I stood in the polebarn holding Lulu’s halter and scratching her ears. Fanny had her head all but leaning on Matt’s back as he shaved Lulu’s back left hoof.
I felt bad, I’d let the donkey’s hooves get longer than usual. When I mentioned it to our farrier Matt, he told me about Fred.
Fred was an old farmer who up until he died a few years ago would take his horse-drawn cart into a town just north of us, during corn season to sell his corn.
Matt said he didn’t have a lot of money, but he had two horses and a donkey that he loved. He took the best care of them that he could, but sometimes he had to wait longer than he’d have liked to have their hooves trimmed.
Every time Matt would trim the donkey’s hooves, Fred would look at them and say, “Don’t they look just like some cupcakes.” Now when Matt trims any donkey’s hooves Fred’s words come back to him.
It took a while for Fred to call Matt when the farrier he used retired. Fred called several people asking if they knew a good farrier and when they told him about Matt he asked, “How much does he charge?”. They all said they didn’t know and he’s have to ask himself.
That made Fred uncomfortable, so he didn’t call Matt.
Then he heard of an Amish family who shoed horses about an hour away. So Fred borrowed a trailer and brought his horse to them. But they didn’t do a good job and when Fred saw that his horse was in pain he finally called Matt.
After that he always had Matt take care of his horses and donkey.
I asked Matt why Fred had the donkey, thinking it was a frivolous thing for a farmer without a lot of money to do. He said that Fred got it as a joke for his wife Bea. The donkey’s name was Cleo and there was a sign above her stall with that name on it. But above that sign was another with the words Bea’s Ass written on it.
I don’t know how Bea felt about that, and neither did Matt.
But I get the feeling that the donkey and the joke were more for Fred than his wife. I could imagine him laughing every time he came into the barn and looked at the donkey’s new name hanging over her stall.
“Fred was a tough old guy,” Matt told me. ” He got his arm caught in a corn harvester and amputated it himself with a jackknife.” But that didn’t stop him. “He even cut his own firewood, Matt said, “although I can’t imagine how.”
Matt usually has a story to tell when he trims the donkey’s hooves.
Sometimes it’s about experiences he’s had in his work, other times it’s about the animals in the woods around his farm.
Matt’s a good storyteller and I couldn’t help thinking that these are the kinds of conversations that farriers and equine owners have probably been having since the profession was invented. I like being a part of that tradition.
But something else happened when Matt told me Fred’s story yesterday. I feel like, in a way, I know Fred now too. And in that way, he lives on.
I also know that from now on, after Matt trims Fanny and Lulu’s hooves, I’ll look at them and think of cupcakes.