It’s something about the sound it makes. The sound the hammer makes when you bang it against the metal. Or maybe it’s the color of the horseshoe, you know? That blazing red when it comes out of the forge. Or the carving of the hoof that reminds you of a wood smith working on his next piece. It’s a way to protect the horse. It’s a trade. It’s an art.
It dates back as far as the early domestication of the horse. Ancient people recognized the need for additional protection on the horse’s hoof. Hence the conditions they were exposed to would cause their deterioration. But this has not been proven. No one really know when this was invented or by whom. Back in the day, iron was a valuable commodity. Worn pieces were melted and reused for some other things. Therefore, the archeological evidence is just not there. But this isn’t a history lesson on steel or our ancestors. This isn’t an essay on the importance of the horseshoe an how it helps the horse run faster toward the jockey’s trophy. This is a story about life and destiny. About how the universe has this way of compiling things and making it work out for our own good in the end. It’s a story about disappointment. It’s a story that proves that when one door closes an other one opens. It’s a story about a lost art and how one man is keeping it alive through his hard work and passion.
His name is Alfonso. The blacksmith that is, not the horse. He was raised Ranchita, a small rural village in Mexico between Veracruz and the Pacific Ocean. It’s the village you see in paintings hanging on the walls of authentic Mexican restaurants. It’s the village you go to if you want to experience the real Mexico. Away from the booze infused tourists of the Yucatan Peninsula. Dusty roads. Houses with red tiled roofs. Horses. And soccer. Lot’s of soccer. Soccer on dusty fields. On lush fields. On paved roads or on dusty roads. It’s a passion. The type of passion that keeps groups of kids playing outside. They play outside from morning until the rays of the setting sun perforate the dust hovering over the field. The dust caused by the running and kicking of restless energetic, passionate feet. Alfonso’s feet were always in there.
It was his passion. He was one of the best in the village when he was 10. He was still one of the best when he and his family suddenly emigrated to the states. He was one of the best when the other kids would ask “what happened to Alfonso?”. He was one of the best in Arizona when he was 17. He was one of the best when they offered him a scholarship. And he was one of the best when the old coach left and the new one did not choose him to receive the scholarship.
It was the first time he felt it. That door had closed. His heart missed a beat and his stomach sank. It sank into an abyss of hopelessness and disappointment. Into an abyss of what he thought there was no getting out of. But it was also the first move the universe made on his favor. They say that once you make a decision, or when you have a dream and a goal, the universe will conspire to make it happen. I think that it not only conspires when you have a dream. I think that regardless, it conspires to make things good for us humans.
Three hundred and eighty three miles west, in Los Angeles, CA, Alfonso’s uncle was getting a divorce. He got a divorce and was moving to Florida. He gathered his belongings and loaded them to the back of his burgundy 89′ Chevy. Driving cross country he stopped in Arizona. Alfonso’s grief was still fresh and his uncle noticed. This is when the other door opened. Alfonso hopped in the Chevy.
He learned to remove the old shoes. He mastered the process of carving and trimming the hoof. He mastered the hammer and anvil to bend the shoe into the precise shape. And he learned how to read the horses. “They look at you”, Alfonso says.“Nowadays not even people look at you. You feel what the horse is feeling. And he feels you.” He learned that people cross the country and our paths for a reason.
Alfonso works nonstop for hours. He drives his pick up truck, dragging the tin cart with all the tools behind him. The anvil. The hammer. The hoof knife. The nippers and the clinch block. He pulls up next to the stable and begins to work. He sweats. He gets thirsty. He gets swarmed by flies. And he occasionally gets kicked by horses.
Back in the day, farriers (the person who changes the horseshoe) was called a blacksmith. They did everything from bending the steel into the shape of a horseshoe, to installing in on the horse. Today, Alfonso receives pre fabricated horse shoes from Europe. It’s rare to see a farrier crating his own horseshoe. It’s almost as rare as seeing a farrier work as passionately as Alfonso. They say that it is a lost art but he keeps it alive. He keeps it alive through his sweat. Through the thirst. Through the hundreds of flies that swarm him while he works.
A person crossed his path and his whole life changed. He found a new passion and something to wake up to every day. And so if you ever go to that village between Veracruz and the Pacific, and they ask you what happened to Alfonso, that’s what you tell them. Tell them that the universe worked its magic. It closed doors. It opened an other. It moved a truck across the country.
Tell them that Alfonso is content.