|Gathering of ponies...|
The farrier has been to visit. This is quite an event on Rum, involving all the ponies being brought down from Harris (or wherever they are roaming) to the village paddock, and then led out, two by two, to the Old Byre where the farrier brings out his travelling forge and proceeds to file their hooves, treat any problems they may have been having and then hammer and shape their new horse-shoes, before nailing them on.
|...this is their destiny! Farrier's van and travelling forge|
It is a sunny, almost sultry day on Rum and the tea-shop has been quiet all morning, just a breath of a breeze keeps the midges away and makes it bearable to sit out in the sun on the decking behind the community hall, looking out to the glittering blue sea. We could almost be on a Mediterranean island...I am drifting off when I hear the clanging of the byre gate and the whinnying of the ponies. So I run out to see what's happening and there are Lesley and the farriers leading Fraoch and Struma - you may remember Fraoch was the foal who lived in our paddock for many months, with Struma, her mum, and she is now huge! - and another pony back up to the field. Well, I say "lead" - Struma and her sister, being settled matrons, proceed calmly up the dusty path on their ropes, but Fraoch will have none of it - even at a year old she still refuses to have a halter put on and makes her own way, agreeably enough but with a hint of naughtiness: "I could go anywhere I liked...but I won't!" I ask if I can watch the next set of ponies being shod and chat to one of the farriers about the work. He loves his job, which he trained five years to do, but is sad that blacksmithing is no longer as much in demand as it once was: "There was a forge once at the heart of every village", and on Rum, there still is, I've just never seen it before.
|Inside the old forge|
The old forge (I was going to give it capital letters then, but no-one has ever actually labelled it "old", it is just there) is in the old stable block by the community hall. Now empty of horses, instead swallows dart in and out to build their nests high up in the beams above the rows of old horse-shoes hanging on the wall, the rusting tools of the trade and the old forge itself, complete with huge bellows and still in working order, according to the farrier. Sunlight pours in from the high-up windows and with the whinnying of the ponies outside it is easy to imagine the rows of
beautiful horses lined up in the boxes and the grooms working away to keep them in top condition. George Bullough loved his horses, spending much of his time off Rum at his stud at Newmarket breeding winners and (presumably) talking to the grooms and trainers about what was being done.
|Bellows (and hat)|
But there are real ponies here now, and I ask the farrier how often they have to be shod. "In the old days, you would have had your horse re-shod maybe every six to eight weeks," he explains. "But now I only come twice a year, and not all of them are shod anyway." Why not? "They don't all need it. Mostly my job is about looking after their feet more than anything, stopping the damage...until Lesley moved here a lot of them were neglected and the older ones still have problems."
Young or old, most of the ponies are very patient, standing still while he lifts their hooves up (not a light task), shaves and files the hoof and measures them for shoes. Then the forge is heated up and the shoe hammered and shaped for each hoof, before being plunged into a bucket of cold water to cool it down. It is a lovely sight, only the oldest "gentleman" pony is slightly perturbed and shows the whites of his unusual amber eyes now and again as his turn comes. But even he submits to the gentle ministrations of Lesley and the farriers, and is happier when he's been rubbed down with the cream that helps stop the Clegg flies biting.
|Inspecting the hoof|
Today the ponies went back up to Harris, all but a few of the mares who have been left down here prior to the visit of the stallion next month...but that's a whole other story. However, I can add that it's not only the ponies that get pampered...today the "Cow Man" came over with his "cow cage", causing a mini traffic jam on Rum after the ferry got in. I rang up Mel: "What on earth is that big blue iron thing?" "It's the cow cage." "What for?" "To stop the cows running away while they get a pedicure".
So now all the animals on Rum are looking beautiful...I wonder if we can get a travelling foot specialist in for us?