A bit of context….
Ever since I was a wee, baby farrier, the Certified Journeyman Farrier test seemed like a good goal to aim for – and difficult enough to be pretty daunting. I remember thinking the farriers sitting for their CJF were like Gods, and I would never be that good!
I’m in a minority group of farriers from other countries who want to test in the American Farriers Association system to become a CF (Certified Farrier) and CJF (Certified Journeyman Farrier). Even within the American farrier population the number of certified farriers is pretty low – less than 1% of farriers are certified to CJF level.
Why would I want to test under another country’s system, you ask?
I started shoeing horses in Australia when I was 30 years old and my passion developed slowly, so by the time I was looking for an apprenticeship, no one would take me on for numerous reasons (gender, age, and other various life factors for each person I asked) – and I would not just take any master either. I was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole and I struggled in a country where for the most part, the schools are designed for apprentices only.
I spent 2 months at Heartland Horseshoeing School in Missouri in 2010 after 4 years of piecemeal self-education and snippets of help from good farriers who took some pity on my sorry skill set. My time at Heartland really solidified my skills and confidence with the great teaching style of the Gregory family and the sheer number of horses we got under day in and day out.
I was proud of what I had achieved in that time, but I never felt welcome in the Australian industry. I accept that my frustration and the fact that I shunned their structures had a bit to do with that too, but it is the way it is. However, I had always hoped that one day I would be skilled enough to pass the CJF and then I would be ‘good enough’ in the eyes of my Australian peers. Now as I prepare for sitting the test next week I have a different perspective on what ‘good enough’ means.
In truth, my journey has never been about what anyone else thinks and although it may have taken me longer than some, I have come further than most. It is time that I just accept who I am and where I am at and allow myself to feel OK about it. This CJF goal is just another stone on a path that has no end. I’m a big believer in continued education in the farrier industry – it’s a job that can easily become isolating and a farrier can lose skills daily if they don’t actively maintain them. Continuing to try and understand the infinite complexity of what we are doing at a deeper level just keeps the ride interesting.
So here I am in the good old U.S of A – again J
So far on this trip to America, (I have already been here a week!), I have had my hammer swing corrected dramatically, my system of shoe making revolutionised, all my hammer handles replaced, my punches and pritchels re-worked to perfection, and had to endure more kindness and stimulating conversation than I am comfortably used to. Jason RoTromel, who put me up so I could get over my jet-lag, is truly a Farrier God-Mother - and I have the pictures to prove it! I am so unused to the likes of he and his wife, Megan’s, generosity that I find myself waiting for the kick in the guts - which is so sad it is hard to write that down! I didn’t realise I was so scarred and beaten down, I guess I just got used to thinking that was the way of it and maybe all I deserved.
I arrived at Heartland to spend the week preparing for the test this coming weekend. The first day was pretty awful because it involves not doing anything as well as you want to do it. Of course, the first horse was BOUND to be full of mistakes and I have to keep telling myself that this is the exact reason for spending a week here to prepare – to get all of the mistakes out of the way before the test! A week of concentrated shoeing and working on my timing and systems will surely get my head in the zone where I am just shoeing with handmade shoes as a routine and the test is no different than the day before. Well, that’s the theory any way……lol
What is involved in this test, you might ask?
“The Certified Journeyman Farrier exams, which constitute the highest level of AFA certification, are open to candidates who have at least two years of horseshoeing experience and have completed the CF (Certified Farrier) level. Farriers sitting for this level of certification are expected to display in-depth knowledge and highly developed performance skills evidencing a level of professional artistry. The process requires successful completion of written and practical testing, as well as the forging of a specific bar shoe within a prescribed time limit.”
The practical test involves shoeing a horse with hand-made, plane-stamped, clipped shoes in 2 hours. Then you need to make a bar shoe that fits a specific pattern in 35 minutes.
The week has flown by, Chris got us under as many horses as we could handle – plus a few more – then put us back into the forge for more work. Every horse I shod had mistakes – some came up short, others came up long – I know no job is ever perfect, but you gotta aim for something, right?! Overall my quality is there but it’s so tricky to cut a length of steel and have it turn out just the right size on the foot! I think the penny finally dropped for me today that I can make the steel fit what I need, instead of letting it dictate. Well, I shall be trying out that little pearl of wisdom on ‘game day’ of all times, so I’ll let ya know!
Yesterday I had a melt down thinking about old ghosts and things other people think (which is none of my business anyway, I know). An off hand comment really floored me right before I did a test run and I stewed over it for the whole 2 hours that I was shoeing the horse. I finished the run with 9 minutes remaining and I went to my room and cried like I didn’t have a friend in the world! Such a girl!!!
I think part of the need to cry was a pressure release – the lead up to this has been so intense. I am doing this test for my own personal interest, but the commitment of time and money is INSANE when you’re coming from the other side of the world! There is a build up of internal pressure for me to do well, if only because I have put my family out and put so much on the line – I don’t want to let them down. In reality, if I were to pass or not, nothing at all in my life would change. Eventually I picked myself up and went for a run, listening to really loud music - that brought me round and I felt ready for test day to come.
Maybe one day I will learn to be OK with people not liking me, but within the farrier industry it hurts like crazy to be judged harshly for who I am as a person when I’m just trying my best. If I look at the way my journey as a farrier has evolved I can see it in two ways – on one hand I have struggled to get any support through the conventional channels available to others, it has cost me a fortune to get an education, and even after 11 years of trying I am not a valued part of the industry that I love working in. On the other hand, I have had amazing experiences that others will never have, I have had the chance to work with many great farriers and travel widely, and I know what I know from solid trial and error – I own my skills now (to paraphrase Grant Moon) and I am not nearly as worried about this test as I thought I would be. Sure, I have holes in my skills and knowledge, but so does everyone, always, I am not unique in that situation – no one knows what they don’t know yet, that’s what keeps life interesting.
The other folk sitting the certification have been great to get to know, it’s different than when I was at school here because they are all working farriers, not student farriers, so the conversations are different – more swapping experiences. It’s only for the week, so not long enough to really bond like at school - or get annoyed with each other either, lol. There is one other girl here called Holly who is sitting her CF, and we have been roomies for the week. She is a really kind hearted person, a few years older than me and a great role model for her attitude and caring, both for herself and others.
Today’s big news – I got to shoe a mule! Well, it was only resetting the hind shoes, but still, it was fun. I’m ashamed to tell you how often I avoided the mule posse when I was here for school because I didn’t want to die! But this guy was a complete gentleman with sweet compact feet that were a pleasure to work on – not nearly the boogie man I thought he was going to be.
The written test is over; I passed with 88%. That’s good because I would have been pretty miffed if I had have missed the CJF on the written, as that’s not a hard part for me. Tomorrow we will see what I can do - and I can do this test.
Well, I made it – I am now a Certified Journeyman Farrier! It’s been a goal for so long it feels strange to say it. I can’t say I feel that excited about it really – I feel relief, fatigue, and so much gratitude for the help I received to get to this level - it’s overwhelming. I also feel a comfortable sense that the journey continues and shoeing a horse tomorrow is no different than shoeing a horse was yesterday, but now it’s time to relax and enjoy the ride.
Today the run went really well for me, I got a good horse, with good feet, and I found a rubber mat to shoe on which was a total luxury after shoeing in the dirt all week! I was on fire for the first 1½ hours and everything flowed well, I breezed through the trimming and shoe making and was nailing up with 30 minutes to go. But man, those last 20 minutes I was fighting the lead feeling in my arms just to get clinched up and done, it was intense! Honestly, if I hadn’t passed today I don’t know how I would have found it in me to do it again tomorrow. But, I would have done it again anyway – you do what you gotta do.
My bar shoe only just scraped through but I was cactus by the time we did that portion of the test and it wasn’t the best I’ve ever made, that’s for sure. But it fit the pattern, the weld was solid and it had enough points to make it across the line, just. I would have made a better one tomorrow if it failed anyway, so that was no big deal to me.
I still have two days left here in the States and I’m looking forward to a post mortem of my process from Jason on the drive back to his place. It is such a luxury to have someone so skilled and insightful tell you honestly how badly you really did and where you can improve on next time.
But for now, as they say over this side of the pond, ‘that’s all folks’.