Hoof Work for maximum soundness.

Continuing Education, since we don’t actually know it all.

 I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into farriers and during conversation asked them if they were planning to attend one of the upcoming clinics, lectures, or contests in our area, only to hear them tell me they haven’t any interest in attending. Some say they don’t have time because they have [insert excuse here] or they see little if any value in continuing education. Why should they? After all they seem to be making a perfectly good living, right? Feeling comfortable with your skill level is one thing; thinking there is no point to putting effort into improving your skill-set is another. The latter can lead you to believe that you know it all. After all, if you’re not learning anything new, then you must know it all!

(right: Chris Gregory teaching a clinic @ Vermont Farriers Assocation)

The fact is we don’t know it all, and that is why there is so much value in continuing education. Efforts such as keeping up on anatomy, biology, and current research, getting familiar with other points of view, new products, and techniques or learning old ones you haven’t been exposed to before can prove invaluable to you as a farrier and ultimately to the horses you care for. Not to mention the networking aspect. When I was growing up, some of the rougher farriers I knew were very unfriendly to their competition and would hardly talk to other farriers in their area. Looking back, they were also the ones who put the least time into advancing their skills. In my experience farriers are generally a social bunch and contrary to popular belief most farriers today love to talk shop and share their knowledge, even with the competition.

Types of Continuing Education

Whether it’s going to clinics, lectures, or competitions or just riding around with another farrier, getting out there is the first step to learning something new or reinforcing old knowledge.

Lectures: When you are interested in a subject, a lecture can be a great and eye-opening experience. While I really enjoy hands-on learning, attending lectures has exposed me to some fantastic things going on in the farrier and veterinary world. New treatments for common problems are discussed, as well as detailed explanations such as the origin of problems on a molecular level. It’s fascinating to learn cause and effect. (below: Doug Butler giving a lecture at Tuffs University)Clinics: These are great workshops where you often get the opportunity to hone your skills with someone who is experienced in their craft and respected in the industry. Often a combination of lecture, practical demonstration, and hands-on education, I find these events most beneficial to improving my skill-set as a farrier.

Competitions: Some farriers will argue about the value of competition and its relevance to education in the hoofcare industry. I for one firmly believe that invaluable practical knowledge can be obtained at competitions. In a lot of ways it’s like a hands-on clinic. The flaws in one’s technique are identified and judged. Competitors work under pressure and learn the most efficient ways to handle it and complete their task well. Competitions are an opportunity to work and network with others and trade ideas. If you can handle criticism or invite it, you will do well. During practice it is not uncommon for another competitor to watch you work and notice something you never realized. For example, during practice time at a recent competition a group of other farriers were watching me work when one pointed out that I was holding one of my punches at a impractical angle which was negatively effecting my work. It was very insightful to have that extra set of eyes since I had not previously noticed this error.

Ride-Alongs: Riding along with another farrier is an awesome way to pick up new skills, learn new tricks or get exposed to new ideas. When I go on trips away from home I like to try to contact farriers in the areas I am visiting to see if I can spend a morning, afternoon or day with them (providing I have time). The exchange of ideas and techniques can be mutual and you stand a good chance of walking away with a new outlook, new ideas, and even a friendship.

There are plenty of other ways to educate yourself. There are some great books out there like Chris Gregory’s new book, Gregory’s Textbook of Farriery, and Christopher Pollitt’s elusive Color Atlas of the Horse’s Foot.  In addition there is much content on the internet. Forums like those at Horseshoes.com, the Word Championship Blacksmiths site, and social networks like Facebook are great ways to disseminate information, have fascinating discussions and get help with cases you are working on from a host of international farriers.  In fact there is even an online hoof conference that attracts quite a few attendees.

It’s important to remember that continuing education is a big part of the job of a farrier. While CE credits may not be a requirement to maintain certification status, it is a very real asset to your career and the horses you care for.  So take some time and put some money aside to further your skills. You don’t always have to agree with the speaker or clinician, but you can always take away something from the experience.

Take care and do good work!

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