“No hoof, no horse” is a phrase all responsible horse owners abide by. And in a stable of 50 horses that travel and perform in dressage shows every night, the job of a hoof-care practitioner, though unglamorous, is indispensable.
David Gingras, 34, from Quebec, is that man for Cavalia, the travelling equestrian theatre production watched by more than four million people around the world.
Gingras’s workshop, equipped with the latest machines and tools, is set up in a corner of the massive makeshift stable constructed for the new Cavalia production that will open during the Qasr Al Hosn Festival in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
The farrier does not share the limelight with the trainers who ride the horses on stage to applause, but without his meticulous grooming skills, the show cannot go on.
He makes sure the horse’s hooves are in pristine condition, enabling the animals to trot and canter on command during the show. “I grew up in the country,” says Gingras, as he prepares the rasp, trimmers and hoof stand for his next appointment. “And after I left home, my first job was at a Canadian stable with big horses.” During his time as general groomer, he met a farrier on the job and knew at once that was what he wanted to do.
“When I saw the kind of work farriers do, I just fell in love. After that I applied to a school in Quebec City to train.” On graduating, he was hired as a racetrack shoer, where his skills were recognised by a mentor and recommended to the stable director of Cavalia in 2006.
Of healthy hooves
Now Gingras is part of the elaborate team of equine specialists who have toured in North America, Europe and Australia.
The farrier’s day begins with a quick walk around the stables to observe the posture of the horses. Hoofs need to be checked regularly to prevent infections, maintain balance and avoid fatigue.
“I work with the rider and listen to their concerns,” Gingras says. “After that, I go to my station and prepare to groom the horses according to my weekly schedule.” Each horse is examined every five to eight weeks, as their hooves grow about a quarter inch each month. Gingras checks for overgrowth, cracks and other injuries. “Sometimes there are cracks, which need to be treated immediately; they can grow from the coronary band or from the bottom of the foot.”
He might fix it by easing the pressure, and if it is beyond repair he fits the horse with shoes, which is rare. “I watch their feet intently. I reshoe them only when absolutely necessary.”
A job well done
Tardon, a Spanish purebred, has arrived at Gingras’s booth for a trim. The 16-hands, dappled grey stallion is majestic, with a tail that almost sweeps the floor. Gingras pats the animal to ease him into the procedure and gently lifts one of the hind legs to begin.
Any debris lodged in the hoof is scraped out first. Gingras then begins chiselling, nipping and smoothing the surface to ensure the hoof wall is level with the sole. “A trim takes 15 to 30 minutes,” says Gingras, trying not to startle Tardon when he places the foot on the stand.
“The only thing you need to be careful about is when you drive the nail into the hoof during the shoeing process,” he says. “That could be dangerous – you must make sure it does not hurt the horse.” The farrier pats the horse as praise for being patient and hands him back to the trainer.
“They aren’t easy all the time,” says Gingras. “And it takes a lot of practice to make them comfortable with you. “Some patience and courage – and the show goes on.”
• Cavalia is at Qasr Al Hosn Festival from February 22 to March 1. Tickets start from Dh250 and can be bought at ticketmaster.ae, Virgin Megastores or by calling 800 86823. Gold and A-Reserve ticket holders can book a Horse Lovers Stable Tour directly after the show for an extra Dh100
See our interactive which goes within the walls of Qasr Al Hosn.