Yesterday I found the ethereal yet crabby Zara grazing on the toor plants amongst the arecanut trees, a bleeding scratch on one knee. Then there was Anjali of the funky mane with four feet of barbed wire caught in her tail. Vineet found Noorie chewing on my script of Wolfram Höll's And Then. Basically all three behaving as if Kothaiah was nowhere around, which in fact he wasn’t, since he was in Nellore getting married. Long and the short, horsie wild times were going on. It took about an hour of running and prancing (on my part) and luring them in with words and tomatoes to get them in their paddock. And then, is right.
This morning Chand Pasha came over to check on Zara’s wound and do a general check on all hooves. Chand is a farrier and this got me to thinking about this noble craft. He lives in RT Nagar and has been working as either syce or farrier since he was a little boy. He started by helping his father who worked at the Bangalore Turf Club. Three of his nephews as well as his younger brother work with horses in Saudi Arabia. He says everyone in his family are close to horses. His assistant, Rajesh, also works in this trade but is the only one in his family to work with horses. Later I learned from Sandesh Raju of Samabhava Equine Rescue that Rajesh is only Chand Pasha's assistant on hoof care. At the Samabhava Palace Ground premises, he is Shelter Manager to 17 equines. The work is consistent though, as there are enough horse owners in Bangalore to keep them in employ but I feel Chand most likes working with Samabhava, because Sandesh genuinely loves animals and is not dazzled by much except others who care about animal welfare.
We watch Chand and Rajesh for 2 hours this morning. Their firm yet loving bilingual speech…”Kya hua Zara…baby…kaal etthu…zarra oopar karo….nahin Zara nahin…Irru, ondhu nimsha…aayathu…” The dogs are underfoot, snapping up the hoof shavings like the tastiest morsels of calcium cookie possible. We lean on the paddock watching in a soporific haze. Ultimately calming, beneath a blue, blue sky to watch as the farrier rasps and shaves and hammers and knocks. The horseshoe sits in its secure and familiar curve on a rock. Chand Pasha in his leather apron leans over and knocks it into shape, hammer and stone his tools. The sounds of the hammering and the distant rooster crows the only sounds we hear. Tuk tuk tuk, kokro koo koo, tuk, tuk, tuk. Every now and then a whinny from Zara and Rajesh soothes her.
The etymology of the word farrier is from the French ferrier, meaning blacksmith, and the Latin ferrum or iron. Traditionally, a farrier combined veterinary skills with blacksmith skills and was the person in charge of equine hoof care. While the history of farriers is apparently not easy to trace there is evidence of some ancient cultures having made use of them. For instance, military cultures with cavalry like the Roman Empire would have employed farriers. Celts and Druids perhaps used them. The Roman writer, Vegetius, writes that farriers were exempt from the battlefield. Anyway, it is safe to say that the history of farriers is tied up with the history of the horse shoe itself. With the domestication of feral horses, came the horseshoe and the need for farriers.
Zara requires corrective shoeing (the equine equivalent of podiatric shoes) because of her poor, damaged fetlocks. The other two are easy enough to shoe. Noorie and Anjali make no fuss at all. They are checked and shoed, eat carrots from Rodney and Carolyn and go off to graze, all very rapidly. Zara has a hissy fit when they vanish and proceeds to hare up and down her paddock till Chand Pasha returns and calms her down.
Why is it that syces, largely, come from Muslim families, I wonder? Is it in their culture and tradition to look after horses? Has it to do with tanga owning? Or the armies of Tippu Sultan? The Moghuls? Again, Sandesh to the rescue. Apparently, farriers are mostly Muslim on the Deccan Plateau thanks to the early Persian horse traders and the Bahamani Kings. In North India, however, there are entire villages in UP and Rajasthan where the farriers are all Hindu. Hmmm…the sun is warm on my face and I’m getting drowsy. Why are horseshoes lucky? This one’s easy. Firstly, because iron was said to ward off bad luck. Second and more interestingly, there was a 10th century blacksmith called Dunstan who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently, one day the Devil (albeit, in disguise) walked into his smithy and asked that his horse be shod. Dunstan recognised the Devil and nailed his foot down instead of shoeing the horse. When the Devil yelped, Dunstan said “Ok, but in the future stay away from homes which have a horseshoe hanging on a wall. Now, scat!”
Rodney blows bubbles at Noorie who looks interested but would rather have a carrot, thank you very much. Chand Pasha and Rajesh have cups of coffee, get on their scooter and head back to town. We named Zara because we thought she was beautiful and the name Zara means "the pinnacle of". Noorie we named Light despite her being brown. Strange that Chand refers to the Moonlight. Zara is the pinnacle of grumpy, that's for sure.