. “Put it in the wrong place when you jump-weld and it will stick every time.” These words came from the amazing Jim Poor.
It was 1996 during the practice day at the World Championship Blacksmiths Competition in Calgary. I had developed a way to get my heartbar to size, but it depended on jumping in the frog plate. If your shoes were not to size they did not get judged in those days, so I thought I was on to something. The problem was the jump weld, and I had just missed it a half dozen times when Jim told me that. The forges and anvils were outside in the sunshine and I did not have enough experience to work through that. To be honest, I did not have enough experience to be competing up there, but that’s another story.
The next one I placed the plate about half an inch out of center and it welded better than any of my other practice ones had before. Jim was absolutely right, and this was one of just many things that I learned from Jim and farriers like him at the Calgary practice day and the competition that followed.
That night we found out that the heartbar had been selected for the forging, I used my method, and it was the only shoe that I got a ribbon with that year.
1996 was my very first experience amongst such greats of our trade. I believe there were about ten Fellows of the Worshipful Company of Farriers (FWCF) competing that year. Considering there is ever only somewhere around 40 of those folks alive, that was a huge concentration. There were former world champions, future world champions, and folks from all over the world that were the innovators of our time. It was daunting, motivating, exciting and incredibly tough. But, it was a few days out of the year when you could learn and see enough to keep you advancing your skills. Dallas Morgan and I went together that year. We were like a couple kids just discovering candy.
Since 1996, I missed one year with a hurt knee, and another year because of a rodeo schedule conflict. I think I competed up there 16 or 17 times.
I know, the world has changed. The internet has created a way for us to learn and connect like never before. You can learn techniques from the comfort of your couch while you sit there in your underwear. However, you cannot recreate the feeling of being in the arena surrounded by the best of the best while the announcer explains to the crowd of hundreds what you are doing. You can’t be part of a 4-man team shoeing one of 20 draft horses in the midst of the smoke, sweat, sound and chaos. It is like being on a movie set. You can’t hear the advice from one farrier to another in 15 different languages, including Scottish. You can’t have the heartache of burning a shoe in half and making another one in less time than it takes to make one. Or, wait patiently for scores to see if you have any chance at the top-ten. It is just the sort of thing that creates a better farrier with more complete skills. Skills that are forged and tempered in a unique way that no longer exists exactly as it once did.
As time went on and the WCBC was pushed out a little further from the former glory, they changed the venue to a team contest. Cody was part of a team that won the Worlds a few years ago, but it was not the same as it once was. This year was pretty amazing and it was a definite advancement towards what it once was. There is still the will of some folks to continue to work towards recreating the contest of yesteryear. Rob Hitchner, Alexandra Hamilton and Riley Swanby are trying to pick up where Marshall Iles, Erik Swanby and others led before. They have been part of the great days, and are willing to bring them back with our support.
I have just returned from the contest at the Calgary Stampede. It is now called the Blacksmith Classic, and it is still a great thing. Stewart Bruce of Ontario and I were lucky enough to get to judge the contest this year. It was full of great Canadian contestants, and I believe that those who competed left there with more stories of learning and camaraderie that will help to make them better farriers. At the very least they got to put themselves forward with a chance of winning $7500.00.
I was going through my albums to see what photos to add, and I was flooded with great memories. What an amazing place and times. I added a couple dozen, but there are hundreds of pictures and thousands of great memories.
I believe this contest will happen again next year. I believe that if we support it, we can return it to former glory. I also believe that this is one of the important parts of our industry that we should not let die. If you are willing and wanting to support this contest, let me know, and I will put you in touch with the folks that are trying to make it happen. I would love to see this contest return to what it once was, as I believe everyone who was ever a part of it would.