In every industry you will find people that become great friends. One of the problems is that I make some incredible friends, but they are living a very long way away. Well, that could not be more true than this example.
I met Robbie Miller, ASF, in Calgary at the World Champion Blacksmith’s Competition in 2002. He was there as part of the South African Farrier Team. We hit it off immediately. Before I knew it I was being asked to come to South Africa and do a clinic, as well as judge their national contest. When I arrived, they also had me judge a farrier exam that they had put together. That first exam I examined 47 farriers, each of them shoeing half a horse for the practical.
Anyway, Robbie and I had a lot in common. Same interests and a similar sense of humor. He had served in the South African Army, and that is where he learned to shoe horses in 1987, the same year I started in farriery. Robbie is only a year older than me, so we went to different schools together. We visited quite a bit during that trip and pretty much sealed our friendship.
Robbie has a big practice in South Africa and shoes many of the top racehorses in that country. 75% of the practice is racing and breeding, and the balance is sport horses and vet work. The amount of horses he and his team turn out a week is unbelievable. Being an American farrier can really make you spoiled. Farriers in South Africa have to earn a living by turning out big numbers rather than getting paid a higher wage for the skill they posses. The South African farrier basically has to shoe one horse to buy one rasp.
In 2010, I was asked to write an exam for the South African farriers. I had just written one for the Brazilian Farrier’s Association, and the Brazilians didn’t mind allowing it to be used for South Africa. This was the birth of the Farrier’s International Testing System, (FITS). Robbie ended up being the first South African to pass the FITS Advanced Skills Farrier level, and before long he was able to serve as an examiner for the FITS. That job has taken him to Australia, the United States and several places in South Africa.
He is also featured in Gregory’s Textbook of Farriery in the modern materials section. I learned a lot from Robbie about using extensions out of acrylic while working with him in South Africa, so I used those pictures and details in the book.
There are not as many learning opportunities for farriers in most of the world. We are pretty blessed in the US that we can always find a clinic or mentor in our country to develop the skills we are trying to perfect. In South Africa, there had probably never been a tooled-and-fullered shoe made, and Robbie for sure hadn’t seen it done or done it himself. The last year that Robbie went to Calgary to compete in the World Championship Blacksmith’s Competition was 2013. That year there was a tooled-and-fullered caulk and wedge shoe. I had the pleasure of striking for Robbie in that class, and he had the pleasure of building his first ever tooled-and-fullered shoe. It was a very nice shoe, especially knowing that is was his first one, and also made under the pressure of competing at the world championships.
Robbie has just headed home from being in the US. He came over to judge a FITS Exam at Five Star Horseshoeing School for Dusty Franklin, CJF, ASF. Since Cody Gregory, CJF, AWCF, ASF, is also an examiner, Robbie came back to the Heartland with Cody when the exam was over. He spent a week with us helping with the class. Robbie is such a natural teacher and the students benefitted greatly from his visit. We also caught up and strengthened our friendship. I sure feel blessed to count Robbie Miller, ASF, amongst my friends.