injuries and Violence

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pp. 115-117

The horse owner told me she wouldn’t be able to meet me, but that the horse would be tied to the pasture fence. At this point, I should have been suspicious: this was a disaster-prone customer. Her horse was well behaved and a delight to shoe, but the owner was dangerous to be around. She invariably...

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pp. 118-124

Ponies, mostly because they are small, aren’t able to cause the kinds of wrecks that horses do, and they generally maintain a lower profile than horses, probably because they are smarter and don’t want anyone to know it. If you look closely at a pony you might notice that he or she is looking back at you just as closely, calculating just how much they...

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pp. 125-127

Some customers are more insensitive than others. One particular gentleman called for an appointment for two shoeings. When I asked how the horses behaved, he said, “Well, you can pick up their feet.” That should have been a gigantic red flag to me, but being short of cash, I said I would...

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pp. 128-133

Closely related to horses and ponies are, of course, flies. They come with the territory. On a nice warm day a deposit of fresh horse turds will have a thousand flies on it before it hits the ground. I think the flies watch the horse and know when he’s ready to let go, then mill around the exit and grab hold...

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The Marin County Rodeo

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pp. 134-138

I’ve shod horses at a lot of rodeos over the years, and I’ve always been impressed with how professional they are, even the “amateur” ones. Good stock contractors like John Growney (Growney Brothers), and Cotton Rosser, out here...

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The Newspaper Reporter

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pp. 139-140

After I had been shoeing about twelve years, a newspaper reporter in Northern California who had heard about me from someone, called to set up an interview. He was interested in my background prior to taking up horseshoeing, and wanted to write an article about that. That was all right...

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The Bad Job?

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pp. 141-143

I thought I had done a bad job on one particular horse I shod in Northern California. A quite pleasant lady had called to set up an appointment to shoe her mare. She said she would meet me at the pasture because she was the only...

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A Different Kind of Bad Job

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pp. 144-146

Once in awhile you run into really unpleasant people and situations in horseshoeing. I remember one in Oregon that still makes my blood boil. A barn manager I knew called me to shoe a horse who belonged to some new lady who had obviously been neglecting that animal. The barn manager...

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Crime in a Small Town

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pp. 147-149

I live in the rural Northwest, where, contrary to popular belief, a small town can have problems with crime. I’m going to tell about some of them.
Before I get into the actual crimes we have to deal with here, I need to mention one curious thing. We don’t seem to have many problems with kids or teenagers. It’s an odd experience...

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The Bird Man

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pp. 150-152

One of the nicest customers I ever worked for was a young Scottish man who had been in the United States for only a few years. He came from a moneyed family, I think, because he owned a large estate with 50 acres for his two horses and pony to run on, and his only occupation seemed...

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Culinary Aspects

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pp. 153-155

People always ask me about feed for their horses. They worry about feed as much as they worry about their own diets. I usually tell them to ask their vet or go talk to the old guy at the feed store (any feed store will do), but over the years I’ve gotten enough information to be able to speak to this...

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People and Their Animals

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pp. 156-161

I’m always fascinated by what happens when animals and humans get together. People act strange around animals, even their own, and animals can really get bizarre around certain people. Horses, in particular, draw interesting behavior out of people. As an old cowboy once told me, “If it can happen...

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Nicky, Miscellaneous Dumb Dogs, and Other Animals

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pp. 162-176

For fourteen years, I had my wonderful Nicky, a Malamute- Husky-Wolf mix. I rescued her from a ranch in Sonoma County, California, where the owners had just loaded her up to take her to the pound for killing deer. “Ron will take her!” pleaded the tearful children. “Ron, you’ll take her...

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Other Kinds of Creatures

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pp. 177-183

Domestic horses and cows aren’t the only four-legged mammals that need work done on their feet. Sheep, goats, llamas, and baby mini horses also have hooves that sometimes need trimming. I’ll discuss this group of animals because I have some limited experience in this area. There are other animals that should perhaps be included, like oxen who...

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pp. 184-187

At one point in my life I decided that nailing metal shoes on large animals wasn’t exciting enough, so I became a gentleman farmer. It wasn’t much of a farm, just a corner lot in a suburban tract in Northern California, but to me it was everything. I started with chickens. A real farm has chickens. Wearing my brand-new leather farmer’s gloves, I...

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pp. 188-190

Along with chickens, throughout this entire process, there were rabbits. A farm needs rabbits. This was all back in the protest days when people were giving up city jobs, putting red farmer’s handkerchiefs on their dogs, and running off to the country to live off the land. I couldn’t just run off...

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Two People and Three Cats

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pp. 191-193

My twelve-year-old daughter and I drove up to spend a week visiting my cousin and his family in Canada one summer. This cousin and I, while we were growing up, got to visit on a regular basis. We were as close as brothers. As a boy, he was an interesting kind of nature freak and had a lot of...

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The Pig Who Thought He Could

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pp. 194-197

A few years ago, some enterprising animal lover brought a Vietnamese miniature pot-bellied pig into this country. Being only a few weeks old, it was cute and everybody wanted one. More of the babies were brought in and people paid several hundred dollars for the little black charmers. Then they...

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More Pig Stories

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pp. 198-201

Some of my best horse customers lived up in the hills of Northern California where horses were a way of life. We lived there, too. The houses and ranches were spread out and most people had plenty of room for horses used for working cattle and sheep, for pleasure riding, and for shows, fairs, and...

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Youth Rodeo

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pp. 202-212

Cowboys and Cowgirls don’t just rise up completely formed off of some cattle ranch, and although some people might disagree, most are not born, they are made. A lot of these youngsters start up on ranches and farms, but the proving grounds for many is the Youth Rodeo. The ages of the...

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The Youngest Cowboy

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pp. 213-216

One of my daughters teaches at an expensive private daycare/grade school facility and she tells me stories about some of the younger students, the four- and five-year-olds. Some of them seem to have quite a time of it. If they don’t get their way, or some other kid takes their toy, they throw...

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pp. 217-218

I’ve finally received my doctorate from the University of Oregon. It’s taken me 12 years to develop a Celtic Studies major for colleges and universities, partly due to procrastination and discouragement, partly due to administrative confusion. The only connection this short section has with horseshoeing...

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pp. 219-225

I’m sitting here with my Dad in the California convalescent hospital where he is spending the last days of his life. This is the man who had been a college All-American and professional football hero, was an Olympic-class track man, and had been the sparring partner for Freddy Steele, the...

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The Eight-Week Syndrome

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pp. 226-229

I’ve been shoeing horses for a lot of years and I think I’m beginning to learn some lessons about life from my customers. Horse owners come in all kinds of shapes and all kinds of attitudes and philosophies, and you can never really guess...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781574414615
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574414530

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 23 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Western Life Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Tatum, Ron, 1955-.
  • Horseshoers -- Oregon -- Biography.
  • College teachers -- Oregon -- Biography.
  • Horseshoers -- Social life and customs.
  • Horseshoeing -- California.
  • Horseshoeing -- Oregon.
  • Fathers and sons.
  • You have access to this content
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  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access