The far­rier: Luke Thomp­son

Friday - - In The Uae -

The work of a far­rier is a ru­ral craft that is cen­turies old. ‘I look after a horse’s hooves and place shoes on them,’ ex­plains Bri­ton Luke. Since each horse is unique, so are its shoes and the hoof care re­quired and as a far­rier, Luke is re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery horse’s day-to-day hoof care, check­ing for any slight anom­alies, trim­ming and balanc­ing their feet, and fit­ting shoes for train­ing and for rac­ing. His job might come across as a mix of what a black­smith and a vet­eri­nar­ian do – with years of spe­cialised train­ing and on-the job learn­ing.

What do you do? To be able to take good care of a horse’s feet, we need to as­sess their whole body. Our goal is to try to keep the body in bal­ance so that they can com­pete at the high­est level nat­u­rally. For that we watch them walk, jog and as­sess their ac­tion and con­for­ma­tion, and de­sign their shoes ac­cord­ingly. Since each horse is dif­fer­ent, we work closely with the trainer of ev­ery horse, which in our case is Saeed, to bet­ter un­der­stand the needs of the horse, the shoes they want and how they want it to be.

That I feel is the key skill of a far­rier – the way we as­sess each horse’s needs. Since horses can’t tell us what they want, it is our job to un­der­stand what they need and that is the most im­por­tant as­pect of our job and our big­gest chal­lenge.

How of­ten do you change their shoes? On an av­er­age, we change the horse’s shoes or race plate ev­ery 21 to 28 days. How­ever, it also de­pends on the horse’s rac­ing sched­ule and the sur­face that horse will be rac­ing on. So if the sur­face is grass or dirt then the horse will be fit­ted with shoes suit­able for that spe­cific sur­face. The horse’s com­fort is of prime im­por­tance, so we try not to change things too much.

It is al­most like a hu­man be­ing’s needs – shoes to match the pur­pose. True. So when we re-shoe a horse, we look at the wear and tear on the old one. It helps us iden­tify in­juries as well.

Hu­man be­ings take a while to get used to new shoes. Is it the same with horses? I like to put their rac­ing shoes on a week to 10 days be­fore the event. This gives them time to get used to the new fit­ting. Be­cause you don’t want them to be think­ing of their shoes while rac­ing, you want them to be to­tally com­fort­able and fo­cus on the race.

It is clear that horses come first in your life as well. How does your fam­ily take this? It’s a real priv­i­lege and joy to work for a com­pany like Godol­phin. My wife and kids un­der­stand that. It’s not al­ways easy balanc­ing work and fam­ily life but I think as a fam­ily we strike the right bal­ance.

Since horses can’t tell us what they WANT, it is our job to UN­DER­STAND what they need, and that’s the most IM­POR­TANT as­pect of our job

Is this some­thing that you’ve al­ways wanted to do? I’ve had ponies at home since I was a child and I’ve al­ways wanted to work with horses, in what­ever ca­pac­ity I could. I re­mem­ber when I was young, I would help a far­rier after school. As I held the horse for him, I used to be fas­ci­nated by what he did and the unique re­la­tion­ship he had with the horse. When I left school, I straight­away opted for ap­pren­tice­ship.

Is it more about in­stincts and less about tech­nol­ogy? I’d like to think I am able to un­der­stand horses and their unique char­ac­ters and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. They are like chil­dren, each one dif­fer­ent, some cheeky, some timid and my in­stincts and ex­pe­ri­ence help me make out which one is which. I be­lieve it is a true gift to be able to un­der­stand and work har­mo­niously with th­ese ex­tremely strong an­i­mals. If they don’t want us in their space, there’s no way you can change that.

Tech­nol­ogy does of course play an im­por­tant role and while some might say that ma­chine-made shoes are more pre­cise than hand­made ones and that it takes less time to pre­pare the shoes, ev­ery horse is dif­fer­ent and you can’t eas­ily repli­cate some­thing that’s tai­lored by hand and be­spoke for that horse. Also, we now glue the shoes in­stead of nail­ing them on. This tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment has im­proved the per­for­mance of sev­eral horses who ear­lier had poor feet and went on to be mul­ti­ple win­ners at var­i­ous pres­ti­gious events.

Can one learn to be a far­rier in a school, or is it purely hands-on? It can be taught in col­leges and as part of an ap­proved ap­pren­tice­ship but most far­ri­ers I know have grown up with horses and it’s sec­ond na­ture. School train­ing can­not teach you how to read a horse’s body lan­guage, only years of ex­pe­ri­ence, ob­ser­va­tion and work­ing closely with them does.

Would you rec­om­mend this job to a young­ster? It is a very de­mand­ing job, with a lot of chal­lenges, but very re­ward­ing. My nephew is train­ing to be a far­rier, so it’s in the fam­ily. It is a craft, a skill to learn but it is some­thing that you have to be pas­sion­ate about as it in­volves so much. At this high level of sport where so much is at stake, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand ev­ery minute com­plex­ity so that the horse is able to de­liver its best.

Has a horse ever sur­prised you with his ca­pa­bil­i­ties? In my 25 years it’s hap­pened quite a few times when horses you did not ex­pect to do well amaze you with their per­for­mance. In spite of what I know, I’ve been sur­prised.

Do you have favourites? There is one rule that I’ve made in life. Ev­ery horse will get the same care, whether they are a cham­pion or not.

Can a per­son who has never been around horses be a far­rier? There are two ways of look­ing at it. When I was work­ing in Hong Kong, I was re­spon­si­ble for train­ing far­ri­ers, some of whom had never been around horses. So it’s pos­si­ble. But where pos­si­ble I’d rec­om­mend that any po­ten­tial far­rier start by spend­ing time un­der­stand­ing th­ese pow­er­ful horses be­fore they opt for this ca­reer. If you’re pas­sion­ate about it, any­thing is achiev­able.

When I was young, I’d HELP a far­rier. As I HELD the horse for him, I was fas­ci­nated by the unique RE­LA­TION­SHIP he had with the horse

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