I hadn’t been to America until last month (February 2005), and it was a great new experience. I went for horse reasons (well why else would I go) and America certainly has plenty of horses (although I am told that Australia has more on a per capita basis). I had been running courses in Western Australia during February where the temperature in Geraldton was well over 40 degrees Celsius. My last course was at Northam in more moderate temperatures, then I had to sprint across the Nullarbor to get home in time to catch the plane to LA.
I nearly didn’t make it – water in the fuel left my Patrol hiccuping for the next few hundred kilometres, and I limped into Border Village at five kilometres per hour. There was no RAA patrol and no mechanic, but there was an angel on my shoulder in the shape of a fisherman at the local caravan park, who was a home mechanic with a Patrol of his own and he just happened to have a new fuel filter to get me mobile again on my way home, bless him. That gave me a day to unpack the caravan, pack the winter woollies and head for the USA.
From LA we flew to Boston and up to Maine (near the Canadian border) where the temperature on a nice day was 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and jolly cold. We were totally confused by the Maine locals referring to North as ‘down’. It made Australia feel ‘up over’ rather than ‘down under’ and I figured the American horses must be upside down. Evidently years ago sailors hauling cargo to the northeast of New England observed that the prevailing winds came from the southwest, pushing their schooners ‘downwind’ to the northeast.
I ran a course (they call them clinics) in New Hampshire in a heated barn, to test the water and see if any locals were interested in my Australian methods of balancing the hoof. They turned up in the snow in droves; there were 53 farriers alone, curious to hear what I had to say. The difference with American farriers is that they are so eager to learn, to improve their knowledge and their shoeing skills, and so open minded. My accent, our different terminology, and our geographic differences combined to make a day of great fun and learning for all of us. The local paper even welcomed me with the sub-heading ‘Aussie expert travels 10,000 miles to teach horse-shoeing’.
I visited the Dover Mounted Police horses the following day – beautiful placid Percherons over 18 hands, shod with ice shoes and bubble pads but with lameness problems from unbalanced shoeing – some things never change.
A picturesque red barn housed another problem horse for me, and also showed me how hard the farriers have it there in winter, as I couldn’t even feel my hands after about three minutes. Farriers don’t put nails in their mouths there while shoeing, they would freeze to their lips. I had the reverse problem in Western Australia only the week before, where the nails were too hot to put in my mouth.
From there we went south to attend the American Farriers Association Convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga is only a little place, with a population of less than 500,000 so even little old Adelaide is twice as big. I can’t imagine holding a Farriers Convention in Adelaide – probably only ten people would turn up. But in Chattanooga at the Convention Banquet on the final night there were a staggering 1800 people comprising Farriers, spouses and sponsors. Bearing in mind that this was a farriers’ convention, not an expo for horse lovers and equestrians, it was a real eye opener.
The five day Convention consisted of lectures, workshops (‘Wet- Labs’) , demonstrations, certification testing, panel discussions and informal gatherings as well as spouse trips and lunches, plus the Banquet; and of course the Forging and Horseshoeing competitions. Anne even won the prize at the Ladies lunch for the one who had travelled the greatest distance to attend. Attendees come from everywhere – I met a competing lady farrier from Japan, a farrier from Sweden asked me to visit him there, and I met Billy Crothers who came from England to lecture. I met up with Dr Doug Butler again and bought the latest edition of his book (I call it my bible – the best book on horseshoeing available). Doug is now in partnership with his son and together they have increased the size of the book to twice the size of my last edition.
The problems with horses are the same over there as they are here and doubtless in every other country – lameness, gait problems and balance problems; but the difference was the hunger of the farriers to learn how to overcome these problems and to improve their shoeing techniques. Conventions are not cheap to attend as the huge cost of the venue has to be covered– there is a registration fee, spouse fee and banquet fee while each wet lab, forging class and competition has a hefty price tag, with travel costs, accommodation and meals on top of that. But the cost was so evidently balanced by the enthusiasm to learn. There will always be good farriers and not so good farriers, as in any trade or profession; but those that want to learn more and are open minded and willing to listen will surely improve in a shorter time.
The theme of the five day Convention was based around ‘Balancing the Hoof’ – most lectures and demonstrations I attended went into lengthy and convoluted detail to explain how they achieved balance, often using complex measurements that are almost impossible to apply in practical situations. I spoke with dozens of farriers over this time who were all interested in my method of correctly balancing the hoof.
In New Orleans for a couple of days break, we saw carriages drawn by mules – horses cant cope with the high humidity, so farriers aren’t in high demand there. We saw the mighty Mississippi, the beautiful homes on St Charles Street, the elegant live oak trees (or evergreen oak) and the above ground crypts in the cemeteries (New Orleans is below sea level).
Back in Los Angeles on business, we were privileged to be invited to stay with Ada Gates, who was the first female farrier in the States in 1976, inspiring other women to follow in her footsteps so that now there are large numbers of female farriers across America. Ada is an effervescent ex-New York socialite who now runs a horseshoeing supply company set up by her late husband, Harry Patton, the dean of farriers on the West Coast and the esteemed Santa Anita paddock farrier.
LA was wonderful. In beautiful sunshine we cruised along Rodeo Drive, walked the length of Santa Monica Boulevard, ogled the houses in Bel Air and tried out the restaurants. We passed a friendly Sheriff on horseback at Pasadena and enjoyed the temperate weather of the West Coast surrounded by the beautiful backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.
It took us 11 ½ hours to fly to LA and 16 ½ hours to fly back. I am still puzzling over that one.