“Maniscalca Americana” A DAY I N ITALY
By Jennifer Horn,
“Jennifer is there anything specific you want to do on this trip?” The question came from my family. “yes, I’d like to spend the day with a farrier, ” I replied. “Make the plans and we will see to it”. I bet they thought I was crazy. I thought that my self.
That was the beginning. The plans were already made for me to travel to Italy with my grandfather and the 10th Mountain Division Veterans he fought with during WWII. I had made this same trip 15 years earlier and was unable to locate a horse, not to mention a farrier. So, where would I begin to find a farrier who would allow me to spend the day with him? The AFA had been promoting the new AFA Members Only section on their website, and it happened to have a category called “Opportunities.” So on a cold February day, here in my little corner of the UP, I sat down to the computer and typed my message:
“I have plans to visit several areas of Italy from May 21st, 2003 to June 5th, 2003. While vacationing there, I would very much like to locate a farrier who would allow me to observe or participate in a day of work with him/her. I am a Certified Journeyman Farrier and am willing to offer references. I would be honored to receive an invitation of any kind. Thank-you!” I thought it was a little crazy at the time. But 35 minutes later, I received a. reply! Marco Ruffato, one of three AFA members in Italy, had replied in somewhat broken English: “Hello Jennifer I read your announcement and I will happy to help you during your trip in Italy. I am a farrier with an Italian military diploma but I’m not a soldier I live in Padua near Venice and I work in north-east of Italy with jumping horses. If you send me your schedule we could meet for a short period, I am interested to trip in USA too.” We had a few correspondences through e-mail to set a date, agreeing that I would call Marco when I arrived in Italy, at which time we would set a location and time to meet.
My trip began with three days in Rome, three days in Florence, five days in the mountains where my grandfather fought in the war, and then north to Riva del Garda, where I would make my side trip to meet Marco. As the days passed, my excitement and hesitation both grew. I was excited that I would be spending a day working with a farrier in Italy. Yet, some thoughts remained in my mind … I was a single, white, American girl traveling in a country where I did not understand the language, meeting and traveling with a total stranger (who did not speak good English), and going to places where I had no idea where I was. Apparently, those thoughts were also going through my father’s mind!
After a questionable phone conversation with Marco, we believed we understood to meet him at 6:00 a.m. at a Sheraton Hotel in Padua. Since there was a considerable drive from Riva del Garda to Padua, my parents and I traveled by car the night before and stayed at the hotel where we were to meet. At 6:00 a.m., I was ready. In fact, I think I was ready before 6:00 am. My father escorted me to the hotel parking lot to meet Marco, who pulled up in a little gray station wagon. He asked if I was Jennifer, I replied, and he said hop in. Hmmm … my doubts came back, as there was not one shoeing tool visible to me. My father quickly asked where we would be going, and as Marco pointed to several locations on a map, a flash went off from a camera which I hadn’t really noticed hanging around my father’s neck until now. I jumped in the front seat and immediately adjusted my feet around the anvil that lay on the passenger floor. I felt some relief and had to laugh as I watched my father in the side mirror as he took a photo of Marco’s license plate as we drove away. Reassured with the anvil between my feet, the sound of miscellaneous shoes clinking on the floor in the back seat, and the thought that if I should not return my father would find me, we were off.
The day began with a two-hour drive to the city of Udine, northeast of Venice. The conversation started off a little rocky, but-equipped with a dictionary for translations-we made the best of it. I tried to learn and understand as much as I could about Marco and his shoeing business during our travel time. I quickly discovered how wrong it is to associate a person’s degree of intelligence with their vocabulary. Marco’s English was very limited, as was my Italian. Have you ever played charades? Throughout a day of “charades,” Marco’s intelligence became very apparent.
Somewhere near Udine, Marco pulled down a dirt road and pointed at a building saying “there,” indicating our first stop. Now I knew why I had never seen a barn in Italy before. I didn’t know what they looked, like, and this solid concrete building was not what I had imaged. He pulled right into an alley on the side of the barn. There was stacked hay, bales of bedding, wheelbarrows lined with forks, and all the barn stuff. I followed his lead as he got out of the car, opened the hatchback, and began loading a wheelbarrow with the few items he carried hidden behind the backseat. He used a bale of shavings as a workbench and laid his shoeing tools out neatly across it.
Marco is a tall man, and his stump was a tall piece of wood. His anvil was blue (I don’t know what kind) and must have only weighed about ·70 pounds. He didn’t have a large supply of tools. I only saw him use one hammer at the anvil and it was a type of cross peen hammer. Marco disappeared behind a wall and returned pushing a cart with a single burner forge on top and a tank beneath which belonged to the farm. Then, from a stall bedded two feet deep, he lead a beautiful horse into the alley, past an older woman busy dusting the stalls, and to the area where we would work. Marco handed me an apron, and I quickly located the broom.
With this first horse, I watched. All of the horses in this barn were jumping horses, with the exception of a couple of miniatures I found in a small corner stall. There are not many (if any) horses in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that can be considered “jumpers.” So, I expected the style of shoeing to be different than my everyday work. I watched and kept the broom busy and watched some more. With each horse that was led to the work area, I noticed some similarities in the type of hooves on the horses and the method of Marco’s work, so I quickly began handing Marco his next tool. He continually commented “you are improving! ”
Marco did not use a shoeing box, he left each tool neatly aligned, and when I questioned him about it, he told me he liked the opportunity to constantly view the horse as he retrieved the next tool. He was efficient in his trim and reset the front shoes before beginning on the hind feet. The horses had large, round front feet and long, narrow hind feet. Most of the feet had very low and sometimes under-slung heels. Marco fit the shoes long and full through the quarters and heel and set the shoes back quite far at the toe. The Italian keg shoes he used were made in left and right patterns and front and hind patterns. The lateral branch was punched for four nails and the medial branch for three. Apparently, this was not enough as Marco would punch one more nail hole in front of each toe nail.
He first used a very large punch, followed by a tool familiar to me, a Roy Bloom E head punch, and then a pritchel. Then handing me the shoe, with a bit of sign language and an example, he showed me how he wanted me to cut a leather rim pad. Ah … I now got to actually use a tool.
I was beginning to get into the program. Marco nailed on the shoe with the rim pad as I watched. I found it interesting that he needed to pitch his toe nails outward and gradually bring the pitch in as he neared the heel, I decided this was because of the backed up toe and full fitting heel, yet it seemed opposite of the angle that I drive nails.
Although Marco hot seated some of the shoes, he never burned clips in to the foot. Instead, he used a strange and aggressive half round rasp to create a spot for the clip. Again, I questioned Macro. With a few words and a few hand signals, he described his goal of setting the clip into the hoof wall. Hmmm, same goal I have when I burn them in.
We moved to the next horse, and with each new horse, I was permitted to tackle another portion of the job. I began pulling the shoes from the horse, cleaning the feet, and then cleaning the shoes while Marco trimmed. I again cut leather pads for the shoes and Marco would nail, clinch, and finish. When we reached the hind feet, Marco indicated to me that I could trim the hooves. He told me he felt hind feet were easier and that front feet are more difficult because there is more lameness involved in the front end of the horse. I was not allowed to trim any front feet that day. We shod five sets before we left the first stop, and I learned that the barn and all the horses there (about 30 of them) belonged to one person. Marco told me that, in Italy, only the very wealthy have horses.
As we traveled to the next stable, Marco located a bar where we would stop for lunch. I had brought some photos from Michigan’s AFA certification and some photos of horses in my work. Equipped with the Italian dictionary, we discussed my photos and the AFA certification. Marco has an interest in traveling to the USA and becoming certified. Anyone who has ever dined with me in a restaurant knows that I like a little surprise as I often tell the waitress to “surprise me.” So, after Marco ordered (in Italian), I simply stated the Italian word “due,” meaning that I would have the same. And what a surprise I got. This would be the worst meal I ate in Italy or anywhere. Marco agreed that it was bad, but he was very hungry and ate it anyway. I pushed my plate away.
The next farm, a bit different than the first, was also very nice. Again, all the horses were the property of one owner. Marco only had one horse to shoe here and the owner came out to the work area and visited with us. She was the girlfriend of the man who owned the first farm. Marco commented to me “it rains on wet ground”, meaning the same as our American saying, “money comes to money.”
The last stop was a smaller stable. There were about eight horses at this stop, but we would only shoe three. Working with the same system we had established earlier in the day, we quickly began. Again, the owner came to the stable to visit, but spoke no English. I felt a little like an alien, but quickly leaned that “Maniscalca Americana” means American farrier woman.
I learned several Italian words relating to the trade that day, but more importantly I learned what life as a farrier in Italy would be like. I learned a few new tricks, I made a new friend, and I had an experience of a lifetime.