Keys to Achieving Farrier Competency

© Doug Butler, Ph.D., CJF, FWCF

Competency is defined by Webster as "being sufficient to answer or fit all requirements." While competency is both perceived and real, it is primarily dependent upon expectancy and training. You expect competent people to have the skill, character, experience and wisdom to use their skills training wisely. When you go to a doctor or other health care practitioner, you expect him or her to be competent. If they aren't - or don't appear to be - you won't go back to them for advice or treatment. The same thing is true for farriers. Your clients expect you to be competent in your work. Here are 4 keys to help you achieve farriery competency:

1. Skill

Skill can only be properly defined and measured when there is a standard by which to measure that skill. A standard is a predetermined level of performance, expectation or outcome based on accepted knowledge or training. A standard doesn't change.

Unfortunately, many people make up their own set of standards to justify the level of skill they personally have attained. Their personal standard may be much weaker or lower than a reasonable, predetermined standard generally accepted by others skilled in the identified task. That doesn't change the true standard.

In evaluating your standards of farriery skill mastery, consider these 3 principles:

1. An assessment of skill mastery should measure the ability to meet a defined industry standard with a specified degree of accuracy and speed. The assessment itself measures the ability to perform the work. A time limit in a skill mastery evaluation measures how accurately and efficiently a skill can be performed at that standard. Ability can be measured without a time limit. Skill cannot.

2. A standard should be something that is defined in a clear and concise manner. The specific parameters of the standard to achieve skill mastery must be written down and accessible to all so an examiner can measure an individual against a well-defined and written standard (not what the examiner feels is their own standard or comparative ability to perform a task). This allows both the examiner and the examinee to measure the work performed against a specific "mark on the wall."

3. Meeting a standard is not an accident. Proper focus and discipline will allow anyone with commitment and personal responsibility to achieve the standard and develop skill mastery. Commit to acquiring and developing skills to the point of mastery. You can be competent to some degree without skill mastery, but a professional shouldn't be satisfied until they can do it right. He or she should be willing to practice until they are confident they can't do it wrong. This doesn't mean you won't make a mistake. It means you won't quit until it's right.

2. Character

Competency equals skill plus character, according to Stephen R. Covey, author of First Things First and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Character is at the core of competency. It implies integrity and the possession and expression of various virtues, especially honesty and goodness. Character, to a large degree, is dictated by self-concept. Self-concept is derived from public perception and private awareness. Often people are consumed with the public's perception of them. When private awareness of their own faults violates the public perception of their virtues, self-concept is deflated because they know who they really are.

General Arthur G. Trudeau once wrote: "Character is something each one of us must build for himself, out of the laws of God and nature, the examples of others, and - most of all - out of the trials and errors of daily life. Character is the total of thousands of small daily strivings to live up to the best that is in us. Character is the final decision to reject whatever is demeaning to oneself and others and with confidence and honesty to choose the right."

Each individual is responsible for the outcome of their own character. Every thought we think, word we speak and act we participate in contributes to our character. What drives you? What is at the core of your character? Do honesty and goodness fill your life and your practice? It has been said many times, "You can't make a good deal with a bad person." Until character is in place, competence will never be claimed.

3. Experience

Experience equals awareness. You must fail in order to progress. As Michael LeBoeff, author of The Perfect Business, states, "Success doesn't teach you anything." Zig Ziglar, author of See You at the Top, says, "The food you live on when you get to the mountain peaks is always grown in the valleys of life." Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, said, "Failure is the true test of greatness." One often thinks of failure as disgrace, when we should think of failure as a vital component of progress. Mistakes should not be rationalized and Farriers also must ensure that they completely understand the basics of farriery before they move on to more advanced procedures in the craft. As individuals learn the craft, they are all at different levels of skills mastery. I have come to know that each individual must recognize what level he or she is at in order to progress. You cannot pretend, for eventually you will be found out. Admission of ignorance is the first step in education. We all believe this in our hearts.

Your success in gaining experience and mastering farriery depends upon your understanding and mastery of certain basic general principles. You must not only know what to do, but why you're doing it. For example, the pianist masters certain principles, learns about music, and practices various exercises until he/she develops skill at the keyboard. Once the pianist has mastered the basics, they can play any piece of music that is placed before him, with some practice and additional learning. Although each individual piece of music is different from any other, there are only 88 keys on the piano, and eight notes on the scale. Even if you are not a pianist, you can quickly learn how to play a chord on the piano. With patience, even a novice can learn how to individually play all of the separate chords that a concert pianist uses. But this alone does not make you a concert pianist. If you tried to give a concert in front of your friends, knowing only how to play the separate chords, your performance would be an absolute disaster. The concert pianist has not only mastered the basics, but has paid the price through countless hours of personal practice to master the complex nature of combining these chords to make beautiful music.

Likewise, a novice farrier can learn the basic principles of horseshoeing without becoming a master of the craft. A novice motivated from within by a desire to learn how the principles relate with one another can excel through countless hours of practice and application. With time and patience, one's accuracy and speed in completing the task will improve and he will attain a higher skill level. The master craftsman, like the concert pianist, has not only mastered the basics, but has paid the price through hours of personal practice by learning the complex nature of combining principles and techniques to achieve the highest skill level.

There is simply no substitute for experience. Reading and studying all the books in the world about a particular subject will never give you the skill that can be learned in a shorter time while actually doing the work. Someone with experience is considerably more productive than an inexperienced person. Everyone makes mistakes, but the experienced person is less likely to make mistakes and cause serious errors. And these people learn the lessons of life from their mistakes. Brian Tracy, author of Maximum Achievement, says, "Common sense is the ability to apply the lessons we learn from our experience."

You can learn many things simply by paying attention to your experiences and seeking to understand them and apply them. Education comes in many forms, but experience is the most valuable. Great educators have always recognized that you learn by doing.

4. Wisdom

Wisdom is the sensible application of knowledge and experience. Wisdom involves knowing when to make decisions and knowing why you made them. Test your assumptions based on your skill and experience as you evaluate treatment possibilities. Clearly define the procedure you will use. Once you arrive at a particular conclusion, you must have the courage to act on what you feel is best. You must be willing to defend your premise on the basis of principles. If the owner suggests a popular or faddish solution that you know violates time-tested principles, you must have the courage and knowledge to explain why such techniques or products aren't practical. Then, use your skill and character to sell and apply what you believe will provide a sensible solution.

Your clients expect you to be competent. You can only express competence with confidence and earn trust when you have skill mastery and a reputation of character. If you do this, I am confident you will fulfill the statement made in 1910 by W. F. Hayden in The Farriers Annual (pg. 40): - "With a thorough knowledge of practical skills and theory [you], as farriers, could defy the world to produce a craft equal in skill, pride, practice and knowledge."

Doug Butler, Ph.D., CJF, FWCF is an internationally known speaker, trainer, author and consultant to the farrier industry. He may be contacted at Butler Publishing, P.O. Box 1390, LaPorte, CO, 80535. (970) 221-2834 or FAX (970) 482-8621

published in ANVIL Magazine, September 1998

Return to the Anvil Magazine Farrier Articles page.