As I sit down to write this I have just finished up a very busy week playing catch up after attending the American Farrier’s Association 51st Annual Convention. Going to the convention or to any continuing education event can be a costly endeavor. Taking a day (or week) off means messing up the schedule and losing income, education is also not free, there is the cost of the event, the cost of travel, and if it is a multi-day event, the cost of accommodations. This year alone I will spend close to $15,000 and 300 working hours on education. The question becomes, is it worth it? I would answer that with a resounding yes.
Being part of an association and pursuing education is vital for any farrier that wishes to know anything beyond the basic skill of how to chop off some extra foot and nail a shoe on. In this industry it is far too easy to simply stay by ourselves and not have another farrier help us with or critique our work. Being solitary in our profession has several dangers. First, it is easy to be complacent, when you are the best (only) person on the job there isn’t a lot of drive to get better. Secondly, it is harder to learn new skills if you do not surround yourself with people who know more than you. Thirdly, if we keep to ourselves we will not be given the unique opportunities this profession offers. On the other hand by joining an association and pursuing education a world of opportunity opens up. When we begin showing up to education events and show a desire to learn and commitment to practice, top farriers from around the country and even world begin to open their shops to us to learn. By taking certifications we are able to take our skills to the next level and it opens the opportunity to take higher exams and participate in events and programs we would otherwise not have access to.
Each association we have available to us offers a different type of benefit. There are those like the World Championship Blacksmiths (WCB) which are about “education through competition,” utilizing the mode of competition to better a person’s trimming and forging skills. Some like the American Farrier’s Association (AFA) use several means such as certification, competition, clinics and other unique learning experiences such as the cultural exchange or research grants. Local associations like the Indiana Farriers Association (IFA) host a variety of clinics, competitions, and contests as well as providing a local group of farriers to share with and help each other. There are other organizations as well that each have their own way of helping us improve our skills or simply connect with and support each other. One of the biggest mistakes I see new farriers make is thinking they can go through this career on their own. Even if we come out of school with a good education there is always more to learn, if we have been poured into by others there is something we have to give to others. Throughout our careers we should be learning from others and helping those around us.
When I was first beginning in this trade it was impressed upon me how much there is to know when I met Dr. Simon Curtis FWCF. At the time, Simon had recently completed his Phd and was one of the most highly certified farriers in the world as well as being the author of multiple text books. When I met him at the International Hoof-Care Summit (IHCS) that year the thing that impressed me was that this world famous, multi-generational farrier with five decades of experience, the highest certification in the world of farriery and a PhD in Equine Biomechanics, was excited about something he had learned the week before. If a farrier of that caliber could still be learning and impressing on others the need to keep learning then surely I needed to spend the rest of my career adding to the base of knowledge I had started with.
As I think about the unique benefits I have seen in my time being part of associations these are just a few examples that stick out.
- Meeting and working with other farriers that are better than me
- Access to financial and practical help when I was hurt
- Access to lectures and demonstrations
- Hands on clinics
- Contests to improve hands on skills
- Certifications to improve and test knowledge and skill
- Advanced certifications and endorsements
- Opportunity to participate in research
- Camaraderie with other farriers
- Access to programs such as the Cultural Exchange
- Discounts on education events as well as products
- Journal club, where we discuss scientific papers related to trimming and shoeing
There are many benefits to participating in the associations our trade offers all of which eventually are for the good of the horse. Farriers, I would encourage you to show up to events and join your local and national associations. Horse owners, if you want your farrier to take the best care of your horse that they can, find a way to encourage your farrier to participate in further education for the benefit of your horse, some ways you can do this are asking what events your farrier has been to or what events are coming up, there was even a time in my early career a client offered to pay for a year’s membership in the local association.