He keeps them run­ning

Monday, De­cem­ber 5, 2016 Chan Hong-ming’s job is in­dis­pens­able out at the track. He’s the one who makes the shoes that keep the thor­ough­breds run­ning at top speed. Wang Yuke re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCUS - Con­tact the writer at jenny@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

Putting on a leather apron and get­ting his tool kit ready, C h a n Ho n g - m i n g stepped in the horse stall and be­gan his daily rou­tines. He was go­ing to give the thor­ough­bred race horse a “pedi­cure” and cus­tom shoes.

Chan is a senior far­rier who has been work­ing at his trade for 23 years. A far­rier cares for the hooves of horses and crafts shoes from scratch or even puts old shoes back onto the equine. The aim is to trim and bal­ance a horse’s hooves so that it can run faster out on the track.

A horse needs healthy hooves and com­fort­able shoes to com­pete in a race just like a sportsper­son needs suit­able shoes and gears.

Af­ter a few gen­tle pats on the horse’s back, his way of greet­ing his equine friend, Chan deftly lifted up the animal’s hoof, wedged it be­tween his legs, and started his rou­tine.

He went to work with a hoof knife, one with a slightly curved blade that he used to cut off the dead stuff from the hoof. His hands moved quickly, and surely, rais­ing a crisp grat­ing sound. Turn­ing to the more ten­der parts of the hoof, he moved slowly and gin­gerly.

The horse was calm, its head bent low. He moved obe­di­ently as Chan nudged it. “Most horses en­joy the hoof treat­ment. They feel pam­pered and com­fort­able,” laughed Chan.

Chan trimmed the tri­an­gle­shaped part on the bot­tom of the hooves, called the “frog” which starts from the heels and goes to­wards the toes. The frog acts as a shock ab­sorber for the hooves and legs from the impact pound­ing along the race­course. It also helps to pump blood through the legs to the heart.

He then scraped a long rasp against the horse’s hoof wall to “give the hoof a fi­nal touch” just like we clip and pol­ish our fin­ger­nails. Horses’ hooves re­sem­ble fin­ger nails, They keep grow­ing and need trim­ming reg­u­larly. But clip- ping nails on a horse i s n o t e a s y. Chan ex­plained that if the far­rier trims it too short, the horse is left in pain and not able to walk or run nor­mally. Learn­ing to judge how long the nails must be kept has taken him years of hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence.

The trick­i­est part for a new hand, Chan said, is to level out the bot­tom of the hoof with a rasp. Re­leas­ing the hoof from his legs and set­ting it hor­i­zon­tally, he care­fully ob­served the dis­tance from the hoof, to de­ter­mine by sight whether the two sides of the hoof were equal in length. If one side is thicker than the other, the far­rier needs to trim it down un­til the two sides are bal­anced. The pur­pose is to en­sure that the bot­tom of foot meets the ground fully, so that the pres­sure is dis­trib­uted evenly on the hoof sole when it runs. “Our naked eyes are the mea­sure­ment ruler and it takes years of prac­tice to get the in­stinct,” said Chan.

The fi­nal steps are the tai­lor made shoes and nail­ing the shoes onto the hoof. In the past, craft­ing shoes out of an iron block was part of a far­rier’s duty. Now there are ready-to-use shoes of dif­fer­ent sizes, a far­rier just needs to choose the proper size for each horse and tin­ker with the shoes to match i n d i v i d u a l d i ff e r e n c e s . “S o m e horses are pi­geon-toed. Some have splay or flat feet. There’re no one­size-for-all shoes in equine world,” ex­plained Chan. For those who are sen­si­tive to pains and picky about shoes, a rub­ber cush­ion will be added to the shoes. “An equiv­a­lent to our Nike Air,” laughed Chan.

When he com­pleted all the tasks, 40 min­utes had passed and Chan’s shirt was soaked in sweat. “It’s a tir­ing job, I would say. We have to hold the half squat pose from start to end.” Chan re­mem­bered his leg trem­bled in­vol­un­tar­ily af­ter his first day’s work.

Ap­ply­ing horse sense

De­spite that, he loves the job and said it makes him feel ful­filled. He re­called a horse de­vel­oped an in­flam­ma­tion on its feet, so shoes couldn’t be nailed into its hooves any­more. Chan was called in to modify the old shoes and glue them onto the hooves in­stead. “Ev­ery time I heard the horse with a foot ail­ment won a medal at the races in the shoes I made, I felt proud.”

To ren­der a beau­ti­ful pair of hooves and shoes for the horse, a far­rier needs close con­tact with the horse owner and ve­teri­nary nurse to get ac­quainted with the horse’s gait habits and feet health, Chan said. He was also aware of the horse’s re­sponse dur­ing the shoe­ing process. “If I ac­ci­dently strike the nail on its flesh, it would balk or draw his leg back.” The horse will be led out­doors for a stroll af­ter be­ing shod, to see if the shoes fit. “If its gait is not steady, then I know the shoes are not bal­anced and need fix­ing again.” Im­proper shoes could do harm to the equine’s ten­don, and the dam­age is more ev­i­dent dur­ing train­ings when the horse would run in full force, ex­plained Chan. “Lots of horses com­ing to Hong Kong for in­ter­na­tional race event are ex­pen­sive breeds. I must be ex­tremely wary when work­ing with them, to sat­isfy the own­ers as well as the horses.” A vet­eran far­rier, Chan has de­vel­oped a gut in­stinct for read­ing horses. It helps to keep him safe. Horses are timid an­i­mals, vig­i­lant and sen­si­tive, said Chan. “But most race­horses com­ing here from abroad are well tamed,” he added. He used sim­ple ges­tures to bond with his equine friend, such as ca­ress­ing its snout, pat­ting its back while whis­per­ing “good boy”. Due to the back break­ing na­ture of the job, the in­dus­try has ex­pe­ri­enced a hard time at­tract­ing new blood. Chan no­ticed that a few new­com­ers fi­nally quit the job as they re­al­ized the job was too ex­haust­ing. Be­sides, it takes at least four years to be­come a qual­i­fied far­rier, in­clud­ing the com­ple­tion of a four-year ap­pren­tice­ship train­ing pro­gram and pass­ing the four-level qual­i­fi­ca­tion test. Cur­rently about 30 far­ri­ers take charge of around 1,200 horses in Sha Tin Race­course. These days Chan and his fel­low far­ri­ers are busy with shoe­ing horses of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties trav­el­ing to Hong Kong for the up­com­ing in­ter­na­tional race event on Dec 11.

Most horses en­joy the hoof treat­ment. They feel pam­pered and com­fort­able.”

Chan Hong-ming, senior far­rier, Hong Kong Jockey Club

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.