Just before I was on my way to Team Heller clinic in Norway, I was involved into an interesting discussion on Facebook. I was happy to hear that the emphasis and challenge put on forging in a farrier school in Finland had been increasing. To my surprise some people were opposing it. I tried to understand HOW did those people come into their conclusion. A main reasoning given was, that it should be more emphasized on trimming, anatomics, and why to make different shoeing solutions in every day work, rather than just put the students in front of the anvil practicing shaping the steel. Then I realized that these people are from areas where it is normal that the “farrier” is someone who has learned to nail on shoes by him/herself or perhaps taken a couple of courses and then starting out their business and they may be the most schooled and best farriers in their area. Reflecting on that background I started to understand the reasoning. Because the overall level of farriery is not very high, those people may have seen someone still studying that has been also practicing a bit of forging, coming to shoe a horse with a great self-confidence: “I’ve been teached in a school and have been doing a bit of forging also, so I’m one of the tops!” And then, when in reality the experience, knowledge and skills are not yet that developed, the self-learned farrier that has been shoeing horses for years, outruns the students skills with his/her experience.
From my part that discussion was interrupted, since I was on my way to Norway. Interesting though, the Heller clinic had a start with a lecture by Grant Moon and he brought up the same issue: Why do we forge?
Question is the same, but the background is very different. Great Britain has laws restricting horseshoeing only for educated farriers. The schooling system is probably the best in the World. In this years World Championships 9 competitors out of top ten have been going through the English schooling system. In England every licensed farrier surely knows the basics of horsehoeing, is very skilled in forging and is able to shape steel in numerous different solutions if needed. Grant Moon is a six times World Champion, surely he knows how to shoe a horse, I think no one questions that, and still he has to reason to people why he and alikes want to practice to get better and better. What’s the point in it? In that level the answer is: it keeps up our interest. It brings motivation, you see all the time that you can still improve. You can always do more to benefit horses and their owners.
I talked about that in one of my earlier post. I think, that if you lose your interest and cease from trying to improve, the level you’ve achieved won’t stay the same. It will decrease bit by bit. There is no perfect shoeing, there are always mistakes, and if you’re not interested in trying to correct them, instead of practicing to get better you’re actually practicing to make mistakes and you’ll get better in ignoring mistakes.
Everyone doesn’t need to be World Champions or spend all their life around horseshoeing and forging, though. Let’s move back to Finland to scrutinize the situation that presents probably better the rest of the World, where anyone is allowed to shoe a horse. I know good farriers, whose professional skills I appreciate, even though they haven’t really been seriously forging ever. Those guys have an interest in their work other ways, they are trying to improve and instead of saying that forging has nothing to do with horseshoeing (can you believe, those argument have been heard, too!), they do appreciate colleagues who put the effort on making shoes. And even though those guys have not been seriously practicing shoemaking, they’ve done it a bit and are so skilled by their hands, that they still can make a reasonable horseshoe if challenged. They have skill enough to carry out different shoeing solutions if needed. But those guys so talented are rare.
I need to tell my story to open up why I’m so much talking of the benefits of forging and WHY I think it is the very base for being able to shoe horses well, even today when most of the shoes nailed on are factory produced. I started my education almost ten years ago and that time even in school the shoes were cold fitted. The only forging practice was shaping cold shoes… Outside school I had teachers who had done their share of forging and I was raised to the idea of importance of forging, but I had to go to shoe on my own far too early to make my living. There was no time or sufficient equipment for forging practice while struggling to get enough horses to be shod well enough.
Soon I was also back in school that was preparing for the certification. There we started to make shoes, but the amount of teaching was not too much and you should be able to practice a lot by yourself. And still I had the same problem with time and equipment. Only after some years in 2010 I finally passed the forging test on my third try… I’m not too talented After that I decided that now it’s time to start seriously this forging thing. I was talked into taking part to the Nordic Championships in debutant class in March 2011 and after that was following the Finnish and Swedish Championships. The whole winter and spring I was spending lots of time at the forge making shoes for competitions and shoeing some horses with handmades. In the summer I noticed the enormous improvement in my everyday work. Somehow, making different kind of shoes made me also to SEE and understand more in horses hoofs, conformation and movement. I saw a horse, and it popped into my mind that perhaps this horse would do better if I’d make a little adjustment on the factory made shoe. It happened far more often than before, and I could also carry out the adjustment because now it was easy and quick for me. I was also able to fit the shoes better in far less time than before. I was shoeing more horses, and better than before. That naturally meant also an increase in my incomes. Now I’m only cursing all those wasted years before… If I’d had the opportunity to start my education with spending lots of time at the forge, how much easier the first years would’ve been and how much better shoeings would I’ve been making.
I was scratching my head with this horse I was asked to shoe last spring. A big horse, the heels couldn’t be called underrun, because they simply didn’t exist, a dropped sole and very weak hoof walls. I knew these hoofs wouldn’t improve without extra help. Distributing the weight on the frog by a barshoe was out of question, because frog was already much higher compared to hoof walls and heels. The huge frog made also problems with other shoeing solutions i usually like to apply in cases with underrun heels.
I decided to try a very simple solution, I forged the shoe heels a bit onion shape to support the crushed heels. The extension was very small, (and looks non-existent in the pic ) because the frog was on they way and I couldn’t risk that the horse would lose the shoes from already completely crashed hoofs by making a wide fit. I seated out the inner surface of the shoe to avoid sole pressure. I was prepared to try something else next time, but this helped, and the horses hoofs have improved a lot during summer. These are such a simple and easy things to do, but still so often are not done, because of the lack of forging skills.
The students today are lucky, if they are demanded more and more with forging. I can’t see how that would exclude the emphasis in trimming and anatomics. Everytime you shoe a horse, you need anyway to think about the trimming, whether you nail on a factory or a handmade shoe.
Besides, forging is lots of fun! If you sometimes get bored to make those horseshoes, with your skills you can do so much other stuff, too. Today I was forging a knife out of an old rasp.