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Autumn: On the Guild...

   Hard to believe it's Autumn again already. But the signs are clear. The brisk mornings and coloring foliage. Good weather for riding. I hope it lasts a while before the dreaded endless rains set in.

Autumn colors.
Autumn colors at Prophet's Thumb.

   This Autumn marks the end of my tenure as National Secretary of the Guild of Professional Farriers. I was originally named the Secretary by the Founders on the day the Guild was officially created back in August of '96, and reelected by the membership in Autumn of '98. The Guild has a limit on consecutive terms, so I'm not eligible for the election going on now. A fact for which Anne is very grateful.

   We founded the Guild as a means to elevate the profession. To provide truly qualified farriers with a credential that would distinguish them from the countless horseshoers of questionable competence. To provide horseowners with a way to recognize a truly qualified farrier among the countless horseshoers with shoein' school diplomas who do a good imitation of knowing their stuff.

   We did it for ourselves. The movers and shakers of the Guild have been farriers. Regular farriers. The kind of guys who go out to your barn and shoe your horses. The kind of guys who read trade journals and travel to clinics and symposiums to learn as much as they can to serve your horses needs better. The kind of guys who've been shoeing for years and years. The kind of guys who've worked on thousands and thousands of hooves, lame and sound, and who know how the parts relate to the whole... The kind of guys who sometimes lose clients when some guy who thought shoeing looked like "fun" hangs out his shingle, or when some vet blames us for everything but the common cold, or when the barn know-it-all tells you we've been doing it all wrong, or when you see some gimmick shoeing in a magazine and we aren't willing to play along at the expense of your horse's welfare... We did it so that a clear line would exist between those who are qualified professional experts in hoof care and those who are not. To define "Professional Farrier".

   We founded the Guild to set a standard for who should be recognized as a Professional Farrier. It's something that no one had really done in America in recent decades. Shoeing schools issue diplomas, but a few weeks (sometimes days) of schooling doesn't come close to imparting competence on the graduates. There are farrier associations in America that have certification systems, but these are arbitrary, "jump through hoops to show off for us" programs which are more likely to be based on contest shoeing standards than what it takes to provide quality farrier service to real clients. The schools and associations had essentially lowered the definitions of "graduate", "certified", "journeyman", and even "farrier" to include hobbyists with two years or less in practice.

   With the Guild we established a new standard... Or, more accurately, we reestablished the standard tradition and common sense had established in the past. It wasn't an "elite" standard, as some have suggested. We simply limited Guild membership to true journeyman farriers. Our requirements for a journeyman were rather modest... Four years experience under horses and current full-time farrier status, essential blacksmithing and fabrication skills, an adequate technical understanding of applied farrier science, and a demonstration of practical live horseshoeing skills... Any real farrier with more than five years under his belt should be able to pass the exams without any special preparation.

   A simple enough idea. But you might have thought we were suggesting something radical by the responses.

   "What about the young guys coming up?"... Somewhere along the line farriers have developed the strange notion that anyone who ties on a leather apron is entitled to recognition as a 'farrier'. Probably because we all remember how hard it was to learn the trade when we were starting out. But creating bogus credentials for beginners does nothing to help them and undermines the profession as a whole. Besides, many of these 'young guys coming up' are middle-aged men who are looking for a way to be 'in the horse business' or to break away from the boring old job with minimal investment. Can't blame them for the desire, but these fellows are not the future of a respectable profession. They expect a quick, cheap start, and almost immediate income. In all other professions you expect to spend years and thousands of dollars getting started. When most new guys discover that farriery is really no different, they drop out of the business, or make a hobby of it.

   "What have you got against part-time farriers?"... 'Professional' and 'part-time' simply don't go together. You probably wouldn't have the Wal-Mart stock manager who does a little dentistry on the side put braces on your kid's teeth. I wouldn't hire the fry cook from Hardee's to install the wiring in my house. How can we promote farriery as a profession while issuing credentials to guys who just do it as a sideline business?

   "Handmade shoes? C'mon! This is the 20th Century!"... If you shoe with keg shoes, and do it right, you have to modify them quite a bit. Sometimes cutting and refinishing heels. Punching, resizing, or repitching nail holes. All kinds of adaptations may be required to shoe a book of horses with keg shoes properly. All the handmade requirement does is to have the farrier demonstrate an array of these keg shoeing skills on one horse. Even if a farrier hasn't made and applied handmades in years, he should be able to combine his keg shoeing skills and pass the RJF live shoeing easily. It's not like a shoeing contest.

   But the most feverish objection to the Guild came from a statist who first contacted the Guild to try and get our support for his scheme to require State licensing for farriers. We opposed his plans partly because the laws would be unenforceable against the worst horseshoers while imposing expensive bureaucracy on the serious professional farriers, partly because the States would undoubtably legitimize a 'lowest common denominator' standard for farrier licenses far inferior to the Guild's minimum standards, and mostly because such licensing laws overlook an important fact... Your horses belong to you. They do not belong to the State. The Guild exists to help horseowners recognize competent farriers, and to educate owners about the value of professional quality hoof care for their horses. But we know the decision is yours. And we trust you to make the right one.


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