"The Internet - Quite a Tool"

© Andrew Bowman

published in ANVIL Magazine, June, 1998

At first sight, it seems a long way between farriery and blacksmithing and the Internet. I guess I wasn't thinking too straight when I decided to throw the Internet a question that I was sure it couldn't answer. The question in the general search was 'farriery'. As I finished typing it in on the computer, I said to myself: That will be the one that defeats it. I had been working on developing teaching materials for delivery via the Internet, so I had become a frequent Internet user. I was amazed by the amount of information that was available. However, I felt this one question which related to another part of my life might just defeat it. For twenty years I have been shoeing horses in an amateur way, in between raising a family. For a long time, I had nursed a desire to do a farriery course in America. In the early eighties, a friend of mine had gone to Oklahoma to take a course at Bud Beaston's Oklahoma Farriers College in Sperry, Oklahoma. The trip had set him on a new career path and given him friendships and memories that had endured.

My family was growing up and I felt it was about time to allow my desire to go to the States and enroll in a shoeing course to take root and bear some fruit. The farriery schools in the United States have been an important source of training for many Australian farriers, even though Australia has a long tradition of farriery and blacksmithing of its own. Through Australians studying farriery in America, many good aspects of American practice have been taken up and incorporated by Australian farriers.

The question was where would I go; where could I go? I was acquainted with a number of shoeing schools in the States, and knew people who had gone to them and had had good experiences. But I wondered whether these schools were the sum of the available schools in America or just part of a broader range. My query to the Internet was, in part, motivated by a desire to find out more about these options.

To my surprise, the search engine came back with a response -- it provided me with the sites of a number of private individuals who had their own Web sites, as well as leading me to The Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center. This was the beginning of my journey. I began to explore the site and became a regular visitor. I began to check out many of the links on the site. As a visitor to this site from Australia, I began to develop a sense of the States. This, I later discovered, bore little relationship to reality, but was a cyber-version of reality. My explorations of the site made me appreciate that there is a lively community of farriers in the United States who are committed to shoeing excellence and the development and refinement of the craft and science of farriery.

On the main menu of The Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center was a link to farrier schools. I checked them out and considered the offerings of each one. It was like having a pile of brochures to leaf through! The Internet has the added advantage of e-mail, so I was able to write and ask questions and confirm impressions. I wrote to Max Williams, the proprietor of Shur Shod Horseshoeing School, and wrote and e-mailed Baron Tayler, the manager of the The Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center Web site. He told me that Max was a great guy.

Since I was committed to using the Internet as my means of finding a farrier course, I decided it could be used to arrange my travel, as well. I found the timetables for United Airlines and Amtrak on the "net" and was able to plan my itinerary using these sites. I had to eventually move from cyberspace into the real world and commit myself to some actual travel. The plane trip had, like all international plane trips, a sense of unreality. But a day in Los Angeles feeling jet lagged gave me a sense that reality was engulfing me. The train trip on the South West Chief gave me a good introduction to the realities of Midwestern hospitality; I visited with a number of people who shared parts of their life stories with me. I arrived in Dodge City, Kansas, in the middle of the night, and was met at the rail depot by Max Williams.

This kindness was consistent with the quality of the experience I had in Kansas. When people get a chance to have a break from work, they will often seek a holiday where they can sit around all day. For me, this was the perfect holiday -- getting up in the morning lighting the forge, making horseshoes, and learning the intricacies of one of the most complex and stimulating of crafts. I had twenty years of questions to ask, and Max had more than enough patience and time to deal with them. He runs a course with four students per session. This incredibly favorable student/teacher ratio means the student can get maximum instructor supervision. Through the World Wide Web, I was fortunate to meet an inspirational teacher and to enjoy the hospitality of America's Midwest.

The Internet is another communications tool which is going to make the global village even smaller. It gives us the means of conversing with fellow horseshoeing professionals, clients, and friends all over the world. It is a powerful communication tool. Cyberspace does not hold many attractions for me as a place where I want to spend a lot of my time just for the experience. My journeys in cyberspace to The Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center, to the Anvil Magazine pages, and to Shur Shod Horseshoeing School in Cimmaron, Kansas, have made my horseshoeing life much richer. Through that magic mirror of the computer screen, I went on to the wonder land of America and was able to satisfy a dream I had held for more than twenty years. Serendipity, we are told, was a mythically happy place somewhere in the mystic east: for me, it was a place in cyberspace and in Cimmaron, Kansas, at Max William's Shur Shod Shoeing School. My experience demonstrates that by getting online, we can allow ourselves to connect in meaningful ways which will enable us to introduce our business to the wider world and to allow people from very diverse places to come together to learn and appreciate each other's skills and experiences. Despite my initial feeling, farriery and cyberspace fit well together.

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