Roland’s nags and nails: my Cairo Farrier experience

  • My week as an apprentice to an English farrier working in Cairo (my boss Kris Parsons) has been one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. Where do I begin to begin…?

    For those of you who haven’t been following the Cairo Farrier story, Kris was asked to join a team of New Zealand vets and vet nurses — the Kiwi Care Team — who were spending a few weeks doing what they could for the Cairo horses and camels, many of whom are in desperate need of medical care.

    Thanks to fundraising efforts by the UK charity CairoFarrier (see www.facebook.com/cairofarrier) enough money was raised for me to go as well. What an amazing opportunity for an apprentice to see the extreme (wrong) side of horse management. I wonder how many years of shoeing in the UK it would take for a farrier to see what I saw in just one week? I have included some photos to give you a flavour of what we were surrounded by.

    Browse Roland’s picture gallery *Warning: you may find some of these photos distressing*

    Our main working area was in a sandy square out of site of the tourist areas. The square served as a preparation point for the camels and horses that would be made available to tourists for trips around the Pyramids. Many of the horses in that square were too ill to work so were left tied to vehicles, railings and bits of detritus to just swelter in the heat. Fortunately these horses received some excellent medical treatment from the Kiwi Care team. It didn’t take long for the word to spread that a team of western vets and farriers were giving free treatment. More and more sick animals were brought to the square.

    Working non-stop

    We had taken a small selection of shoeing and trimming equipment with us, as well as a number of tools that were provided by Handmade Shoes Ltd that we could give away. We arrived each morning at the square and would choose a bit of sandy pavement to work from. We likened this square to a set from a spaghetti western. All day long hombres would gallop in and out of the square, neck reining their fizzy horses and coming to skidding stop within feet of where we were working. The only thing missing from the cowboy set was the noise of gun fire (more than made up for by the noise of cracking whips). Otherwise, it was no different.

    Word was out that we were shoeing horses for free and everybody wanted their horse shod for nothing. It was a very intimidating mob that we had to deal with. Since we were only there to help lame horses — every horse was in dire need of Kris’ shoeing skills sound or not — we had to turn away those that weren’t lame. As it was, Kris did not stop working from the moment we arrived to the moment we packed up. I was assisting him, which I think was another source of tension. If I knew the Arabic for “I’m only an apprentice” then perhaps that would have reduced the tension a bit, although I suspect they still would have had me shoeing their horses! We did not stop for lunch once, but just worked on one lame horse after another.

    There were a lot of puncture wounds from the sharp objects lying on the roads and in the sand, laminitis cases resulting from trauma to the internal structures of the feet, bruising from shoes being too small and discomfort from lack of trimming and management of the feet. Kris did what he could and almost every horse that we saw went away much more comfortable. He also spent time with the owners teaching them the basics in hoof management, as well as educating the local farriers, who were happy to take on some of what we practiced.

    There is such a huge divide between the way an Egyptian shoes a horse and the way we do. I have included a picture of the type of shoes used in my picture gallery and if you can imagine a motorbike tyre nailed under the shoe, then a driving horse would be ready to take on the Cairo roads.

    Terrible sights

    We saw so many dreadful sights that in the end we became desensitised to them. Can you imagine getting used to seeing horses with broken legs from road traffic accidents? Or horses who were missing a great deal of skin on their flanks and stifles where they had skinned themselves on the tarmac? Well, we kind of did. The whole experience was a major assault on our senses and now that I’m back here in Blighty, it’s hard to imagine I saw such things.

    For example the horse pictured lying on the pavement did get back up. It collapsed in front of us, and was dragged to its feet by its owner after 20min of trying, tied to a cart and towed out of the square at the trot. We later learned that it died the next day.

    As well as crippled and poorly horses, there were also some magnificent horses too, kept in mint condition. It was such a contrast to see them side by side with the maimed. Also, alongside the horses, all tethered together, were lots and lots of camels. They were in such close proximity that one camel even lay down on our shoeing tools. The owner soon kicked it to a standing position. We quickly got used to the sight of camels and their noises, which is now the ringtone on Kris’ phone!

    We did have one day off (it was a religious day so no-one was working even if we wanted to) and so Kris, I and the rest of the group hired some camels from the owners that we knew were kind to their animals and headed to the pyramids (pictured top). Wow, what an amazing trip that was! My camel had its name written on its neck. I was riding Mickey Maus (as spelt by the Egyptian owner) and I hope Mickey is still being well looked after for he gave me a terrific ride.

    My abiding memory though will be the donkey that was led towards me in bad need of a trim. It was like something out of the bible! And all the while I trimmed it in our sandy surrounds, I sang “Little Donkey, Little Donkey, on a dusty road…”

    Please help

    The Cairo Farrier scheme is still going strong and more trips are planned. If you would like more information about it and you are interested in finding out how you can help, then please go to www.facebook.com/cairofarrier.

    Until next week,



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