My father is a horse farrier. He’s been self-employed for several years, traveling all around southern Maine in a van full of anvils and chaps. Most people I encounter don’t even know what that title means. A typical response from someone I’m explaining the profession to might be, “Fairy, you say?” I’ll calmly explain that, no, he doesn’t have special flying dust; he puts shoes on horses’ feet.

I grew up around stables, tagging along with my dad to work, and horse owners would always comment, “Looks like you have a little helper today!” Truth be told, I never actually helped. I usually found a dog or fellow kid to play with, or had my nose deep in a book…and being on at least four sports teams year-round, I never had the focus or time to become interested in riding.

Fast forward to the college graduate who had to fly thousands of miles across the country and ride a horse in a remote wilderness location along a creek-side trail to realize what she’d missed out on. This hitch has been an eye-opener. We’ve used pack mules to transport dirt and gravel on an 18-inch trail along Crooked Creek, which flows into the Salmon River in north/central Idaho’s Gospel Hump Wilderness Area. We’ve learned the animals’ names and personalities (my personal favorite being the calm and patient mule Maggie). Through working with the horses and mules, I’ve gained a greater appreciation and understanding of the ranch culture, as well as a stronger respect for my father’s job.

One of the first challenges I came across seems rather silly in hindsight: the half hitch. On the first day of work I struggled to learn this knot, which is the most popular and effective way to tie rope for the mules’ bags. My problem is my brain. It doesn’t function in the most practical sense—I’m great with big ideas and theory, but when it comes to hands-on execution I need extra training. After a frustrating day of hearing many different people instruct me through many different methods, it became blatantly clear: I was the worst knot tier those mules had ever seen.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Because I’m a competitive person whose greatest opponent most often is myself, I went to the barn after work. I practiced. And practiced. I patented what I refer to as the Sean-Z knot—a hybrid of the methods given to me by horse riders Sean and J-Z.

In reflecting upon the situation, I can now realize the crux of the story: I had to eventually come to the understanding on my own, just like my newfound appreciation for horses and ranch life. As any athlete knows, coaching can only go so far before a player’s instinct and intuition inevitably become the decisive factors for success or failure. For several years growing up I held the opinion that my dad’s job was like any other—his office was simply filled with hay and grain. Working with U.S. Forest Service Employees who fully understand the demands of the profession has given me insight into a culture I wouldn’t have become so interested in otherwise. No one out here says, “Fairy?” with a quizzical brow. I’m left thinking about the lessons this conservation corps position is teaching me with regard to prioritizing my values and taking advantage of the resources right in front of me. The next time I tag along with Dad at work, I’ll tie a rope or two. I’ll actually be the “helper” I should have been all those years ago.

My Father, The Farrier
By Emma Deans

Hands callused from pounding
metal on anvils, nailing
shoes into horses’ feet,
sawing and trimming their hooves.

Hands sliced, carved, bruised with brown
patches, like the spotted hands of a grandparent,
from weed whacking, hauling hay,
plowing the pasture.

Hands with fingernails lined by arcs of dirt,
no amount of soap can ever scrub clean.

Hands sometimes a purplish blue from
mishaps with tools
or the victim of a horse’s kick.

Hands that carried the lifeless body
of every animal I ever loved.

Hands that led me to the bus stop each morning,
that coached me year after year on how precisely
to release the basketball,
flick the wrist, follow through, swish.

Hands that braided my hair before school,
like he braided the manes of mares.

Hands like soft paws,
lacing up my hockey skates,
“Put your foot up here,”
his skin against the frost filled air,
my hands safely tucked inside mittens.


WOW!! What an awesome tribute. It is amazing what new experiences will teach you. This is very well written.. I feel like I am there with you!! Enjoy your pictures too.

Posted by Leah Davis at July 02 2011

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