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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.

Friday, March 1, 2013

World Championship Blacksmiths' Competition Eagle Eye Class

This is fun to watch if you have never seen a real blacksmith at work. For you ladies there is even a woman at about 5:45.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

We are what we think

I smoke 2 packs a day!

OK, I don't smoke 2 packs a day in reality, but I do in my mind; it might even be more! The power of the mind in incredible and such a consistent force for good an ill in each of our lives.

In the summer of 1995 I had a 5 month old son and two little girls at home, was out of work, and getting more broke by the day. I was apprenticing to be a farrier/blacksmith. Needless to say it was an emotional time in my life, and because of those heightened emotions, many experiences I had during that time made quite an impression on me. 

My days went like this. I would get up early and buy just enough gas to get to Anvil Mountain, the workshop of my master, Brian Koch. He had his shop in an old GMC step van that we affectionately called "Bertha." After spending 30 minutes cleaning up Bertha from who knows what he was doing the night before, and feeding the horses and mucking the stalls, Brian would then join me in Bertha for our lesson for the day. Let me take one step back. He agreed to take me on as an apprentice and teach me to shoe horses, but he made it clear that I could not touch one of his clients horses if I couldn't make a horseshoe from scratch. Well my cocky 31 year old self thought (without any experience mind you) that would be no big trick. To make a long story short, after a month and a half, I didn't feel like I was any closer to making an acceptable horseshoe than I was when I started. So what I said about getting more broke all the time, together with my apparent inability to make a horseshoe, made for quite a lot of stress and emotional turmoil. Back to Bertha. I forgot to mention that before Brian would grace me with his presence, I would also have to have a very hot fire burning in the forge as well. (this was a challenge since it was an old coal forge with a blower motor with a short in it, geeze! :))

                                                    Here's the way Bertha looks today!

Once I had everything ready, Brian would hold the cold steel bar stock with the tongs and place it strategically in the fire. Then, he would pull his pack of Pall Malls (yes that's right the real kind in the red pack, NO filter!) out of his shirt pocket and fish one out between his thumb and forefinger. He would then grasp the cigarette with the tongs, light it in the forge, and take three long luxurious drags. Then, he would ask me if I thought the steel was ready, and I would say "yes." He would then gently place the half burned cigarette on the side of the forge and proceed with the day's lesson. This happened every day for two months and once I started going with him to shoe real horses, it became clear that he had a system just as routine for smoking while he was shoeing.

Yesterday morning it was cold. I unpacked my truck, cleaned it up a bit, visited with the horses and the grooms, lit my forge and placed a cold keg shoe in the fire, and then just like I have done every day  for the last 17 years, I fished out a cigarette, lit it in the fire, and took three long luxurious drags, in my mind. And I should point out that unless I am really paying attention, I don't even notice that it's happening.

Fortunately for me I was raised in a culture and family in which smoking was not an option for me. So I really haven't had to worry about dealing with a smoking habit developing from the alternate life being lived inside of my head. It does however, make me think about the other things that are rumbling around in my mind just under the surface which ARE manifesting themselves in real actions, while I go on unaware of what is happening and why it is happening. Could it be that my need for a diet Pepsi has it's roots inside of my mind and is an artifact of an emotionally charged experience or two? How about my defensive nature that puts me at odds with anyone willing to help me with constructive criticism rather than me being willing to really hear their words and understanding their feelings? I don't think that there is any possibility that this could NOT be the case. So, the question then becomes, "how can we get control of those thoughts and feelings that are playing such a big role in how our lives are lived? Here are three suggestions that we might want to consider:

1) Practice noticing our thoughts without judgement and criticism - we might call it meditation or pondering. Whatever we do call it, we can stop and pay attention to the flow of our thoughts. This practice will make us more aware of the constant parade of thoughts marching through our minds all the time.
2) Learn to be slow to respond to feelings. This is something that we can practice and become very good at. We just need to decide to pause and think about the outcomes of the actions that follow our responses to the feelings that occur from outside or inside stimulus.
3) Begin a regular practice to place thoughts in our minds that counteract the negative things we have noticed as a result of increased mindfulness. Remember that this pro-active thought replacement can be turbo charged if we create an atmosphere of heightened emotions (obviously positive emotions like love and joy will have an effect to support good thoughts) in our minds.

I love this thought made popular by Steven R. Covey.

"Between stimulus and response there is a space; what happens in that space will largely determine the outcome of our lives."

Noticing our thoughts, owning them and their reason for being, and being pro-active rather than reactive in our response to them is clearly a path that leads to happiness and peace.

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


Monday, February 25, 2013

5 Tips for Change short video

A change is as good as a rest. That is just something that my dad used to say a lot. I have found that when life seems to get hard, and you need a reason to get out of bed in the morning, there is nothing like changing a habit or a routine to add the spark you need. I hope this short presentation will provide something valuable in your efforts to change something difficult.

You are the blacksmith, the force for creation and change in your life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Today just may be your last!

Last week we received word that a young man in my son David's class passed away from stage 4 melanoma. Just before Christmas he went to the doctor to check on some back pain and that was the beginning of a series of examinations that eventually showed many organs and body structures were involved. He was terminal. David Stevens, a 14 year old brother, son, baseball player, trumpeter, and video game lover died less than 2 months later.

Not to be melodramatic or anything, but who could have predicted that? For that matter, as it relates to the untimely death of any of us, who could predict those events either? I have been thinking a lot about this in the recent past. I heard a great Ted talk by Ric Elias called, "3 Things I learned while my plane crashed." Here is the link.   http://www.ted.com/speakers/ric_elias.html

I remember clearly a beautiful autumn day. I was preparing to shoe a horse, new to me, at a picturesque farm on the banks of the Potomac River. I was by myself, and it was cool and peaceful and I had a great sense of well being, and competence as I went about my work. I don't remember the horse's name, but he was a tall chestnut warm blood with great refined features. He seemed gentle as I went in his stall, put on the halter, and led him onto the concrete isle-way. I attached the cross ties, and approached him from the front, as is my habit, blissfully, feeling the "easiness" of the moment. In a flash I felt a hard blow to the back of my head and a whirl, a stumble, and a hard fall to my back on the cold, clean concrete floor. As I opened my eyes and looked up I saw rapidly descending the two front feet of this 1200 pound animal with steel shoes attached, seemingly directly onto my head. It happened so fast I wasn't able to move even slightly and so I lay motionless as I felt in slow motion as the shoes brushed by each of my ears by a fraction of an inch and I felt the huge clap of those massive feet on the ground on either side of my head. Just as quickly the horse rose straight up off the ground and inexplicably I rolled 2 feet to the left as he was crashing down on the concrete floor for the second time.........................................I lay there and waited for all the commotion to stop before I rose to my hands and slowly and watchfully lifted myself to my feet. After a few minutes I carefully placed the lead rope on the halter, released the cross ties, and respectfully and without any words released him to his stall.

That horse didn't get shod that day. I sat in my truck for a long time before gathering up my tools and driving home. I was trying to make sense out of those events, and why I was not dead or maimed. This experience has returned to me again and again as I contemplated the death of this young man and listened to the account of Ric Elias. Am I prepared for this day to be my last? Ric gives us 3 things to think about that he believes will matter to all of us when that moment does arrive.

1) What have I been putting off that should be done. What experiences or events should I engage in now before it is too late?
2) Which relationships matter and how have I let my ego get in the way of those important relationships?
3) Is being a great parent my highest priority?

Today just might be my last and so once again I will commit to not putting off until tomorrow what should be done today, putting my ego behind me with those I love the most, and doing all in my power to be a great and loving parent. This is what is real.

Remember not only am I the blacksmith, but you too are the blacksmith.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Relationships as Taught by a Horse

I spoke with Brian Brinkerhoff yesterday for his radio program Back country Radio.(http://backcountrynetwork.blogspot.com) What a pleasure that was, he is a quality radio host. The theme of the day was relationships and what I had learned over the years as a farrier from my closest co-workers, the horses.

First to set the stage it is important to note that for horses, relationships are very much a surface activity. Most of their actions are governed by instinct and memories laced with either fear or pleasure. That being the case I think we can call the principles that govern relationships with most animals, foundation principles because they happen exclusively in the animal brain. We all also have an animal brain but we also have a part of the brain that give us cognition, complex emotion, and moral agency that sit on top of those foundation principles and many times complicate them to the point that they become quite messy. The point is if we learn and internalize the foundation principles that govern our relationships in the animal brain, we are more likely to use the higher thinking skills to create great relationships.

The 5 foundation principles that I outline below can help us to troubleshoot our relationships, and build new ones on a solid foundation.

#1 Accept and embrace the fact that there is a lot going on under the surface - One of the ways I learned this was by watching the way horses express preferences for other individuals almost immediately on being introduced. Turn 3 or more horses out together and within 10 minutes (literally) they have made up their mind about all of the others. They develop alliances and dependent relationships very quickly and then stand by them rigidly. Now I know that we are more complex than this, but we do have many animal functions running just under the surface giving us very similar messages to what the horse is getting from his walnut sized brain. If we are aware of this fact, couldn't we use our powers of mindfulness to overcome natural, almost uncontrollable feelings that get in the way of our relationships?

#2 You usually get what you bring to relationships - I work with a horse named Teddy. I know as sure as I know anything that if I don't go to his field prepared to stand out in the middle of the field while he struts around and shows off for about 5 minutes before I make the first move to catch him, I will be chasing him around all day. Chris is another horse that just refuses to be caught unless I take a small handful of grain to entice him. I have at times been a lazy and impatient horseshoer and just walked out there thinking that just because I was in a hurry or didn't want to go to the feed room for a handful of grain, that Chris would somehow change. NOT A CHANCE! There is no catching that horse. How often in our relationships do we approach our interactions empty handed knowing full well what the rules of that relationship are? Are we lazy, or impatient, or just plain prideful? We would all be better off if we take something to the relationship before we expect to receive anything from it.

#3 Relationships are cumulative and have memories - I shoed a horse named Erwin for a couple of years. Erwin and I had a troubled, tense relationship. Let's just say he knew how to push all of my buttons. One day I showed up to the barn to the welcome news that Erwin had been leased, for an indefinite period, which usually means permanently. I was a happy horseshoer. Not too long ago, upon my arrival, I was told that Erwin was back, and that he was around the corner waiting for me because he had pulled a shoe. The hair went up on the back of my neck and I anticipated the worst. I rounded the corner and there he stood 16.2 hands with his head up high, his ears flat against his head, and his nostrils flaring. I suddenly became aware that this was a two way street with this horse, and he was as unhappy about the situation as I was. Erwin looked at me and I could almost hear him saying, "he's baaaack!" No matter what we might tell ourselves about our relationship history, or what we might want to wish away, our relationships have their own memories, and they are cumulative. The walls we have built between us and our loved ones and co-workers were built brick by brick; they need to be dismantled brick by brick. The sooner we come to accept that truth, the sooner we will embark on a path that will lead us to a better place in that relationship.

#4 Use Yin and Yang to your advantage - The best advice I was ever given about shoeing a horse was from my mentor. He told me "son that horse outweighs you 5 times, and is at least 10 times stronger than you are. You aren't going to win any wrestling matches with him." His advice was, when the horse is pulling, then you release. When the horse releases, then you pull. Sounds simple doesn't it. This easy philosophy is best described by the eastern tradition of the Yin and Yang; negative and positive energy. Yin and Yang are not just the expression of the opposite, they express the fulfillment of the marriage of the two. For example; light and darkness, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, masculine and feminine. In other words we need the opposites to exist in order to be truly fulfilled. Don't we all violate this principle of energy far to often in our relationships? When the other half of the relationship is angry, it is not just passivity that is required, it is a listening ear and true empathy that fulfills that anger and makes it productive instead of destructive.

#5 Relationships work best when you share power - I used to work at a barn that gave tours of the Gettysburg battlefield on horseback. You can imagine that we saw a lot of novice riders. We had 3 mules in the string and I noticed over time that the wranglers always gave the mules women riders when they had them. I asked once why that was the case and they explained to me that mules are very smart and capable animals; they do their job best when their rider is willing to share power. They explained further that in their experience women were much better at sharing power than are men. Now I don't want to get in the middle of that philosophical argument, but the principle is that all of us could benefit from more self determination in our relationships. We all work better when we feel that we are not being "ridden hard and put up wet."

I hope you can internalize these foundation principles of relationships that I have gleaned from my work through the years with horses. It is clear that the more conscious and mindful that we are of the forces that act upon us in our relationship, the more able we will be to create rich and rewarding relationships now and in the future.

"Me and Erwin"

Remember, not only am I the blacksmith, but you too are the blacksmith. (A force for creation and change)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Start Something

As is usually the case, starting anything is hard. I suppose it is because most of us like to think that we will finish all the things we start.............. OK, I have some real problems in that area, but oh well, here goes.

I am the blacksmith. This phrase has come to capture my attention and help me to understand my world just a bit better. Since I am a blacksmith, I suppose that the analogies are easier for me to come by and to understand. My goal in this blog is to help myself and my readers come to better understand the lessons of life from "the flaming forge of life."

I will begin with what I know to be a truth for the blacksmith/farrier and I suppose that it is a truism in all of our lives. The two hardest horses of the day are the first one and the last one. In other words beginning and finishing are difficult. This post will focus on beginning tasks when it seems hard or overwhelming. What I have had to do to overcome this tendency is to play some little tricks on myself just to get over the hump to get started. Here are a few:

1) Unpack your tools - It can be helpful to focus on preparation for the task at hand if that task seems overwhelming. Before you know it you know it you may be engaged and starting your task will be a natural extension of your preparatory activities.
2) Visualize the finished hoof, and shoe backward in your mind - When you visualize the excellence of the work that you will do, and then imagine a back to front process to get there, it is only natural to start when you get to where you are standing.
3) Talk the horses owner through the things you will be fixing - When you engage your intellect in the challenges you face (challenges that in part make it difficult to start) your eagerness to resolve those challenges rises and before you know it, your are beginning your task with vigor.

I hope that you think about all the things you don't start because it just seems to daunting. Remember that you can only accomplish any thing, after you first begin.

Please remember, that not only am I the Blacksmith, but "You are the Blacksmith."