The Foal
The Foal

The Foal

by Ian Sherry of Rostrevor, N. Ireland
photos by Stasia Sherry

When I was ‘the young fella’ who took horses to the forge Issac Stoops asked me to get a set of shoes on ‘the foal.’ ‘The foal’ was twelve years old; a lovely black mare of 15 hands he had bred himself. Issac never took the mare out on the road so I gather it was to give her a bit of traction ploughing a very steep brae behind his house.

It was at a time in our country when ploughmen took great pride in the uniformity of their potato drills. ‘Straight as a gun shot’ being a term. Issac however was not so disciplined. ‘Your drills are a bit crooked’ a neighbour commented. ‘Aw what odds; sure they’re only for the pigs’ Issac would reply.

Two years ago there was a mare and a new foal in a paddock just beside me. Thomas had been watching her closely throughout April and so had I. It’s a filly foal; he tells me he’s going to keep it. I always stopped and was charmed when the foal came over to the gate.

Now I’m always careful with any animal (no matter how trusted) when they have young. A cow can be very dangerous. However I couldn’t resist getting over the gate to get close to the foal. ‘Do nothing sudden and do nothing rash’ is my mantra and easing myself beside the foal it stood. I’m always struck with the innocence of a new foal, calf or lamb. In nature that’s why parents have to be so protective. And yes the mare came over assessing me. And I took notice of the merest inclining back of her ears and then she was all right. But I was only allowed a couple of minutes with the foal – after all she didn’t know me. Then quietly the mare gave an almost inaudible murmur: turned and led the foal away. I was struck by how subtle it all was and how instant was the foal’s response.

Last week (as I drove past) I noticed Thomas had the ‘foal’ back in the paddock beside the road. It’s a lovely filly that will make 15 hands. Truly it’s a beauty. A ‘shilty’ that in the past would grow to plough, hunt, step out in a jaunting car. Now – perhaps a granddaughter or a neighbouring young girl will take an interest and with jeep and trailer take it to planned hacks. Of course I couldn’t resist getting over the gate. It came over. Confident, balanced with a lovely calm eye.

The next morning I was coming down the road and Richard – the travelling farrier – was trimming the ‘foals’ feet. (Like Issac Stoops she’ll always be the ‘foal’ to me.) Richard is from Cookstown – 50 or 60 miles away – I asked him to trim my cob’s feet when he was here. I’m barely half a mile away and along the road. The cob as always trotted up; I just had him haltered when the white van arrived. Richard got out. Pinchers and rasp in hand. He lifted the cob’s off back foot and quick as I tell you pinchered off half an inch all round, snipped the back of the frog and rasped the perfect three quarter circle of his hoof. It took the gifted professional five minutes to complete a text book job.

‘What do I owe you?’ I asked.

‘A score!’ he said. I give him twenty five; he reached into the van and handed me two removes. We shook hands; and he drove on.

God be with the days when taking your horse to the forge took all day. There was no sense of an appointed time. We arrived randomly. Every horse was hot shod with custom made shoes. An archway in a row of terraced houses led to a stone walled waiting room with no roof. The forge itself a medieval theatre of noise and fireworks. It was central to the parish where news was ‘broadcast’ and stories told.

‘Such a good memory he could remember things that never happened at all.’

‘Binoculars brought the men up so close that you could hear what they were saying.’

‘The foal’ prompted me to ask Stasia to take a photograph of our jaunting car – it’s in a cousin’s garage. It’s simply endearing. I’d forgotten how flexible and lithe it is. Its shafts have a spring to them. I wheeled it about a bit – ‘running smoothly; friction free.’ I was so taken with it; admiring the steps and the carriage lamps.

The Foal

Removes: Worn horse shoes.
Score: Twenty pounds.
Shilty: A special horse.