It’s early in the morning in the southwest of France. In a small village in the hinterland of Bordeaux, the first rays of sunshine flash through the lush green of the trees. Wolfgang Albert is at home here. He is already on his feet – he has a long day ahead of him. Concentrated, he puts hammers, nails, files, pliers and, last but not least, a heavy leather apron in the trunk of his Mercedes-Benz Vito. The 46-year-old has found his calling in a traditional craft: He is a blacksmith. “The beauty of my job is being outside all the time,” he enthuses, while a satisfied smile spreads over his face. Wolfgang makes his way to one of his customers. Shortly afterwards, his Vito meanders through the idyllic landscape of the Gironde.
But how do you become a blacksmith? Wolfgang never wanted to do anything other than work with horses. His heart has always beaten for the noble four-legged friends: He spent every free minute of his young life at a riding stable and took part in tournaments. At the age of 16 he began his training as a blacksmith. Subsequently, he completed his military service on a horse farm. Afterwards he could finally do what he had been working towards all this time: He started his own business as a blacksmith. Wolfgang has been practicing this profession with dedication, empathy and sure instinct for 25 years now. He has the gift to understand the behavior and body language of the gentle four-legged friends. “When working with horses you must have a passion,” the horse whisperer explains.
The machine will never be able to replace a human being in this profession.
Arriving at the farm Wolfgang strolls past numerous horse stalls. His “customer base” consists of about 200 hoofed animals, which he takes care of at regular intervals. The shoe has to be replaced every six to eight weeks. “For horses, horseshoes are like shoes that protect them from foot injuries,” he explains and continues: “The farrier’s responsibility is to ensure that the animal feels comfortable in its ‘shoes’ so that it can exercise and train its sport.”
Horses are not used to being shod, so you have to teach them first. Every farrier gets a kick or the horses stand on your feet, said Wolfgang. His secret recipe for dealing with animals? “If you are relaxed, caress them and give them a carrot from time to time, it helps to lighten the mood,” he answers with a smile. The horses feel it when someone next to them is nervous or tense.
“When I shoed a horse for the first time, I was incredibly proud – even though the result wasn’t quite perfect,” recalls Wolfgang. His training had a strong influence on him: He learned from an elderly farrier who still practiced the profession in the original way. Tradition is very important in this 2,000 year old craft. For hundreds of years, the technique of fitting has remained almost the same. His teacher taught Wolfgang a lot about the craft – for example that the attitude towards the animals is very important. Now he passes on his expertise to the younger generation by regularly training future blacksmiths. In this way, he preserves the tradition of the increasingly rare craft trade.
In the past, horses used to come to the blacksmith’s, but today it’s the other way round: Wolfgang’s working range is around 200 kilometers. That’s why the Frenchman travels a lot in his Mercedes-Benz Vito, which he converted into a mobile workshop. For the blacksmith, the Vito is like a workshop on wheels – where he has all the tools he needs for his trade at his fingertips. “Inside, everything is arranged so that I can work close to the vehicle and don’t have to remove the tools,” explains Wolfgang, while he supplies a horse with new iron. In between he whispers reassuring words to the animal. Every move he makes relaxes the horse – the process of shoeing resembles a rehearsed choreography. Just like his daily routine. Every morning he prepares the van for the next assignment: “I remove the cut-off irons from the previous day, put in a supply of new horseshoes and grind my tools before I go to work.”
I travel a great many kilometers every day, so I need a vehicle I can rely on.
Photos: Nadine Laux