Road to the Journeyman Part 2

After putting off my CJF test for several years, I finally began the test earlier this year. You can find part one of this post about beginning the process here. The past few months of completing my CJF has been a mix of educational, humbling, and confirming. 

Our company has always been committed to education, and this year has been no exception. Along with passing my CJF, by the end of the year I will have logged over 100 hours of continuing education. Learning opportunities this year included hands-on clinics with world champion farriers Jim Quick and Billy Crothers, podcasts and books, a week at the International Hoof-Care Summit, a couple days with Hank Chisholm and Lucas Gilleland at a pre-certification clinic, hours shoeing alongside farrier Dion O’Brien and vet Dr. Lydia Mudd, and trips to certifications. 

Education of course can take many forms, from the intellectual, such as complex theories and memorization of anatomy, to hands on practice for hand eye coordination, to learning the art of exactly where to hit a piece of steel while it is at a particular temperature to turn it into a shoe that fits a foot just right. It can also take the form of changing who we are and how we think/behave. 

The certification process is designed to test a candidate’s knowledge and skills in theory, forging, and trimming/shoeing. When I first took the exam in Kentucky, the written test came first and was easily passed. Soon we were on to the barshoe. 35 minutes to make a ¾ fullered straight bar to fit a pattern is certainly quick work to get the level of quality needed, but not out of the realm of normal work, especially for someone that makes every barshoe they nail on. Unfortunately, I had a couple lessons to learn.

First, in the realm of preparation. I’ve made hundreds of barshoes and fit them to horses so my process was fine, my measurements for how much steel I would need was right on, again from having made many shoes. Lesson one was soon underway, instead of the small two burner forge I use for shoeing everyday I had brought the large 3 burner that I use in the shop when I am building shoes at home. This is the forge that I had made many barshoes in and knew it would work well. I was supremely confident that I would be passing the barshoe portion of the exam as I lit the forge and started heating the steel as the clock started. Shortly into building the shoe the middle of the 3 burners started to sputter and cough. Soon enough the middle burner was completely out and the right burner was not nearly as hot as it should be. What should have been a quick and simple weld ended up taking forever to accomplish due to the forge being colder than it should have been. I should have cleaned the burners before I left the shop. Simple maintenance that takes 5 minutes to complete, but no, I hadn’t thought of it. I eventually did get the shoe welded but did not get time to finish shaping the shoe to the pattern. In the process of getting the shoe punched for nails, I also wrecked every pritchel I had with me, again tool maintenance/preparation. The barshoe failed. 

This was when lesson two began. Most of my life I have struggled between one of two extremes, overwhelming pride and a lack of confidence that I can truly accomplish anything. There is a right balance of humility where we see ourselves and others correctly, knowing truly what we are and are not capable of. Unfortunately, I was not there that day. I had very much swung to the prideful side of things when the written test went well, this whole thing was going to be a breeze and I was going home a CJF, right? When the barshoe failed my pride certainly took a hit, after all this is one of my favorite shoes to make. It was easy to blame the forge for being to cold, the rest of the process had gone fairly well. 

On day 2 of the certification we got started with shoeing horses. I drew a nice little horse that stood well and had nice feet, though a bit of flare on the hinds. Still having not learned lesson two from the day before, I confidently announced to someone else what amount of steel I would be using for each foot before I had even picked up the feet. I don’t always measure feet at home because it isn’t that hard to guess what size they are after having worked on so many, but that is not for a test. Once I got started the fronts went well but as I came to the hinds I second guessed the measurement I had decided on before. Now it was time to add a third lesson. Really a continuation of the second lesson, lesson three was not to doubt what I knew. I should have cut 12 inches and not 11.5 inches for the back of that horse. If I had done what I knew I should have in the first place, it would have been done and most likely would have passed instead of running out of time. Instead, the Lord took the opportunity to teach me to both not be too proud but also not to second guess what I know. Or at least he started teaching those lessons. How awful it would have been if I had passed everything on the first try. 

The next opportunity for a try at the certification was several months later in Ohio. Just a short way from the West Virginia border is a nice stable with a fantastic owner that has been hosting certifications for the past 20 years. This time I had learned lesson one and went with tools and the forge all ready to go. My attitude on the other hand was a mixed bag. Leaving at 5:00 am and arriving a little more than 5 hours later, we quickly set up and I made a run at the barshoe. While it did not go as well as I would have liked I did get done in plenty of time and got it turned in. It took most of the day before the results were back. It had passed. Relieved that the trip had not been wasted I went back to the hotel and got some sleep before coming back to try the horse in the morning. This time I was in the second go, after holding someone else’s horse I took my turn. That dangerous mix of pride and doubt had crept in yet again. This time once again everything started well, with good scores on my trim I went on to building shoes. The feet were much smaller than I normally deal with and I once again second guessed my measurements on the hinds. As I was struggling with making the shoes work, instead of simply cutting new steel in the correct size, I began doubting that I would ever get this done, that mix of pride thinking I should have easily passed the first time, and the doubt in the skills that I have built over the past decade+. As time dwindled I slowed down my pace and basically gave up on finishing in time. As the day went on and we waited to be able to leave, it would have been easy to wallow in disappointment/self-pity and a range of other thoughts and emotions. Instead, realizing that the barshoe was passed and there were lessons to be learned I turned towards home and began prepping for the next opportunity.  

The following weekend from Ohio was a test in Michigan, the last one in the nearby area for the year since the Indiana certification was canceled. Leaving at nearly 4:30 in the morning two of us drove the 3 hours up to the certification in a very out of the way rural area south west of Lansing. Third time’s a charm right? I had adjusted my measurements for building hinds to be sure I would have extra steel instead of having to stretch a shoe and made sure all my tools were tuned up just right. The day was a cold and windy 40 degree high and there was a lot of standing around getting cold before starting. The test went great, I was flying along confident I would finish with plenty of time. Till I handed in the last shoe. In the midst of being in a hurry I hadn’t slowed down enough when I should have and punched a nail hole wrong but didn’t catch it before I turned it into the judge. I was stopped. Once again a lesson learned. 1. Yet again don’t be prideful 2. Haste is only good for catching flies. 

There was a bit of a break before the next time I could try but I did have a clinic coming up with Billy Crothers. During the clinic, I would love to have worked with Billy on concave shoes since that is what he is known for and it’s something I use everyday. Instead, he wanted to work with me on the certification shoes. After building shoes and shoeing a horse with Billy he had some different ways of explaining things that helped with how I thought about building plain stamp shoes which increased my accuracy on nail placement while still being able to move quickly.

The following weekend I was headed for South Carolina. The ten hour drive down went well. After waiting all day Saturday, I was the last one to make a go for the CJF horse. The test started well with the trim and shoe building going smoothly. The only hang up was having to rasp a lot off of my front shoes. While the perfectionistic side of me was not entirely pleased with the end result, it did turn out to be a good passing job. 

In the end the lessons of preparation, not being prideful, not doubting the skill I have worked to develop and staying committed through difficulty that the Lord taught me through all of this were certainly worth it. Now that I have the highest level of certification offered by the American Farriers Association, it feels like I have finally graduated first grade and am ready to begin learning for real. On to the next level, which will be the AWCF from the Worshipful Company of Farriers in England.