Monday, May 14, 2012

Millwater's Farriery: Continuity...

   I hear it all the time in meatspace. See it posted on the equestrian forums...  Someone's good old farrier is retiring, and they're having difficulty finding a trustworthy replacement.

   As I deal with the effects of *ahem* middle-age myself (long gap between blog entries and absence from message boards due to yet another surgery to try and fix the wonky peeper which makes extended screen reading a real head-splitter), I'm looking around and seeing a number of old friends and respected leaders in the profession slowing-down, having to hang-up their aprons, or going to that big shop in the sky...

How the-  WHEN the heck did THIS happen?!?!

   Fortunately, there's some considerable fresh talent coming-up.  But when one of the better old guys is no longer available, it can be quite a problem until the horseowners can weed through the younger shoers to get past the wannabes, all flash and no substance hotshots, and gung-ho transients to find the good, solid farrier of tomorrow.

   In the old days, this was less of a problem due to apprentices.  As the old master farrier slowed-down, his apprentices took on more of the load (becoming journeymen along the way), and eventually the torch was passed in such a manner that there was no great gap in service.

   We've tried to re-establish farrier apprenticeship in the modern era.  I was on the American Farriers Association's Apprenticeship Committee for as long as it lasted.  We had some of the top farriers in the country enlisted as masters, but the program never really took off.  Too many regulatory and liability issues for formal apprenticeship these days...  And, an apprentice with a shoein' school diploma and a CF level certification has more credentials than the average horseshoer in the field, so it's hard to convince him to continue as a subordinate very long.

   Still, informal apprenticeships, or mentor relationships, are sometimes workable.  If horseowners will allow them.  The understandable inclination for them is to want their established farrier to be the only one to work on their horses' hooves, which makes it hard for the apprentice to progress very far.  But if folks will trust their veteran farrier to judge how much the apprentice is competent to do on each horse, the eventual pay-off may be a familiar, well-trained young farrier to step-in when the old guy gets sucker-punched by Father Time.

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