© Diana Mead Jordan
published in ANVIL Magazine, September 1996
Shoe for the next shoeing - for the horse and for the farrier. Think about it. Will both last? Will the horse get through the six or eight weeks sound? with all four shoes on tight? in as good or better shape than the last time? Will the farrier still be standing in six to eight weeks? Can he/she still bend over? with no back pain?
Here is the thrust behind Mitch Taylor's Kentucky Horseshoeing School. This approach has grown out of Mitch's own rich and varied experience. Born to a ranching family, he began his livestock experience in his childhood on working ranches in Colorado and Montana. After high school, in 1975 he attended horseshoeing school in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In addition, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in biology and chemistry. From there he had the good fortune to apprentice with farrier Robert Lewis, working in many of the big show barns in Southern California.
As time went on, bad fortune struck Mitch with serious back problems, which led to surgery. During his healing period, he decided to go to graduate school at the University of Kentucky in 1985. While pursuing his graduate degree, Mitch had the good fortune to work independently with Dr. James Rooney, director of the Gluck Center of Equine Studies, on his research in equine biomechanics, work that inspired Mitch to make research a high priority in his career as a farrier.
Eventually, Mitch began shoeing horses again. He built up a business with race horses. Shoeing full time in the Kentucky Thoroughbred market brought new light to Mitch's experience and techniques. He feels that going from hot shoeing performance horses to the primarily cold work of a race plater helped to round out his professional experience. Among other things, he gained respect for the stall jack.
Bad fortune fell again to Mitch, as another disk in his back prolapsed. He was bedridden for months, electing to not have a second surgery. This gave him lots of time to think about his growing family and his future. During convalescence, good fortune struck again for Mitch, when an article about the Spine Care Institute in Daly City, California, found its way into his hands. The doctors at the institute had found ways for patients to not only avoid back surgery, but also to stabilize the spine so that it could heal itself. Mitch traveled there to learn techniques to mentally deal with pain, to strengthen the muscle groups directly related to the spine, and to actually influence involuntary muscles in his body. As one can imagine, this was a life-changing experience for him. He took control of his own well-being, and he got back on his feet.
It was at that point that Mitch made some decisions to find ways to draw on his wealth of experience, both as a practicing farrier and as a student in academics - to provide for his family, to make the best of his own talent and to help the industry, all at once. "This trade is what I love," he reflects. "I needed a way to stay active in it, yet remain healthy."
Mitch purchased the ongoing Kentucky Horseshoeing School in 1989 and began to build it up in both physical facilities and reputation. With his own determination and perspective, Mitch offers a positive atmosphere where students can develop confidence in themselves and their skills. He approaches each student as a human being, providing his own constructive influence on them. "It has taken a few years for us to reach the point where the school and our staff actually do make a difference for the students. For some students, their experience at the school is a real turning point in their lives.
"From my perspective, our purpose is to be happy," Mitch reflects. "That requires a balance in our lives, keeping everything in check - time, money, family, work ethics. I do my best to live that and teach it, too. As the country western band, Highway 101, sings, "We are what we do, and if we don't, then we ain't."
Today, Kentucky Horseshoeing School is attracting high-caliber people, averaging 30 years old. One resource for new students is the Internet, which has been quite successful. Mitch maintains a web site for the school through The Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center on the World Wide Web, at www.horseshoes.com.
The school provides an optimum learning environment in its 10,000 square-foot building, complete with classrooms, video library and three shoeing and forge areas. There are sufficient forge stations to allow each student to be assigned his/her own, thus maximizing safety, efficiency and hands-on experience.
The class work is demanding, with concentration on basics. "My first priority is to make sure our students are well grounded in the fundamentals of the trade. That includes an understanding of the theory - equine anatomy, physiology and biomechanics - and a good working knowledge of the skills. If the fundamentals are there, we can get through," Mitch says. "We teach the student to think his way through each project, and we want him to continue to teach himself."
Mitch explains that "there are two aspects of farriery that are very difficult to learn by oneself: (1) anatomy and (2) how to build shoes." He provides time for his students to explore and practice in these areas.
In anatomy, he includes equine physiology and biomechanics, emphasizing foot dynamics - how the foot responds to load. To complement these lessons, students learn how to read the foot. "If we understand why horses are sound, we can keep them sound. We emphasize maintaining soundness rather than fixing lame horses. In addition, we do cover special lameness situations and how to help the horse toward soundness."
The curriculum draws on current research of Dr. Rooney, Tracy Turner, Hilary Clayton and others. In addition, the school hosts guest lecturers, such as Dan Bradley, Steve Norman and David Nadeau. And Mitch selects case studies with live horses so that he and his staff can train the student's eye and mind to observe and think through the shoeing with the long term in mind.
"The horse should be functional, well shod, well protected and well supported, thus providing not just a pretty job which may be accompanied with problems, but happy feet. Fundamentals require proper timing, proper shoeing and proper riding. Because the hoof capsule is constantly growing, it is elastic and dynamic, and changes according to how it bears weight; happy feet will not change shape, but will continue to grow in the best possible way to provide support for the horse."
To convey this information to his students, Mitch first presents a complete picture of the healthy foot in order to provide them with a point of reference. "Once we can read a normal, healthy foot, then we can learn to read the pathological foot. In the case of an unhealthy shape, we can make the best of it, and over several months make it more symmetrical and balanced." As a valuable exercise, Mitch teaches the students to draw the bottom of the foot on grid paper. The foot is measured, drawn on paper, and the shoe is shaped and compared against the drawing. It is only then that the shoe and the foot can be compared.
Building shoes takes great practice, and it helps immeasurably to work with experts. Mitch reflects on his own experience and credits Roy Bloom, Dave Ferguson, Bob Marshall, Grant Moon and other excellent farriers with his own progress. "Those who do well in forging and shoeing contests - we all do it the same way - efficiently,- Mitch remarked. "That should be the goal of every farrier."
"While we do emphasize basic shoe building, we also practice making specialized shoes, including those required to pass the AFA tests. The student must learn to control the hammer and the steel. Without that, the horses will suffer in the long run," Mitch points out.
"The ability to continue one's own education is paramount to succeeding in farriery," Mitch reflects. "There are many horseshoers who have one year of experience, 20 times over. By that I mean that some people struggle year after year with fundamental shoeing principles and techniques. After 20 years, I want my students to have 20 years of experience, building their knowledge as they go."
To enhance the students' ability to continue building on their knowledge, the school's shop and forge area, along with a video library, are open to students seven days a week. In addition, Mitch has them practice teach each other. At Kentucky Horseshoeing School classes start every six weeks, so there are two classes of students at the school at one time. After students have been at the school for three or four weeks, Mitch teams them up with the more advanced students - one on one - to work on forging assignments. The advanced student must take responsibility for teaching the less experienced student, and at the same time can confirm his/her own learning. Many students are intimidated by instructors who make the task look so easy, according to Mitch, who finds that his teamwork approach helps build confidence in the students in a friendly atmosphere where both the new and advanced students are learning.
Along with great emphasis on horseshoeing, Mitch provides lessons in horse handling, tool maintenance, business skills and personal health. He encourages his students to take care of themselves and their families, as well as their profession. In addition, he helps the graduates find situations where they can apprentice with experienced farriers, and he provides follow-up support when needed. This combination is proving successful, as most students go on to remain in the trade.
As an outgrowth of his work in his own school, Mitch serves as president of the Registry for Professional Farrier Education - another way in which he gives back to the industry. In that role, he visits with other farrier school directors to exchange ideas and experiences.
For more information on the Kentucky Horseshoeing School, write to Mitch Taylor at P.O. Box 120, Mt. Eden, KY 40046; phone 502/738-5257 or E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also click on the Navigation Wizard and link to Farrier Schools through The Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center.
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