Moving Picture: Arlington Park farrier readies hooves
His clients have funny, unusual names -- Kokakoka Ocean, Teambdancing and Half Foxy -- but they also have four feet and wear aluminum shoes.
For Hutch Holsapple, 42, of Rolling Meadows, the horses with those names and their owners and trainers make up his everyday life on the backstretch at Arlington Park racetrack, where he's worked for nearly 11 years.
A farrier by trade, the 6-foot Holsapple works in a hot, dusty environment with the constant odor of fresh manure in the air, his firm callus-covered hands are the same hands that pound the shoes into form-fitting shape and gently calm the horse as he works on the unpredictable champions they all aspire to be.
His white, deeply-worn leather chaps flap as he walks to retrieve a size 6 horseshoe from the tail section of his dusty truck. Carrying his chrome shoe box packed with shoeing nails, different sized horseshoes, hoof knife, file and shoe pullers, he moves toward the stables on the backstretch at Arlington.
Firmly grabbing the rear leg, he drapes it over his leather chaps, pulling it tight across his lap. He peels away the worn shoe with shoe pullers, giving it a good toss away from the horse. Then using the combination of special tools, including a hoof knife, he cleans the dead sole away. The action is fast but precise, sometimes causing sparks to fly when the knife blade strikes a stone embedded in the hoof. He eyeballs the new aluminum shoe, then shapes the shoe size on his portable anvil with a loud clank.
On average Holsapple can shoe a thoroughbred, his favorite horse, on all four hoofs in less than 40 minutes. A gentle but firm voice keeps the horse in its place, but there are occasions when he'll bellow out, "Hey, come on!" which reverberates throughout the barn.
Holsapple's least favorite horse to work with are the baby foals.
"They are the worse biters," he says.
He's been stepped on, breaking two toes, and been in the wrong place when a horse felt the need to relieve himself. But his biggest fear is getting kicked, having taken a shot to the chin that laid him out flat once. But he keeps coming back to the job he loves, dangers and all.
As Holsapple works shoeing a thoroughbred named Sir Applesolutely, he says he doesn't want to be anywhere else.
"If I'm not at the racetrack, I'm not happy," he says.