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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Food for thought.

I am constantly amazed whenever I spend time in a barn. (that happens often by the way) It is the rare moment in a barn that all the horses are not chewing, or looking for something to chew on. Rustle the hay on your way by and every horse pops his head out of the stall door and nickers. Pick up a bucket and put it down again and the sound just makes their head spin on a swivel. Pull a treat out of a pocket and hand feed it to any of them, and they will never look at that pocket the same again. In fact you could say that with the sole exception being the obvious distractions that occur during breeding season, there is NOTHING more important to a horse than having something in the digestion process.

Well think about this. Horses are made that way for a reason. Most horses weigh over 600 pounds (many of them over 1,000 pounds) and expend tremendous energy just to get from point A to point B. They are full of muscle and it is well known that muscle burns more energy than fat. They rarely lay down and really rest, and they spend an hour or two a day carting around big two legged animals. They are not carnivores so the vast amounts of energy in meats of all kinds are never available to them. Grass is notoriously calorie poor. Is it any wonder that the raison d'etre for the equine is to eat everything in sight?

This makes me wonder. Exactly what is it that the human animal needs above all else to be successful and fulfill the purpose for which we were created? What need do we have that trumps all others? If we were truly in touch with this need, could we be wildly successful and have a more fulfilling life?

I think the answer is, yes. I will let you ponder about just what that might be for the human animal; I have some ideas but I am interested in yours. Please take a minute to post a comment and leave us with your thoughts. I will weigh in on my next post.  

Remember that not only am I the blacksmith, but you are the blacksmith too. The force for creation and change in your own life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Is it really this hard, or am I doing something wrong?"

I have always tried to educate myself on the art and science of the blacksmith. In the winter of 2002, when business was a little slow, I drove to Blacksburg Virginia on a very cold and snowy day to attend the Lower Leg Symposium at The Virginia Tech School of Veterinary Science. The symposium brought together farriers and 1st and 2nd year vet students from the region to hear about the newest research regarding lameness and innovative lameness treatments. The fist half of the day was devoted to lectures and presentations from some of the best minds on the topic from all over the mid-Atlantic region . The second half of the day they sent all of us to the barn and asked each farrier to pair up with a vet student and teach them to prepare a lame horse for treatment. I drew a petite blond girl, maybe 23 years old, from southern Connecticut who might have weighed 85 pounds dripping wet. I could see that this was going to be a challenge.

It was cold. I mean really cold; like 22 degrees cold! (that is cold for Blacksburg) The organizers of the symposium brought us an old, crippled  Arabian Mare with geriatric lameness issue.
First order of business; pull the shoes. I provided a play by play for my petite but enthusiastic vet student as I took five minutes and worked the left front an hind, pulling the shoes, paring out the sole, and generally preparing the horse to be treated (left side only, I wanted her to have the experience of working both a front and hind foot). Now it was her turn to prepare the right side of the horse. Carefully she approached the mare like I had instructed her, and with great effort and some really good coaching (if I do say so myself) she had the right front foot wedged between her knees and she began her work. She worked, and worked, and worked. I corrected her, gave her tips, and generally encouraged her, hoping that she would be able to get these shoes off.
Finally after 10 minutes of gasps and grunts and many physical gyrations I hadn't seen before, she let the foot fall from between her knees, and she collapsed in a heap on the dusty floor of the barn. I asked if she was alright, and helped her to her feet. She looked up at me, sweat dripping down her face and onto her thick orange ski parka and said with exasperation, "is it really this hard, or am I doing something wrong?!" Well, the answer to that question was yes, and yes! It was really that hard, and she was indeed doing many things wrong.

I have thought about that experience many times through the years as I have learned new skills and tried to master them. I would guess it is safe to say that everything we attempt to master, whether it be a physical, mental, or an emotional skill, requires careful instruction, huge amounts of encouragement, and most of all deliberate practice. This really is the only way to acquire the skills we need to improve our lives and be successful in all our endeavors. Enjoy this short 2 minute video from Geoff Colvin, author of "Talent is Overrated" called "Deliberate Practice." We can acquire new skills and achieve at a very high level if we don't run away from the painful and time consuming learning no matter how challenging that might be.

Remember, not only am I the blacksmith, but you are the blacksmith too; the agent of creation and change in your own life.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring is in the air, or, the long cold winter............

This time of year separates the men from the boys.

When I got to the barn yesterday I found the key and opened the door. I could see my breath when I opened the door but the sweet smell of horses and the nickers and whinnies made me smile. I unpacked  my truck and lit my forge and felt the warmth immediately start to rise around me. I walked past the horses and pet a few anxious noses and found Tommy. He was slow getting out of his stall but loosened up quickly. Once I got him in the cross ties and cleaned the mud off his feet I pulled the nails one by one and then started to inspect the hoof. I started paring with my knife and was surprised and pleased at how easy it was to use my knife since the hoof had so much moisture in it from the rain/snow the night before. Just then a shaft of sunlight came through the barn door and illuminated everything around me and made me feel a familiar warmth. I stood up, took a deep breath, and it was then that it dawned on me that..................

On my way to the barn, traffic was terrible and I had to fight it all the way. Although I was told someone would have the barn opened I had to locate the hidden key and get in the back door. The horses hadn't been fed so they were noisy and unruly. I had forgotten to put my tools in the front of the truck so when I unpacked everything was ice cold and to make matters worse I was running a bit low on propane and could only run my forge for a while to warm up. I had to walk all the way to the other end of the barn to get Tommy, a chronically lame horse who was slow getting up and down and it took forever for him to get into the cross ties. His foot was covered with mud and it took a good while to clean it up so that I wouldn't be covered with mud when I finished. Once I got all of the mud out of the foot I had to pull each nail individually so that I wouldn't break up the foot since it was so soft. There was only a small bit of sunshine that came through the barn doors that morning and it wasn't clear that would last for long by the looks of the sky.

I think you get the picture. Every day we make the choice to have a good day or a bad day. Are we chronically reactive in our orientation to life's events, or are we responsibly proactive? Steven Covey said this. "You are not the product of your circumstances. You are the product of your choices." Here is a great 5 minute video from the late Steven Covey about the power of the proactive mindset. I hope you enjoy and choose to have the best day of your life.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ponies in her Dreams

Not every little girl wants a pony. But as it regards those who do, look out!

My eleven year old daughter Patricia is horse crazy, and that is putting it mildly. There are not many conversations between us (when it is just us because she knows that to some extent I am to blame for this horse craziness) that don't begin with, "dad, do you think that ______________ (name any one of the 5 or 6 horses at the place she rides) could ever jump 2' 6"," or something very similar to that. In fact the other day I was telling Fish (that's her nickname) that her mother used to get up and practice the piano at 5:00 am every day before school because she loved to practice. Her response? "Dad, do you think that mom liked to play the piano as much as I like to ride?" (I think you can see where this is headed) Me: "probably, why?" Fish: "I was just wondering if you could take me to the barn at 5:00 am every morning to ride?" Oops, I really stepped into that one, and still trying to find a way out.

It hasn't always been this way. In fact up until about 8 months ago I successfully held her off of riding at all. I would take her to the barn once in a while, and let her saddle up a pony or two thinking it was enough. Little did I know that seething below the surface of this calm exterior was a molten hot dream churning and bubbling through all of her thoughts and hopes. She prayed and begged and sat with a pad every night figuring out how many stalls she would have to clean each week to have a leased horse and lessons paid for. One day out of the blue she and I pulled into a barn that we didn't know anything about and started asking questions. Before I knew it we were driving to that barn on Saturday, and have been every Saturday since. The way she describes it is that her dreams have all come true. There is no denying that the power of her dreams is being manifest in the reality of her life.

So it begs the question. Do we allow the power of our dreams to create the reality that we really and truly desire? Have we stopped dreaming for fear of disappointment? Can we start dreaming again?

Here are 3 tips from the "flaming forge of life" that I hope will help us all to nurture our dreams until they become reality:

1) Dreams are in essence a visualization technique. When we dream we should see it all and feel it all as if it were real. I think that Fish spent many a night while falling asleep on the back of a horse, with the wind in her hair, and a big smile on her face and in her heart.

2) Writing things down make a connection between your heart and your brain. When we spend time to coax our dreams onto a piece of paper, our dreams become more real than ever before. I believe that the dream that Fish fed and nurtured started to take real shape when she started to write down what it would take to make that dream reality.

3) No dream is ever dead until we decide to pull the plug. A dream will remain an active force for creation until it is realized; you and only you decide when you can no longer sustain it's life. For Fish, she has been a farrier's daughter her entire life; her dream has been nurtured and fed in her heart and she never gave up even when other girls her age (whose parents had nothing to do with horses but had a few more spare greenbacks than I did) were riding just to keep their mothers happy. It is never too late for a dream.

Fish is my hero. Her example of how to dream a dream into reality will stay with me for the rest of my life. I love you Fish.

Remember that not only am I the blacksmith. You too are the blacksmith, the force for creation and change in your own life.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"We can do this the easy way or the hard way!"

I usually don't talk to my co-workers (horses) but this was different. He is different. His name is Moseley, named after a Redskins football player. ( I can explain that another time) He doesn't reach my waist, but has more personality and attitude than most full size horses. After having that really little guy yank this really substantial (I'll let you decide what that means) farrier back and forth in the cross ties three or four times, I looked down and made eye contact (very aggressive in horse body language) and shouted, "we can do this the easy way or the hard way, it's your choice!"

His feet were long, I'll admit it. It wasn't that I was putting off trimming him, he just hadn't risen to the top of the list. But this was the day, and he was as ready as I was. After we finally negotiated a truce (you usually have to negotiate with mules and mini's) we settled into a reasonable struggle which resulted in a successful trimming. He is still walking, and so am I; just a little slow straightening up. :) Once the struggling part is over and I start to work on "auto pilot" is usually when the insights hit. So...................I started to think about resistance and cooperation and the reasons we make things hard for ourselves and the people around us. Here are a couple of thoughts relative to that:

1) This was only my second time trimming this little guy. I am not responsible for the reasons he was resistant, that fault lies elsewhere. Knowing this makes me more patient and willing to compromise. In our lives we face the same thing with those around us. When we can come to this realization, we can be more patient and willing to compromise in all that we do.

2) Part of the negotiation with Moseley was me taking a time out. I went to the truck, had a drink (of water :)) and took a deep breath or two. I don't think that this is hard to apply to our relationships. The hard part is exercising the discipline to stop and do it instead of running headlong into a train wreck.

3) I may have succeeded with Moseley yesterday, but I don't always walk away satisfied. Sometimes in our relationships the best thing to do is cry uncle and walk away. What keeps us pursuing an impossible situation is our pride. We can do better than letting pride ruin our day and our work.

One thing I know is that the next time Moseley and I meet (in a professional setting :)) I will approach him with greater confidence and an expectation of an even better outcome. Wouldn't it be great if we could do this with all the people in our lives.

Remember that not only am I the blacksmith, but you are the blacksmith too. The force for creation and change in your own life.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s "The Village Blacksmith"

This poem is the inspiration for my blog. I have found through the years that there is much to learn from the work and events of our everyday lives. I can find many very helpful analogies in my work, and it is my hope that you and I can benefit from exploring them together. Please take a few minutes and read and think about the words of the Longfellow poem below, I know that you will be richer for the effort.

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
 The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
 With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
 Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
 His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
 He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face
 For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn to night,
 You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
 With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
 When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
 Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge
 And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
 Like chaff from a threshing floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
 And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
 He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
 And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
 Singing in paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
 How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
 A tear out of his eyes.

 Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
 Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
 Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee my worthy friend,
 For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
 Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
 Each burning deed and thought.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"You only have to work 1/2 days!"

In 1995 when I made the decision to leave my management job and become a blacksmith/farrier, I remember talking to my mom and dad. We lived on the other side of the country from them (which was a constant source of irritation for my mom) and I suspect that they felt a bit anxious about this decision. I told them kind of nonchalantly that I was going to learn to shoe horses and open my own business..............shock, then chocked back tears from my mother. She quickly dismissed herself and told me to talk to my father. I said, "dad, I thought this would be hard, but tears?" Dad went on to explain that they didn't know anyone who shoed horses for a living, "oh, with one exception," he said. "There was a man that lived in a clapboard shack in the back of your grandfather's Phillips 66 station in Victor, ID named whiskey Bill." He said, "the good people in the south end of the Teton valley could take their horse to Bill and for any portion of a fifth of whiskey he would shoe their horse." I guess if tears was all I got, I got of easy.
My dad went on to say how marvelous it was to be self employed. (he had been self employed for my entire childhood) He said that it had many advantages over employment one of which was only having to work 1/2 days. I laughed and said, "really only 1/2 days?" He answered, "you bet, and the best part is, you can chose which 12 hours it is!"

Not too long ago I received a phone call from a young man who said that he wanted to shoe horses for a living. He asked if he could come work for me to learn how. I wasn't looking for an apprentice and I had a funny feeling about it so I started to ask questions. He informed me that he hated his job, hated his boss, hated the people he worked with, and so it went. He said he loved horses, so he was just certain that if he could shoe horses for a living, all would be right with the world. I was sorry to do it but I just had to. I took a deep breath and said something like this. "You know I think your problem is not with the kind of work you do, I think your problem is with work itself. You go solve your problem with work, and you might find that you don't need to be a farrier to be happy,"

These two experiences really serve to illustrate what an important role work plays in our lives. With rare exception, it is necessary to work really hard to either make ends meet, or just to keep a good thing going. For us to have a comfortable and peaceful home life, we need to work at it very hard. To keep the bills paid we need to work very hard. To keep our loved ones safe we need to work very hard. To raise responsible children of integrity we have to work very hard.

I love this quote from Sam Ewing:

Hard work spotlights the
character of people: some
turn up their sleeves, some
turn up their noses, and
some don't turn up at all.