When I arrive at the clinic of the Cart Horse Protection Association in Epping 2 on Monday morning, 18 June 2012, organised chaos reigns. There are horses and carts and people milling around everywhere. Today is an important occasion: It is Farrier Day!
This means that the first twenty horses, in good condition, will receive new shoes at half price. Nothing to sneeze at, when you consider that these working cart horses need to be shod every couple of weeks, depending on the amount of hours they trot up and down the unyieldingly hard tarred roads of our city. Although the farrier service is subsidised, the carties do have to pay for the shoes, and all the costs of keeping a horse in good working condition do add up, so they appreciate getting a discount.
When I park my car outside the main sliding gate, a large bay horse, still harnessed to its cart, is waiting quietly just outside the entrance. The driver, a young cartie, is standing next to it and holding the lead-reins. As I extract my camera from the boot of the car, I notice two guys walking past me with a dog. As they approach the waiting cart horse, the dog goes ballistic: “Woof woof woof!!! Bark, grrrowl, snarrl! Wooof woof woof!!!”
Spooked by the dog’s sudden outburst of aggression, the horse lunges forward, whinnying in alarm, trying to get away from the dog and the unfamiliar people, who are trying to pull the dog away to the side.
The driver grabs the reins and tries to calm it down, but he realises that the horse is frantic with fear and desperate to escape. The dog is still barking furiously, straining at its lead, as the two guys continue walking past.
The terrified horse pulls the cart so close to a nearby lamppost, that its wheels are wedged against it – the horse keeps going, and with a loud snap, the harness breaks! The horse leaps forward, the driver almost loses hold of the reins. A couple of carties rush to the rescue, grabbing the reins and the harness, and they manage to get the horse under control… It is prancing, tossing its head up and down, the adrenaline still surging through it.
Phew! That was close!
I dodge past the still-prancing horse, avoiding its rear legs by going around the front, where it can see me (Rule #1: Don’t go around the back end of a horse – a kick can do serious damage!), and enter the main building.
With its high ceilings and large open space, it looks like a converted warehouse. There are many such structures in the light industrial areas of Epping 1 and Epping 2. Three stalls with generous piles of wood shavings on the floor – two stalls next to each other on the right, one stall in the corner on the left, hidden by a horsebox – are ready to accommodate emergency cases. A row of partitioned pre-fab structures along two sides of the shed houses the offices and meeting rooms.
The grey horse being shod by Chadwin, one of the apprentice farriers, is Gypsy. She was involved in a motorvehicle accident earlier this year, hit by a bus whose driver did not bother stopping. She had a bad gash on her hindquarters and her head, and was trucked to the Firlands R&R to recover. She is looking very good now.
I enter the office at the back of the large warehouse to greet Carl Naudé, their warm and friendly receptionist and administrator. When you phone the CHPA Clinic, it will most likely be his chirpy voice you hear. His personal mission statement, according to the website, is “Emancipating the Unicorn in all Cape cart horses” – don’t you just love that?! From spending just a little bit of time around him in the last week or two, I can tell that he takes that quest seriously – albeit with a good dose of humour, which is clearly needed when working in such a difficult environment.
Curled up on a warm snuggle-blanket on his desk is a cat. She looks like a round furry ball, her tortoiseshell coloured fur reminding me instantly of our Tuffy-Cat at home. Instinctively, I reach out to stroke her soft fur. She uncurls just enough to glance up at me, looking a little peeved at having her sleep interrupted.
Carl introduces her: “This is Spikkles, our office cat. She is in charge.”
Yes, I can see she is.
She is also beautiful, and she knows it.
I tell her anyway. She purrs her approval.
I continue to stroke and scratch her gently, and she responds, arching her body against my hand, and starting to pump with her paws, softly purring. She even poses for a photo. Thank you, Spikkles.
“Where does she come from?” I ask.
Carl tells me that she had been ‘dumped’ at their yard one day – she was pregnant at the time, but lost all her babies. They took her to the Animal Anti-Cruelty League who happen to have their premises nextdoor, to have her spayed and vaccinated, and then decided to keep her. He says that she is good at hunting mice on the premises, and tells me, rather like a proud parent, how vigorously she defended her territory when another cat happened to stray inside their yard. It sounds like Spikkles had a tough life until she came to the CHPA – so it’s not surprising that she now regards this as Her Home – To Be Defended Against All Intruders.
I ask permission to roam around and take some pictures of the horses being shod. Then I go and watch the farriers at work.
Three horses can be worked on at the same time inside the shed, while the others wait outside, more or less patiently. Ashley Deelman is the main farrier at the CHPA. He knows his stuff, having obtained farriery training from the ILPH (International League for the Protection of Horses) – he even attended the International Farrier Symposium in Germany in October 2010, thanks to a sponsorship from the Swiss based Flying Anvil Foundation.
Ashley is assisted by his two youthful apprentice farriers, Chadwin and Lincoln. All three are bent double, in the characteristic posture of farriers – and I wonder to myself whether their backs hurt at the end of a long working day? They are removing worn shoes, trimming hooves and fitting new shoes with the practiced, confident ease of skilled artisans who have done this many times and know what they are doing.
First, they pry off the old and worn shoes using pincers or shoe pullers, and briskly flatten the old nails that come out with the shoe, so that they can’t hurt anyone who accidentally steps on them. Bent double, the farriers try to keep the hoof steady on their upper thigh, or they clasp it between their knees. It is hard work, and occasionally, one of them stretches up straight, unkinking his back.
Sometimes, they use a three-legged stand to support the front or back hoof of one of the horses – it has a little wedge at the top, which they ‘wedge’ into the hoof from below, to keep it in place. I don’t think they can do this with all the horses, though, as some of them are a little restless. Most of them seem quite accustomed to having their legs picked up and their shoes removed though.
Second, the wall of the hoof is trimmed with nippers, a sharp tool that looks like pliers.
The sole of the hoof and the so-called frog, the triangular part that acts as shock absorber for the foot when it makes contact with the ground, are trimmed with a hoof knife. It looks quite alarming to see them wielding these tools, but I’m told that the hoof is insensitive and that it is similar to clipping one’s nails! The procedure leaves a pile of shavings and clippings on the floor. A rasp smooths away any rough bits.
Third, they pick out a new shoe, and fit it – sometimes it needs to be hammered – noisily: Bang! Bang! BANG! – into a slightly different shape. I don’t know what material these shoes are made of, as they don’t look like the horseshoes I’m accustomed to seeing from my childhood. They use the cold shoe method, which means that the shoe does not get heated up in the forge (which would be called the hot shoe method), because they do not have much time when they are dealing with so many horses.
Finally, the shoe is nailed on. Although the shoe has several holes on each side, they don’t put a nail into each hole, but just choose two or three on each side. The nails are driven into the hoof wall in such a way that they bend outward, avoiding the sensitive inner part of the foot; they emerge on the side of the hoof.
I can’t help cringing when I see them hammering in those nails with such strength – sometimes I imagine the horses wincing too, but I gather that they don’t feel any pain – unless the nail goes in at a wrong angle, of course. The sharp points that stick out are then clipped with a clincher (they look like tongs), and the last bit of the nail is bent flush with the outside of the hoof wall. This prevents the nail from getting caught on anything, and it also holds the shoe in place more securely. Right at the end, they use a rasp to file down any rough edges.
“There, all done…,” Ashley straightens up, unkinking his back, and giving the horse a firm pat. As the owner leads the horse, clippety-cloppety, out of the yard, Ashley looks around: “Right, who’s next?”
I go outside to look around for some photo opps. I feel a bit self-conscious and awkward in this unfamiliar environment. I wonder what these guys are thinking of the strange white woman with the camera who is just hanging around and taking pictures of them and their horses. When someone asks what I’m doing, I tell them that I am going to write a story about the CHPA, and that I will give copies of the photos to the CHPA to put on their website. To my relief, they seem okay with that.
I notice a pretty looking white horse with a flowing grey mane and tail. It’s Picadilly, a mare (I think) who is owned by Mr Solomon, who – like several of the carties there – wears his hair tucked into a rather tall beanie. I wonder whether he has dreadlocks hidden inside that mus? The horse looks in excellent condition, and he doesn’t mind me taking a photo of the two of them; when I show him the photo on the LCD display of my camera, he is very pleased! I remember taking a photo of little Picadilly pulling her cart through Pinelands on the day that Barry and Joe of The Ride into the Unknown arrived in Cape Town (see this post) and so I tell him that I remember seeing him there – he says it was very exciting to be part of it. Picadilly has a very distinctive trot – very perky and frisky, as though she loves doing this.
A youngster with a blue beanie, and wearing a warm brown jacket ontop of several other layers (it is a chilly morning), comes up to me and asks me to take a photo of him and his horse – a dappled grey pony with strange blue eyes, called Ice, I think.
His friend in a long-sleeved Billabong hoodie leaps into the photo at the last moment, striking a tough-guy pose. They look very chuffed with themselves when I show them the picture.
“Another one!” demands the friend, and this time he poses next to a bay horse with a white spot on its forehead. This is Hector. Doesn’t he have a sweet face?
I oblige, and promptly two other guys scramble for position next to the same horse, so I take a photo of them too. I show them the pictures I have taken, and, satisfied, they return their attention to the horses, leaving me to amble around a bit more.
Suddenly, a huge truck drives in through the gate. It is heavily loaded with bales of oathay.
The carties quickly pull some of their horses out of the way, and Diana drives her truck-and-horsebox to another parking spot, so that the huge truck can park next to the building. Then the bales are off-loaded into the storage room at the back. The carties are able to buy feed for their horses whenever the Clinic is open.
The CHPA sometimes receives donations of oathay and lucerne from a Mrs Mitchell in Hout Bay, and they are extremely grateful for the existence of such generous benefactors; without them, their job of protecting, feeding and looking after these horses would be even harder.
A youngster wearing a warm woollen beanie and a long waterproof anorak comes over and asks me to take a photo of him with his horse, a lovely roan mare called Fair Lady. He poses shyly next to her, but smiles from ear to ear when I show him the photo. The coloured man waiting with him is busy feeding a skewbald pony.
“What’s his name?” I ask.
“Jaffy,” he replies, politely addressing me as “Ma’am” (which really makes me feel old, but I accept that it’s his way of being polite, so I don’t protest). Jaffy is focused single-mindedly on his food, as I take a photo of the two of them.
His owner tells me that he also owns Fair Lady.
“She had a foal recently, and she is pregnant again now,” he adds, “look, her belly is getting big.”
I inquire what hapened to her foal, and he tells me that it was a colt that died when it was very little, apparently strangling itself to death with a rope tied around its neck. He adds that when he arrived to check on the colt, it was already dead. It’s a horrific story. I don’t quite want to believe that such things can happen, and I wonder whether I’ve misunderstood him, but he confirms that this is indeed what happened.
Putting on my reporter hat, I ask him how he feels about the work done by the CHPA with the cart horses. He says that they are very grateful the CHPA is here to help them.
“They help us to survive. It’s difficult, this industry. Sometimes the horses get sick, or they roll in the sand, and then you see that there is broken glass in the sand, so the horse has an open cut on its back… We call the inspector and say, please help, there was an accident. They are always willing to come out and help us.”
This is something I have heard from several other people too – the carties take comfort in the fact that the inspectors will come to the aid of their horses when they need urgent medical treatment, or when there has been an accident and the horse needs to be transported to the safety of the Clinic. Such dedication is really commendable.
He continues: “We also buy feed from here, it is much cheaper than buying feed at home. I have to buy feed every day, where I stay in Bonteheuwel, because the horses eat a lot, and the clinic is only open until 12, and not every day. But they look after us well.”
Outside the shed, a man is holding onto a horse with a diamond-shaped white spot on his forehead. His name is Diamond, says the man. I think it is probably a stallion, judging from its strength and temperament. The horse is fidgeting and restless; he has already knocked over the water bucket, and keeps moving around. The man calls to a young coloured woman inside the shed to come and hold the horse, because he wants to fill the bucket with some of the oathay that has fallen down from the delivery vehicle, before it gets trodden into the ground. She peers around the corner of the shed, shakes her head, and says, “Nee-ah, ek sal hom nie vashou nie,” (“No, I’m not going to hold him”), before ducking back inside.
He looks at me, pleadingly, so I grasp the lead, and firmly hold onto Diamond’s halter, talking to him in what I hope is a soothing but confident voice. He’s a beautifully looked after horse, but a bit of a handful. He allows me to stroke him firmly, and – lucky for me – waits obediently for the man to return with a bucket of oathay.
Back inside the shed, an elderly coloured man by the name of Nolan starts to chat with me. He says he has been in the cart horse industry all his life, and enjoys coming to the clinic. He insists on showing me the forge that the farriers sometimes use to make horseshoes, using the hot fire to soften the metal before pounding it to the correct shape on an anvil. He says that the still-hot shoes are very briefly ‘burnt’ onto the horse’s hoof during a fitting, before being cooled off in cold water.
But the shoes that Ashley and his team are putting on at the moment are ready-made, so there is no need for a forge and anvil – although some have to be pounded with a hammer a bit to be bent into the perfect shape, they can just be nailed onto the hoof.
Nolan proudly points out some photos stuck on the windows of one of the offices. They show good-looking horses in excellent condition, pulling really smart, brightly coloured carts. He reminisces: “Those were good days… When we drove those carts, the ladies would be really impressed. They always look at us, when we trot past…”, he winks, pretending to be a young man sitting on the cart, steering and controlling a frisky horse. We chuckle fondly at his acting. He is beaming.
Some of the younger carties have listened in on our conversation, and cluster around, eager to look at the photos and hear what Nolan says about them. He looks so happy, relishing their attention, and proudly shares his memories with them. I leave him to impress the youngsters, and go across to the office to say goodbye to Carl. And Spikkles The Cat, of course. It is time for me to head home, but it has been another very interesting day at the Cart Horse Protection Association.