Professor brings tales of danger and surprise to Cornelius library

Sometime during Ron Tatum’s tenure as Dean of Humanities at Marylhurst University near Portland, a study listing the most physically demanding occupations crossed his desk. At the top of the list was the trade Tatum had been practicing on the side for years: farrier, or in lay terms, horseshoer.

It was the dangerous, hidden life offsetting his more sedate, high-profile position as a professor of writing, literature and Celtic studies.

“People don’t understand how much strength it takes,” Tatum said. “You have to hold up a horse and do it without taking a break every few seconds because you’re forming the shoe, filing the hoof, nailing the shoe and filing it down. All that takes precise, controlled movements.”

For years, horseshoers couldn’t even get life or health insurance of any kind, Tatum said.

“You’re in a small space with an animal that can pretty much do what it wants,” he said. “Chances of getting killed are pretty high.”

Tatum’s first apprentice quickly realized that. “He was a great big guy — 6 foot, 4 inches and probably 240 pounds — and he was only under his first horse for a few seconds before he excused himself, ran to another stall and vomited,” Tatum said.

He estimates that there are roughly 12 farriers working in this part of Oregon. After 40 years in the trade, he still counts himself in their ranks, but the Aloha man doesn’t shoe as many horses as he used to.

“I’m 80 years old,” he said. “I don’t do it much anymore — maybe five horses a day. Mostly I don’t take on horses who are going to give you a bad time. I won’t deal with that now. I’ve paid my dues.”

Instead, he turned his hand to writing down the stories that, for a long time, he avoided telling.

“I don’t talk much about horseshoeing,” Tatum said. “It’s a very tight community. I like to talk with other farriers about it, but not with anyone else.”

When the average person asks what Tatum does, “if I say I’m a horseshoer, they think I play (the game) horseshoes professionally. Once, I said I put shoes on horses, and someone thought I meant tennis shoes and was involved in some kind of silly art project. When I tell people I’m a farrier they just look at me funny. I just started telling people I was an insurance salesman.”

Tatum kept notes during his 40 years of horseshoeing and he admits that he knew those notes would one day turn into a book.

In 2012 those stories went into print with the University of North Texas Press as “Confessions of a Horseshoer,” a book that has received rave reviews across the board. From cowboys to professors to veterinarians to poets, everyone is saying good things about Tatum’s book.

“Confessions of a Horseshoer” recounts how and why Tatum got into horseshoeing in the first place, as well as the unique events that shaped his life forever. But he’s tight-lipped about what’s in the book, not wanting to give away too much information before he speaks at 6:30 p.m. May 24 at the Cornelius Public Library.

“It’s funny that I’ll be getting up there to talk about horseshoeing — something I’ve made a point of not talking about for years,” he said.

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