Tradition meets passion: on the road with a mobile farrier from the Gironde region.

In Wolfgang Albert's eyes, happiness can be found under the hoofs of horses: in the picturesque Gironde, he exercises the centuries-old profession of farrier.    

Farrier: a special craft.

It's early in the morning in south-west France. In a small village outside of Bordeaux, the first rays of sunlight are just breaking through the thick green treetops. This is where Wolfgang Albert calls home. He's already up and about and he's got a long day ahead of him. With a look of concentration, he packs his hammer, nails, files, tongues and a heavy leather apron into the load compartment of his Mercedes-Benz Vito. The 46-year-old has found his vocation in a traditional craft: he's a farrier. "The nice thing about my job is that I'm outside all the time," he enthuses with a satisfied smile. Wolfgang sets out already to the stables of one of his customers. A short while later, his Vito is winding its way through the picturesque landscape of the Gironde region. 

From horse-lover to farrier.    

But how do you go about becoming a farrier? Wolfgang never wanted to do anything other than work with horses. He's been passionate about the noble four-legged creatures for an extremely long time: in his younger years, he spent every free minute of his spare time at the riding school and also took part in competitions. At 16, he began an apprenticeship to become a farrier. Then he did his military service at a riding stables. After that, he was free to do what he'd worked towards the whole time: he became a self-employed farrier. It's now been 25 years that Wolfgang practises this profession with a whole lot of attentiveness and tact. He has a talent for being able to read the behaviour and body language of the four-legged animals. "When working with horses, you need a lot of passion," explains the "horse whisperer".

Tailor-made shoes for these hoofed animals.

When he arrives at the stables, Wolfgang wanders past a number of stalls. His "customer base" is made up of around 200 horses, which he tends to in regular intervals. The shoes need replacing every six to eight weeks. "Horseshoes are literally shoes for the horses and serve to protect the foot from injury," he explains before continuing: "It's the farrier's job to ensure that the animal feels good in their shoes so that it can carry out its sport and training."

The horses aren't used to being shod and so they have to be taught. Every farrier has already received the odd kick or had their foot trodden on by the horse. Does he have a secret for dealing with the animals? "If you're calm and relaxed, if you stroke them and give them a carrot every now and again, that certainly helps to loosen up the atmosphere," he answers with a grin. The horses can tell if someone next to them is nervous or tense. 

An irreplaceable passion.

"Machines will never be able to replace humans in this occupation."    

A timeless craft instead of any old iron.

"The first time I shod a horse, I was so proud – even if the result wasn't quite perfect," recalls Wolfgang. His training had a lasting effect on him: he learned from an old farrier who still carried out the work in accordance with the traditional methods. Tradition is extremely important in this 2000-year-old trade. The technique of shoeing a horse has remained largely the same for hundreds of years. His teacher shared many tricks of the trade with him – for example that the approach towards the animals themselves is of great importance. Now Wolfgang is sharing his own know-how with the younger generation by regularly training up-coming farriers. In doing so, he's helping to ensure that the tradition of this increasingly rare profession doesn't get lost. 

6 steps to a tailor-made horseshoe:

    1.    Watching the horses movement and observing its balance provides the farrier with a good deal of information as to how it needs shoeing.
    2.    Preparation of the hoof: now the horseshoe is removed. The old horn which has grown since the horse was last shod is also removed and the hoof is filed. 
    3.    The new shoe is heated in the oven and shaped on the anvil. The hotter it is, the easier it is to shape.
    4.    The shoe is then cooled down. An iron thread can optionally be added to prevent it falling off the hoof as quickly in the ensuing period.
    5.    The horseshoe is nailed to the hoof. To ensure clean edges, any protruding bits of the nails are clipped using the pincers.
    6.    In the final step, the farrier checks the horse's gait to see if the shoe is correctly seated and whether any corrections need to be made. 

Always ready for action: the mobile workshop in the Vito. 

In the past, the horses had to be brought to the farrier, but now the shoe is on the other foot, as it were: Wolfgang drives to customers in a radius of around 200 kilometres. This means that the Frenchman is regularly on the road in his Mercedes-Benz Vito which he has converted into a mobile workshop. The farrier uses his Vito as a workshop on wheels – in it, all of his tools which he needs for his work are within easy reach. "Inside, everything is arranged so that I can work near the vehicle and don't have to take all of the tools out," explains Wolfgang, while he fits a new shoe to a horse. From time to time, he whispers some calming words to the animal. Each movement is as precise as clockwork – the process of shoeing is resemblant of a well-rehearsed choreography. Just like Wolfgang's daily routine. Every morning, he readies his van for the next job: "I remove the old iron from the previous day, put a fresh stock of new horseshoes into the van and sharpen my tools before setting off to work."

A true companion.

Wolfgang can always rely on his Vito. 

 

A special type of connection.

Totally animal-friendly: the horse whisperer in his element.

Utmost care is a top priority.

Before the hoof can be re-shod, the old horseshoe first needs to be removed. 

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Photos: Nadine Laux

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