Horseshoeing supplies hanging on the wall in the horse barn

Lessons in the Horse Barn

When you walk into the horse barn you’ll see a wall full of horseshoeing tools and supplies to your right. There are racks full of horseshoes and all the tools you need to successfully secure a fresh set of shoes that will last riding across miles of rocky country. There are knives, nippers, rasps, hammers, clinchers, hanging in their strategic places where they’ve probably been since before my mom was born. One anvil is on a stand and can be moved around as needed, the other is attached to the wall. This very anvil would occasionally be used as a leaning post on a warm Saturday afternoon. Gramps would take a long drink of an ice cold Pepsi as he slowly came back up to an upright position. He rested his back for a moment before he made the rest of his way around the saddle horse that needed to be re-set.

A horseshoe rack that you will find to your right, as you walk in the barn.

Sharing Nails

I am not sure if you have ever tried having a conversation with a guy trying to shoe a horse, but I’ll tell you, it is pretty challenging. You see, he has to carefully move his mouth in a manner that doesn’t cause him to lose one of the horseshoe nails that he placed between his teeth. For the majority of my life, the only two guys I ever spent time around while shoein’ a horse was my Gramps and Philippe. They both approached the task of shoein’ a horse in the same way, and you were used to them both having to stop what they were doing, remove the nails from their mouth, and then go on answering your question or continue telling a story.

About 15 years ago though, there was a guy that wasn’t having any part of putting horseshoe nails in his mouth. My Gramp would ask, “Well, why wouldn’t you?”

Jake replied, “For one reason, what if you happen to have a wreck and end up swallowing one?” After my Gramp got done shoeing the horse he was working on, he still had the extra nail he always packed (just in case) in his mouth. He walked over to the box of nails and threw it back in. Jake said, “And THAT’s another reason.”

Jake Shoemark smiling per usual in conversation at the Flournoy Family Reunion.

It is funny how crews of men (and women) come and go on a ranch. There are some mainstays, but every ten years or so it seems like the crew is completely new. Jake Shoemark came to the ranch initially to gain more experience with cattle. He and his longtime girlfriend, Helen were working for Pat Parelli starting colts, putting on seminars, and working with Parelli Horsemanship clients. One night, Pat called my grandpa and asked if they could come work at the ranch for a little while and give him some pointers in the cattle-realm. We were fortunate enough to have Jake and Helen at the ranch for many years. They eventually became engaged, then married, and had their first baby.

Teasing is a Good Thing

There are many outstanding things about Jake, but one of Gramps’ favorite parts about him was how good he was to tease. Yes, if you hang around long enough you will find out if you are in fact “good” to tease or not. My Gramp loves to tease and the important thing to remember when you are on the receiving end, you only get teased if you are well liked.

The other thing my Gramp loves, is sports. Anytime he could get Jake to bet on a sports game, they would. Jake was a die hard LeBron James fan, and at the time he was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. When Jake lost, Gramp would never let him live it down. At the time, he had a winter hat where the bill was two pieces that came together and snapped. Anytime Gramp would gain a “bill” from Jake he would snap it in the front of his hat so Jake wouldn’t forget about it.

Life on the Garden

Willow Creek Ranch on the Devil's Garden

During the winter and spring, Jake and Helen would live at the home ranch, but during the summer they would call the Devil’s Garden “home.” More specifically, the house out at Willow Creek, which is a Forest Service lease that the ranch has to this day. Some of my fondest memories with Jake and Helen was the time I spent at the house at Willow Creek where we would ride, check cattle, come in for a nice, cold glass of Cool-aid, work on projects around the house and make delicious pies.

The main house is the white house you can see to the far right. The living room had a corner made of small one by one windows that allowed you to look out at the large meadow below the house. The last person that painted the house nearly painted over all of the windows with dark green paint. One day, when Jake was out working, Helen and I took razor blades and removed all of the over-sprayed paint and cleaned the windows until they sparkled. When I came across this photo in my old shoebox filled of images I took with my first film camera, I was taken back by this scene.

In the Spring of 2021, as my Great Uncle came around the turn into the ranch in his cattle truck. The main house was still smoldering from the fire that took the entire thing to the ground, and someone had taken a chainsaw and cut down the middle of all of the corral boards.

Hip Surgery

Jake and Helen were both born in Australia. Jake was a twin and one of the first observations you would have about him was that he had a very noticeable limp. We came to know that he was born without a hip joint, so his hip socket grew shut. The worst thing about it was that he experienced a great deal of pain with it. You weren’t going to hear Jake complain though. When my Gramp finally got to talking to him about it, he found out that many nights Jake would sleep with that leg pulled up to his chest in an effort to stop the pain.

Eventually, my Gramp got him connected to a phenomenal hip doctor down at Stanford through a mutual friend of his, Dr. Bert Johnson. Jake underwent an intense hip reconstruction surgery where they built him a hip joint. Now, with proper boot insoles Jake walks pain-free and without a limp.

Back to the Oz

As I mentioned, Jake and Helen were Native Australians, everyone on the ranch and in the community enjoyed every moment of hearing them speak. We’d just occasionally get a laugh over different terms or pronunciations used. Still to this day, when I use the word “heaps” in conversation, I think of Helen and smile. They both are salt of the earth people that we were honored to consider family for the years they were at the ranch.

Since then, they have moved home with their two babies and are living a grand (another word I loved hearing Helen use) life in the Oz with their immediate family close by. They run cattle of their own now, taking great pride in managing their land in the best possible way, and I look forward to seeing all of the pictures they share of their littles having heaps of fun with their four-legged friends.

In honor of Jake’s Birthday today, I wanted to walk down memory lane and reminisce about the wonderful memories of having both him and Helen on the ranch. How fortunate we all were to have you both so close, and how happy we are for you and the beautiful family that you have.

  1. Sue says:

    Beautiful memories Gabby, special times in all our lives! It feels like your Gandpa and Jake were always destined to spend time together.

  2. Mike Brookfield says:

    Loved the story Gabbie. I still put the nails in my mouth, wonder where I learned that? Liked the tools on the board. If memory serves me well Bernie Zambil a.k.a. The crazy man from Switzerland, was the one who put that together. Check with your Gramps on that. A flood of good memories come back to me. Thanks for sharing, would have liked to meet Jake and Helen. Sincerely, Mike

    • Gabriella Nevin says:

      I am so glad you enjoyed it Mike! I will definitely check with Gramps on that. Another good story to hear I am sure. Yes, hopefully we can get them back in the U.S. for a visit.

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