December 21, 2019 by The Citron Review
by Lisa Tuininga
George is his name, and he’s Mexican, he tells me as I’m writing his check for our first appointment. You can pronounce it Horhey, he invites. Most people don’t, but that’s my real name. He’s let me in on a secret; I’m his confidant: everyone else at the barn calls him George.
He doesn’t look Mexican, really, but I study him again, and see dark skin, dark eyes under his black hat decorated with a Jesus-fish. What stands out are his huge, muscular forearms—too big for his slight, lithe frame. His calves are marked with tattoos—Benjamin Franklin’s face on the left, and, he tells me, a famous Mexican gangster on the right.
Those are from before, he says. Before I met my wife, before I found Jesus.
He shoes horses, but he doesn’t ride, or even own any horses. His seventeen-year-old daughter, who used to ride, lost interest in horses. Doesn’t even go to church with me anymore, he says. Neither does my wife. He drops these details into the still air while he moves around my horse, clockwise from hoof to hoof, using heavy tongs to pull the shoes off, then his clippers to shorten the foot evenly all around, then his rasp to smooth the edges. His hands are glove-less. He uses calloused thumbs and fingers to feel the angles of the hoof. A striped hoof—like this—with white and black, they say it’s the best kind.
Sid is a good horse, but nervous. He steps away, sometimes yanks his hoof from George’s hand. He lips the back of George’s chaps. Farriers hate this. Underneath an almost thousand-pound animal, they are so vulnerable, working carefully at their craft, bent over almost all the time. Every farrier I’ve ever met wears a back brace when he works.
George turns his fire on, a propane stove fitted into the back of his Ford F350 truck, and places four new steel shoes in. The fire burns hot red, molten, and when the shoes come out, they too are burning. With long tongs, he drops each one into a bucket of water. The white steam rises, hissing. With his hammer, George shapes the shoes on his anvil, and as they cool, his time runs out. A horseshoe can only be shaped when it’s warm and, once it cools, he tells me, it’s frozen.
He moves fluidly between his anvil and the horse. He pounds ear-shattering, solid hammer strokes to widen, narrow or bend the shape of the shoe until it’s a perfect match for the hoof. It’s a physical job; he wipes drops of sweat off his forehead and his huge forearm muscles strain with the effort of pounding. Finally, it’s time to nail the shoes on. This is a softer sound, like a clap, and he uses a small hammer. Eight nails for each hoof. They go in easily, and then he nips the tips and clamps the edges down. He files the front of each hoof until the nails blend in almost seamlessly.
I look at the time. It’s already been an hour.
During his work, we talk about family, children, and his three dogs. We talk about religion, and his upcoming mission trip to build a church in South America. I’m afraid of heights, so I’m not much help he confesses. Then, choking up, he tells me that, after twenty years, he and his wife are separating. Next month he’ll be moving out and finding his own place. He looks down at the rasp in his calloused hands.
You know, sometimes people just grow apart.
I wish I could help; I wish I could diagnose his relationship problems the way he names disease in horse’s hooves. George can identify thrush, and white line disease. He knows a dark spot within the hoof wall means bruising. Soft soles tell of too much moisture in the ground. I watch his face as he shows me how an old abscess broke through the hoof and left a dark scar: a visual reminder of trauma.
Lisa Tuininga writes fiction and creative nonfiction. She holds a BA in English Literature from DePaul University and has studied at Seattle’s literary center, The Hugo House. Her work has appeared in The Belletrist, Adanna, Shark Reef, and others (under pen name Lisa Regen) and she is working on her first novel.
Very moving story. Powerful in its understatement.