Sunday, April 15, 2012

Roadstermania...and other shoeing anomalies

In Defense of...Sanity,
I Guess:

Found myself in a spirited...well, spirited and I suppose in some ways, mean-spirited discussion the other day (Where else?  Facebook.), over this silly shoe.  And to be honest, I don't think this is a particularly good one.  Might be. Who knows?  When half the world still makes horseshoes out of re-bar and the nails from coat hangers, perhaps this is a pleasing alternative.  Not sure about the answer here either, merely the insight I might want to inject in a discussion about art and the real world.  The real, real world.

See, I referred to this shoe as a 'door-knocker.'  This led to my immediate condemnation as a suppressor of art, a critic of skills, a slayer of the pursuit of something or the other...oh yes, not perfection, as that might be confused with excess hubris, but rather near-perfection on the road to nirvana or bankruptcy.  Not sure which.  But that comment did brand me a heretic though, by most available standards.  That is because we rarely if ever hear from those who make a living, not necessarily this shoe, or any shoe.  And yes, I've made this shoe.  And no, I've never put one on a horse.  As I clearly pointed out, if one of my trainers saw me put this on a horse, he'd more than likely phone for either the police or the Smithsonian.  It is obsolete, impractical, probably a little hazardous and represents little more than a remedial course in equine antiquities, or perhaps a fundamental forging exercise.  Yes, difficult and a horseshoe.  But that is all it is and neither the horse, the horse owning public nor a mortgage banker is likely to appreciate the effort found in perfecting obsolescence.

So now that I have thoroughly pissed-off everybody once again, let's look at how this thread (discussion), got started.  Simple enough: an honest question.  An aspiring farrier from another country wanted to seriously look at the culture, educational opportunities, economics and potential viability of American horseshoeing -- before he/she invested in an education here.  He/she came from a European country with a highly regulatory and educational process for teaching the 'trade' of farriery.  In her country, perspective farriers begin their training in high school and will exhaust a good ten years of their young lives in pursuit of that goal -- and the license (the right to practice), that insures, by the available standards...their inherent competency.  And I used the word 'culture' purposely, as in many parts of Europe, a long-standing relationship exists between the unions and guilds that is integrated into the very social fabric of the country.  A gestalt exists based on mutual respect, strict standards and an economic parity based on that investment in education.  Here?  Buy a few tools and hit the road.  The horse is then doomed to establish both your credibility and ultimately your ethics.  And yes, that is grossly oversimplified, but American horseshoeing has always operated on a sliding scale of abilities -- from excellent to mediocre, or worse.  The standards are self-ordained, the business relationships more personal than pragmatic and most judgement or accountability lies after the fact, not before.  To make a bad comparison, the electrician is assumed to be competent because the house didn't burn down...yet.

This potential student also tried to investigate the economic conditions of the trade in America.  Not much to be found. Farriery is not a recognized term here and even horseshoer failed to unearth anything even remotely accurate or timely.  Best he/she found was an 'average-income statistic' of $22,000 per annum (US Dept. of Labor), which by the way, listed it under "non-farm animal caretaker."  Farriery was not even listed.  Which in case you haven't noticed, places farriers near or below the poverty line in all 50 states.  Now, you might not think that to be the case, but those very statistics are what financial institutions refer to in assessing your potential earning capacity.  Of course that is not the whole financial picture, much less the truth, unless of course, you happen to be a bank, a truck dealer or one of the bean counters over at Visa, who don't issue credit based on good intentions and self-esteem.  Instead, they rely on these very statistics in each and every determination.  Even unreliable ones, because it helps them to say, "Fuck off," without the need for guilt or feigned sympathy.  But you see, he/she was trying to develop a 5-year business plan for what would be his/her business -- ultimately a livelihood.  Sensibly, I might add.  For that, the student was roundly scoffed at, ridiculed...told to go home.  When he/she inquired other farriers on the topic, they invariably quoted the Holy Grail of 'price.'  Meaningless, and very often a little shy of the truth.  We're like fishermen.  The fish always gets bigger according to the audience.

I, for one, hate statistics.  But they do hold an inherent value when one is trying to figure out what the hell is going on...or better yet, when things aren't going on, or going well.  In this country we have had a national association for around 30-years:  The American Farriers Association (AFA).  It is a kind of pseudo trade/social group of sorts.  Now, most professional associations start out with a Mission Statement -- something like, "I want to be rich!"  Vagary is important because it needs to be kind of equal-opportunity madness.  An association needs money to function and membership to create group esteem.  That way all the lemmings are convinced that it is the hot place to hang out, even if does happen to be on the edge of a precipice.  But sarcasm aside, that is perfectly supportable.  Next order of business is to 'define' what you represent.  That is where statistics determine your clout in the business world.  It is how you say, "You need to pay attention to us!" without yelling.  It basically means that one of the association's principle tasks is to help sell you in the marketplace.  It is a common voice for disparate ideas and should reflect a common level of competency --  hence, consumer trust.  But it hasn't happened.  The AFA has remained virtually unknown outside its own membership, self-selling it would seem, and after those 30-odd years, still fails to identify its constituency or what this little industry of ours really represents.  But then, we don't really want to give up any information anyway.  Right?

However, the real injustice is leveled at the student.  The next generation of farriers that are forced to ride the coat-tails of all previous horseshoers.  They inherit the bad accounting, the sloppy paperwork, the farriers tax code (Yeah, go ahead and smile), the legal exposure, the questions from the bank, the insurance company...our buddies at Visa; the sundry and frightening list of 'stuff' that has nothing whatsoever to do with shoeing a horse, but everything to do with surviving in a country where failure to cover your ass can be a death sentence.  And the schools do not teach it, farriers do not discuss it and the same old moss-covered boulder rolls downhill to some inevitable disaster that is always predictable...yet always personal:  the divorce, the medical emergency, the repossession, the college fund that evaporated...that surgery you postponed five times.  Sure, nobody hears about those stories, just the fables about the 14 horses you did today at $280 a pop.  Hmm.  No wonder we have an abundance of students.  The Tooth Fairy handles all the marketing.

But, back to roadstermania.  In case you are curious, I also handed the 'doorknocker' speech to Bob Marshall when he showed up in western Canada in the late 70's to teach the 'British System.'  I believe I said something like, "Shit Bob, this is North America for God's sake!  You need to lighten up a bit on this stuff."  Well, we played with it, made a few, had a couple of competitions under the British Team rules...realistic competition though.  First place was barely recognizable as a horseshoe and the second-place shoe had the caulk replaced by a sizable forge-welded clinker.  My specimen shoe caused a furor because I used a Crescent wrench to reverse the caulk I turned backwards.  Didn't seem to be covered in the rule book.  But, a bunch of us needed to get back to work and playing in the fire didn't pay too many bills.  And competing...well, it was getting way too serious and far too irrelevant for many of us.  For you see, we were trying to run a business in a difficult trade, in difficult times and nobody, except perhaps another farrier, gave a shit one way or the other.  And as far as I can ascertain, they still don't.  That might be a sad commentary in some ways, but for the sake of future students, give them both sides of the equation and let them decide.  Shoe a thousand horses cleanly, serviceable, soundly...then worry about art school.  Education has no worth without perspective.  Balance the truth, then worry about balancing the horse.  And the next time a mortgage banker laughs in your face, feel free to join in.  After all, the joke is on you.