A Nasty Kick Will Never Keep a Good Man Down
Nestled among rolling, evergreen-strewn hills is the small town of Kila, Montana. Quiet, idyllic, and tucked away from the hustle of big cities. Here, there is clean, fresh air, trees, and wildlife. And for Karla and Todd Kiser, it’s where they keep their horses and their life together.
"You gotta give them what they need to do their job."
The Kisers are, in some ways, a study in contrasts. And yet, there are more than a few strong similarities even in their differences.
“Living in Montana, I’d have it no other way,” says Karla. “We just kind of do our own things… Todd and I are so opposite sometimes. It works because of that.”
Karla is an artist, working with stained glass and metals, crafting charming and lovely objects for sale in her studio. In her hands, a soldering iron becomes an artisan’s tool, metals framing and creating a structure for artful glass pieces. “I’ve always invented ways to make money with my creativity. Seems like that’s the way I thrive. I guess I just like working with my hands, and that might be the common thing my husband and I have going on—is our hands are our tools for what we do.”
“Karla and I have total opposite personalities, you know, because of what we do,” adds Todd. “Well, she’s artistic, and I am not, you know. She’s a lot more talented than what I do, that’s for sure.”
But as much as Karla and Todd see their differences, their work seems to hold its share of similarities beyond simply working with their hands. Because while Karla works with structuring metals in a way she loves, so too does Todd. Todd works as a farrier, a kind of hoof specialist for horses, in many ways combining the skills of a blacksmith with those of a veterinarian.
“If you tell them ‘farrier,’ most people have no idea what that is,” Todd says. “All we do is maintain the horses’ feet—for correcting things or protecting or traction. You gotta give them what they need to do their job, that’s the point.”
For both Todd and Karla, there is pride in their work, and the love of it shines through in almost everything they do.
“We take pride in our work because it’s a reflection of us.”
And yet, there is an artfulness in Todd’s work as well, an unusual combination of firm, purposeful strength mixed with gentleness, which comes from working with large animals. There’s no less care in his work, where the tools aren’t much different than they were a hundred years ago, or even two hundred. This is a profession that requires meticulous care, trust, and a steady hand. Not to mention an acute awareness that when working with large animals, there’s always the possibility that something may go wrong.
Because while heat and metals may respond predictably, horses are less inclined to follow those rules.
In 2015, Todd was brutally and painfully reminded of that lesson when a horse he was working on kicked him in the knee while he was bent over. And the injury was severe enough that it could have cost him his leg.
“She couldn’t have timed it any better,” he says. “If she’d have kicked me when my knee was bent, it wouldn’t have hurt me so bad. It would have been a good one, but—” Here, he gives a wry grin from under his mustache. “Anyway, she hit me as soon as I put my weight on that leg, and my knee was straight, and [my other] foot was off the ground. And that’s when it just collapsed, it completely [collapsed]. And like I said, I was still bent over and… every day I think about that. It was right here, the toe of my boot was right here”—he places his hands only inches away from his nose—“and almost went in my face.”
Imagine, for a moment, that unsettling and likely unbearably painful discovery of a leg injury so egregious that you found yourself staring directly at your foot. And yet, somehow, Todd had both the presence and determination to drive home.
“He did drive home with his manual pick-up, and his adrenaline must’ve been just amazing.”
“I had to have five-hour emergency surgery right then,” said Todd. “And I’m lucky. [The doctor] told me that if I was a desk jockey, the leg would have been gone.”
But for Karla, the fear that comes with an emergency also came the terrible realization that this injury would certainly sideline her husband from the work he loved. “That was really hard because this is all he knew, and all he wanted to do was horseshoe.”
And yet, the pain and the surgery resulting from the injury were still far from being the most challenging part. Because after the surgery came Todd’s recovery, and for an injury that debilitating and severe, it was certainly not going to be easy. The road back would be long and arduous.
Fortunately, Todd is married to a woman that just as fiercely determined as he is.
“Karla was quite a nurse. ‘I have a hot nurse, but she’s mean,’” he laughs. “She did everything for a year—because I was out for a year. She was phenomenal.”
But Karla wasn’t the only one who stepped up. In this small Montanan town, there were people who cared about Todd’s recovery. Especially his friends and clients. And they wanted to make sure their farrier was taken care of. Because community is everything. It’s about taking care of our own, and when the Kisers needed them, that level of compassion and care and spirit that runs through the blood of Montanans emerged as strong as ever.
“All the customers rallied around and had a benefit for him, and really came through for us,” says Karla. And those customers weren’t the only ones. Because now Todd wasn’t able to drive his manual-transmission pick-up truck any longer. With his knee on the road to recovery, it was time to make the change to automatic, and Whitefish Credit Union helped make that happen.
It’s almost inevitable that in this life, a little disaster will befall us.
For some, it’s absolute. For others, it’s just enough to put our lives into perspective, to take stock and think about where we are in our lives. For folks like the Kisers, these moments become a defining moment that reminds them of what’s important, and reinforces the bonds between them. For a while, they have some differences, Karla and Todd still share the same values: work that they’re passionate about, supporting each other, and keeping a steady hand when things get hot.
Because invariably, we all get a little burned. What matters is how we face the days, weeks, and even years after. How we stay connected with our communities. And how much we’re willing to get back on the horse after a thorough kick nearly steals everything away.
And with a little luck and a whole lot of grit, we keep on.
And for Karla, there’s no small amount of satisfaction in that. “Now he’s back. His leg is doing great. It’s just a testament to how stubborn he is and how determined he is.”
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