During 2011-2012, I was deployed to Afghanistan. While deployed I had the opportunity to meet and work with amazing people from 27 different countries. By chance, one these encounters landed me a day with an Afghan horseman and farrier.
The nalbant (the Dari and Turkish word for “farrier”) cared for a horse at the Turkish Embassy near my camp. Due to my relationship and daily interaction with a Turkish Infantry officer, I was lucky enough to travel to the embassy with him for a meeting. While at the meeting he gave me a tour of the facility, and there I found a horse named Shimal, a 12-year-old chestnut stallion.
Being the obsessed farrier that I am, I immediately wondered about his hooves and the farrier who worked on them. I asked if the owner of the horse would allow me to visit the next time the nalbant was around. Lucky for me, I was able to meet him.
When we arrived to the embassy Mr. Abdul Satar, the farrier, looked like your normal Afghan elderly man, simply dressed and humble. He was riding Shimal, and I could tell he was very experienced with horses. Once we got an interpreter, we traveled over to the stable area.
It consisted of two stalls, one for the horse and the other for the goat, his companion animal. I immediately noticed that for a stallion, Shimal was very calm with Abdul around. Abdul had his son hold the horse while he showed me the tack he used on the horse.
The saddle, bridle and bit were handmade from a variety of places, mainly a province in Northern Afghanistan called Mazar- E- Sharif, and Pakistan. The saddle resembled an English saddle, and the tack was well kept and very clean. I could tell how seriously Abdul took his work.
After that, Abdul showed me his farrier tools. I was grinning from ear to ear. His tools were limited to a rasp, a sole knife and a pair of pull offs. He told me that he got his tools, as well as the horseshoes and nails that he used, from the local Bazaar (market).
He did not have an anvil or any other forging tools. I then asked him how much he charged to shoe a horse. He told me that a full shoeing was $2 (U.S.). That made me very thankful I shoe in the states! He said on average it takes him 25 minutes to shoe Shimal, and he changes the shoes every three months. Along with shoeing the horse, Abdul is the care taker.
Every morning he shows up and feeds the horse, rides, grooms him and cleans the stalls. The care of this horse is his entire life. He told me that he could not live a single day without seeing Shimal. Contrary to my initial thoughts, the horse was very well taken care of. He had a good coat, healthy weight and what you all want to know, “How were his feet?”
For having hardly any tools, I was impressed with the condition of the hooves. Without being able to clean out the feet, due to time, and not wanting to overstretch my invitation, they were well shaped with minimal flaring. The shoes were about 5/16 of an inch thick with a wide web at the toe tapering down at the heels.
The heels were cupped to minimize any gap between hoof and shoe, understandably so for the lack of an anvil to shape and level shoes. Six nails secured the shoes, and they were fit with length and expansion, as you can see from the photos. The fronts had a nice shape that seemed to mirror the coffin bone, and his balance looked decent. The hinds were similar and had a good spade shape. The clinches were long, but the shoes were secure as far as I could tell. The state of Shimal’s feet really impressed me.
I thought, “Here is an Afghan man, without an anvil and minimal shoeing equipment; yet he was still able to keep this horse healthy and sound.” Seeing this really helped me see the importance of using the basics as many farriers have told me.
As my good friend and teacher Ken Lyon said once, “Stay true the basics and they will stay true to you.” Abdul’s shoeing methods were just another validation of this great quote. Despite all the technology we have available, solid basics are what work and keep horses sound.
In sum, this once-in-a-lifetime experience was one I will never forget. As is custom in Afghan culture, I decided to give Abdul a gift for taking the time to show me everything he does. I thought that “Better Basics, Better Horseshoeing” by Chris Gregory was fitting, plus it was the only farrier book I had available to give. (You’re welcome for the plug Chris! It truly is a great book.)
All joking aside, I told Abdul that despite not being able to read the words, he could find out new ways to help this horse and future horses through the photos. He was very grateful.
To me, that is what our trade is all about, forging friendships, constantly learning from one another and being the best we can be for the horse.