11 January, 2009

(There's a) new Marechal in town.

Right, so Marechal Gaspar has actually been plying his trade around here for some 15 years, but I'm a sucker for a play on words.

The marechal ferrant is a farrier, and ours is Monsieur Gaspar. He explained that to become a farrier involves going to a special school. This is unsurprising: in France there is a special school for everything. It is a one to two year program, involving in-depth study of all aspects of the horse, as well as the profession itself. And yes, women do become farriers. He has had two female apprentices himself. There is obviously a period of apprenticeship before becoming certified in this physically demanding position.

The marechals come every two months to replace the shoes of working horses; for less active horses like ours, they come every 3-4 months. It adds up to a lot of iron.
They travel with all their equipment (often U.S. made) in modified pick-up trucks or delivery vans. Their trade is, in spite of the heavy tools, a delicate and most necessary art. The marechals lay out all their equipment first, tie on the heavy leather chaps (not a decorative accessory), and take a good look at the horse's feet.
Each hoof is cleaned, the old shoe removed, the hoof clipped and filed (think of it as a single, seriously overgrown toenail). In the photo above, you can see the bits of hoof near the smoking horseshoe. Once this is done, the new shoes are heated and custom-shaped while red-hot with a hammer upon the anvil. I don't suppose too much of the basics has changed in the 3000 years of shoeing horses. Each hoof is fitted several times: the still hot iron is placed on the hoof, where it smokes and leaves a burnt impression. Each time, the farrier can verify how (more) closely the shoe fits. It's smelly, smoky and precise work. Accuracy is essential for the health and comfort of an animal who spends nearly all her life on her feet. Or, more accurately, her toes.
Marechal Gaspar enjoys his work. He got into it because he rode and loved horses. He actually worked in a restaurant for a decade. In Paris. Before that incarnation, he worked (for another decade) across the street from the Sacre-Coeur on the most prestigious floor--les tissus d'ameublement--of the Marche St. Pierre (http://www.marchesaintpierre.com/). The enormous fabrics warehouse is a magnet not only for interior designers and stylists from the world over, but also for the cost-conscious housewife from down the street.
It is difficult to imagine him cutting endless measures of sussurating, expensive fabric, but I suppose he handled the customers with the same ease and gentle direction as he does his equine customers. The more French people I meet in the Cevennes, the more I begin to suspect that there is a subtle yet significant movement toward an alternative, simpler lifestyle. Even in downshifting, however, we remain plugged in: if you'd like to engage our farrier, you can visit his site at http://www.marechal-ferrant-gaspar.com/

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    You say: The more French people I meet in the Cevennes, the more I begin to suspect that there is a subtle movement toward an alternative, simpler lifestyle.

    Correct! This movement started with the dispersal of the Parisien hippies or 'zippies' after May '68 and has continued since.

    It's very noticeable in the Ceze valley. See:


    C'est la belle vie!



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