Handmade Shoes (UK) Ltd Autumn Clinic
Continuing with the exceptionally high standard of clinicians presenting, the second Handmade Shoes (UK) Ltd Clinic of 2009 welcomed Jim Blurton AWCF and Grant Moon AWCF. Prominent and highly respected figures within the farriery industry both gentleman hardly need any introduction. Grant Moon is no less than six times holder of the prestigious title of World Champion Blacksmith and, as a representative of Mustad the world’s largest farrier supply manufacturer, delivers clinics across the world. Jim Blurton, also a winner of the World Championships, is head of multi-farrier practise Forden Farriers in addition to successfully manufacturing his own range of tools and specialist shoes. Alongside clinic host, Billy Crothers, Grant and Jim are members of the highly successful Welsh International Farrier Team.
Following a welcome from Billy and Lucy the morning kicked off with a ‘Parkinson’ style interview – with Grant and Jim so well known for their farriery careers it was time to ask the more personal questions; an insight into their lives ‘behind the scenes’.
Jim is a private man and has always kept his personal life separate from his profession. A farriery business is generally a fairly small team and Jim believes it is extremely important to create a formal boundary between work and home - no members of staff have ever entered his house. Whilst he admits over the years he has become close to and fond of many employees and recognises that it would be enjoyable to socialise with them he prefers to keep a distance between employer and employee.
At the age of 52 Jim would like to make more room for social engagements and enjoying pastimes such as shooting fishing and walking. With both the shoeing and manufacturing businesses established financially there is now an opportunity for Jim to enjoy time away from work but that is not to say he will be taking his finger off the pulse! Similar to many successful business men Jim finds it hard to delegate. He recognises that, as a figurehead of Forden Farriers, it is imperative to be in touch with it – the horseshoeing business is a service product customers associate a face with. Jim believes you cannot have a horseshoeing business without being involved and he certainly doesn’t want to retire at the moment!
Jim cites his Father as being a great influence in addition to Richard Downs Evans (a former member of the Welsh International Team) and Billy and Grant. He acknowledges that there have been many good influences in his career so far but has also learnt from others how not to do things! His proudest achievement personally was winning the World Championships however the results achieved with the recent graduation of apprentices has also been a welcome and particularly special result – last year Jim had two apprentices quality with honours and one with distinction.
Grant Moon is perhaps the most famous farrier in the world – he has shod horses in no less than 36 different countries. Grant’s career began alongside Billy at college and Billy cites Grant as being responsible for enticing and inspiring him to compete.
Following his apprenticeship Grant embarked on travelling, a journey that was to lead him to become settled in Texas for some time – Grant found that the trend for big hats and big belts suited him! Texas was Grant’s first experience of the effect climate has on hooves and soon learnt to shoe horses quite differently from the wetter environment found at home in Wales. Grant quickly established a shoeing round in Texas and experience in these early years has proven invaluable since.
Grant is a formidable competitor in farriery competitions but, at the age of 47, still considers himself a “work in progress”. His drive and commitment to achieving success is quite remarkable especially when coupled with the level of humility displayed; Grant does not need to shoe horses for a living as he is actively involved in the hotel industry. His passion for the farriery industry is personal and believes that the farrier is one of the most important parts of the equestrian industry but is so undervalued.
Whilst horse shoeing and the hotel business are so different in many ways, Grant recognises the two are also very similar – what he learns in one industry can easily be transferred to the other; they are both service industries. The quality of the product coupled with value for money underpins his belief in both. Following a family interest in hotels Grant remains actively involved in the hotel industry helping also to create an ‘exit strategy’ and his desire to not be an ‘old farrier’.
Grant regards himself as fortunate to have had so many great mentors naming Tom Williams and Edward Martin as just two examples. Similar to Jim, Grant appreciates the camaraderie gained from being a member of the Welsh farriery team. The World Championships are an obvious ‘proud moment’ but cites his ability to continue to compete at this level during this later stage of his career also particularly important to him.
Jim Blurton - Running a Multi-Farrier Practise
School was “not for” Jim and leaving with just three O’levels had little direction with his career and so began helping his father shoeing horses. Jim has been actively involved in Pony Club and had hunted and quickly began to enjoy helping his father on his shoeing round. To encourage Jim to have “another string to his bow” he began the apprenticeship at Hereford College which historically included increased blacksmithing and agricultural engineering components in addition to farriery skills – his father was mindful that you should be able to have other skills should an accident or such mean that you could no longer shoe horses on a daily basis. Jim acknowledges he was probably the worst apprentice anyone could have had and clashed with his father regularly - Jim had ambitions for the business and could see potential within horseshoeing to make a better living for himself, his father had experienced particularly hard times (during the war) and was happy to “get by”.
The village of Forden had a blacksmith shop and Richard Downs Evans was employed as a farrier up until he was injured and unable to shoe horses. John Mead, current owner of the shop, approached Jim and asked if he would be willing to work for him; Jim was the nearest farrier to the forge. After a little haggling from Jim, the forge was purchased and what was seen by Jim as a “lucky break in his career” became the start of a much larger operation.
Jim felt that shoemaking was perhaps a weaker side of his abilities and asked Richard Downs Evans for his assistance as he was still able to forge shoes to an unbelievably high standard with an “exceptionally good eye for balance and symmetry”. From 5.30am to 8.30am every morning Richard worked with Jim in the forge making shoes every morning – over time Jim was able to make 2 ½ sets per hour however Richard could still make 3! It was Richard who was responsible for introducing Jim to farriery competitions.
After a few years Jim took on his first apprentice and once he qualified he took on another. The business continued to grow for about 10 years until it seemed to “plateau”. Jim could see that the demand in the industry was changing – customers didn’t want apprentices – and therefore began to develop a system of employing qualified farriers so that an apprentice was always with a qualified farrier.
Currently the team at Forden Farriers consists of five qualified farriers with five apprentices and they have five vans on the road. The hands-on tuition from the constant presence of a qualified farrier is beneficial for an apprentice, resulting in better apprentices – the level of training received provides them with invaluable experience. All of the team are encouraged to compete and gain a competitive spirit at competitions and within the team, the result being that standards are continually being raised. Jim cites it as a personal crusade to elevate and increase the standard of farriery – training better farriers in that hope that one day should they become trainers themselves they too will train better farriers.
Apprentices are employed by Jim once they qualify – whilst there is always a desire to set up their own shoeing round they are encouraged to stay with a fair salary that acknowledges their skills and abilities. The longest serving qualified farrier within the business is Elgan Harries who has been with Jim for 14 years and has recently been made a partner and now takes responsibility for client bookings. Employees are selected carefully; if a qualified farrier leaves and established his or her own business within the same area there is always the risk that they will take some clients.
Martin Gould is employed as a General Manager who carries out the administration for not only the shoeing business but the tool and bar shoe manufacturing businesses too. The office runs a comprehensive system to cater for the needs of all customers – clients to the farrier business may call throughout the working day from 7am to 7pm and details (when, where, who and what) are recorded on a job card. These customers calls are returned within 24 hours. 60% of customers are now on repeat bookings – this allows for better utilisation of staff, planning more direct routes, decreased administration and customer piece of mind. Efficiency is highlighted as an extremely important consideration in business and there is no doubt that the operation of Forden Farriers has been considered carefully. Forden Farriers covers four counties however a client with a lame horse or a lost shoe rarely needs to wait more than 24 hours before they are visited.
200 to 250 horses a week are visited with a total of 547 clients – there is no doubt that the needs of these customers have not been underestimated. Jim pays a great deal of attention to the service delivered; politeness, punctuality, quality of work and general professionalism executed by all staff. Listening to customers is highlighted as being important; customers can be lost by not giving them what they want. Timing is incredibly important, with mobile phones there is no excuse to not call or contact a customer if you are running late or have been held up. The business is largely self-marketed, the concept of “selling an image” was discussed - vehicles and employees are all presentable and tidy, there is no hierarchy within the business in terms of age and quality of vehicle - for example for an employer to have a better vehicle than an employee would indicate to the customer that they were getting a “second rate service”. After taking on a new yard Jim will find time to speak to the yard’s owner or manager to ensure that they are happy with the service they are receiving and, if possible, makes changes or amendments to ensure that their requirements are being met.
A flat rate is charged throughout the business which he believes probably undervalues the best farriers within the business and over values the less capable. In a sole trader business Jim feels that every single job needs to pay whilst as a multi-farrier practise he would not want to alienate customers through price. If he were to increase the charges of Forden Farriers Jim believes it would fragment the business and would results in customers being further apart and therefore increasing travelling time and decreasing efficiency. £65 to £75 was quoted as a “sensible” price whilst acknowledging geographical variations will exist.
Jim’s talk was completed with a few thoughts for the future – according to the FTA there are currently 2656 qualified farriers in the country with 449 apprentices. 100 – 120 qualify each year, with the average age of the farrier becoming younger, and yet we are told that this figure has remained fairly static for the last six years. Many farriers are reporting that it is harder to get work with some areas perhaps becoming “saturated”. Jim believes that perhaps the distribution of farriers throughout the UK is wrong. His underlying feeling was that you should “ keep doing what you are doing; reasonably priced and well-serviced”, whilst sounding very simple in concept throughout the talk it was obvious that Forden Farriers is managed in a particularly efficient and professional manner and certainly provided plenty of food for thought!
Jim does not currently shoe on a Friday but instead this day is dedicated to checking the manufacturing processes and quality control on the tools. Whilst acknowledging the shoeing business is a more personal one, the manufacturing businesses are more of a ‘managed’ business – a business that now established can be overseen and requires a smaller input from Jim. Jim acknowledges the tool and specialist shoes manufacturing will provide him with a better ‘exit strategy’ in the future as these businesses have a more saleable quality.
Grant Moon – Horseshoeing Philosophy
The second half of the morning gave way to Grant presenting his opinion on “horseshoeing philosophy” – he reiterated that it was “his opinion and just one opinion”. A highly motivated individual, he has a passion for learning and new information, making a decision to suit you and building upon it.
Throughout his career he has had shod many different types of horses in different climates, he took what he had learnt in the UK and built upon those foundations. Accuracy became apparent very quickly through experience of trimming and shoeing long-footed Arabians – the shoe weight and length of the toe was of such importance that a competitor would be disqualified should the measurements be inaccurate. To cover himself Grant’s customer, the trainer, would be asked to witness the weighing of shoes prior to nailing on. Citing just “two types of feet, front and hinds” Grant reaffirmed his belief in simple shoeing methods. He doesn’t believe in fads and fashions.
Grant suggested a typical farriery business as having the largest proportion of its horses as sound, a smaller proportion as exhibiting a shortening of stride, a smaller proportion with intermittent lameness and the smallest proportion being chronically lame. Grant reiterated the importance of talking to the client; if a horse has begun refusing jumps, not flexing to the left and so on these points should be taken on board. Degenerative diseases such as sidebone and ringbone are all stresses on bone. Beginning as an irritation and developing to inflammation and later bony changes the earlier that these problems are detected the better the chance that you will have of working with it; communication is key. Action at the ‘irritation’ stage may mean that there is still a chance to fix it, being proactive and yet still maximising performance.
Evaluation is key – you can buy the best tools but it doesn’t mean you are going to use them well, “the best tool is the skill to evaluate”. Walk all horses on soft and hard ground before starting. An unsupportive soft surface may show a very different picture from movement on a hard surface. Horses are dynamic animals and therefore you should also watch them being ridden – Grant believes too much assessment is done whilst the horse is static. Posture is also incredibly important to note – is the handler allowing the horse to hold its head to one side whilst you are assessing foot balance or is the horses head central? Posture relates to performance, whilst a horses conformation cannot be changes its posture can be.
Grant believes greater emphasis should be placed on hoof ground reaction forces. A horse assessed to have base narrow conformation may indeed have “base narrow compensation”. Changes can be made positively and negatively. A farrier will have a good idea of how the horse is going to ride by assessing its posture – posture of a horse is of particular interest to Grant.
There are a number of ways in which hoof distortion is seen – flares, under run heels, prolapsed frog, prolapsed sole, distortion of coronary band, distortion of the white line, quarter cracks and broken bars to name a few and it is usual to see distortions in combinations. The foot is connected; pressure in one area will lead to alteration in another and therefore changes in the foot should be examined for and may occur due to neglect, conformation or farrier error. Feet must carry weight evenly or they will distort; symmetrical structures lead to equal weight bearing. Shoulder and pastern angle should be equal, the leg vertical. Phases of stride include: impact – high concussion, over in seconds, the heels should be trimmed properly; weight-bearing – phase of support and weight central; and break over – a mechanical process, the foot should not have too much in front or behind point of articulation. The centre of articulation should ideally have 50% of the foot in front and 50% behind. The end of the heel should be central to the centre of the digital cushion – the area where maximum concussion may be absorbed and lessen the interference with bony structures. Distortion does not have to be corrected in one shoeing, it may be a gradual process that occurs over a few appointments. Careful consideration should be given to the sport the horse is active in (controlled or fast) and of course the surface the horse is worked on (supportive or non-supportive), rider experience should also be carefully considered.
The Don Birdsall Coronary Band Graphing technique was explained in some detail – hoof distortions may be more easily recognised using this technique and it provides a very useful tool when utilised during an explanation to a veterinary surgeon and/or owner. Working with your client at each stage will undoubtedly result in a better outcome in the end.
Following lunch, a chance to catch up with old friends and view the new and existing products within the Handmade Shoes range, attendees were treated to a practical second half of the day incorporating a shoeing and shoemaking demonstration by Grant and Jim.
The shoemaking demonstrations included a pair of concave shoes made by Jim and an egg bar, heart bar and straight bar made by Grant. Both clinicians displayed a remarkable system for making shoes, knowing at each stage, within each heat, what needs to be achieved. Both depicted the same systematic approach; toe bend, outside branch, inside branch.
Jim advises allowing time to make the toe-bend and forging the heel to the shape of the foot you are shoeing, always ensuring that you are keeping symmetry in the shoe. Working quickly and efficiently Jim noted that when making pairs you need to put the shoe across the anvil at the same point to achieve perfect matches. Concave should not be overworked. Jim cited stamps as displacing material and pritchels removing it, avoiding “bullet holes” – shoes should be a ‘dull red’ during stamping as stamps are generally more efficient in a cooler piece of steel. Slight back pritchelling of nail holes was carried out to tidy them up, it was also noted that this may help prevent ‘shearing’ of the nail during the shoeing cycle and avoiding unnecessary ‘lost’ shoes.
Grant allowed just one additional heat in the making of his shoes to compensate for the weld of the bar, he classified this as a good “working weld” however in competitions a further heat is likely. Using 7/8” by 3/8” steel he calculated the length required by measuring a hind foot to a “working fit” at 5 ½” by 5 ¾” to give 11 ¼”, allowing 1 ½” for a normal hind to give 12 ¾” plus the width of the heels plus an inch for the weld to give an overall length of steel of 16 ¼”. Grant said that you should not be afraid of forging a front bar shoe into a hind bar shoe and vice versa as and when necessary.
A final shoemaking demonstration by Jim depicting the fitting of his own range of barshoes – this particular example included the raised heel bar shoe with a 5 degree graduated wedge and was carried out on a pony with tendon problems. This shoe design includes a set down bar and frog pressure needs to be alleviated so the packing of the foot is recommend with a softer product, in this case Vettec Equi-Pak. The frog is a weight bearing surface and therefore it needs to be encouraged to act as it was intended to, as a pump. During fitting the symmetry was maintained in the heel of the shoe, re-confirming that during forging you need to carry out on one side exactly what was carried out on the other. The Jim Blurton range of Barshoes are designed for the ‘MX’ range of nails however ‘Slims’ also fit well. The graduation of this particular design transfers weight off the heels through the frog to encourage the heels to get stronger and higher. Grant personally believes you can load the frog with a lot of pressure.
The shoeing demonstration began with Grant making an accurate analysis of the foot and limb and watching the horse move. Lines on the foot were made to note the centre of articulation and the ‘corners’ of the foot; where toe became the branch of the shoe and so on. The horse to be shod was a polo pony and therefore it was noted that excessive shoe length would be inappropriate (similar to the specifications at Calgary where the shoe is not permitted to finish more than 10mm beyond the point of the heel). Following Grant’s verbal analysis Jim trimmed the foot.
Grant forged a pair of ¾ fullered front shoes for the pony, following the same systematic shoemaking method –allowing just three heats per shoe. Grant doesn’t tend to use dividers if only to check himself.
During fitting it was noted by Jim that he advises apprentices (and often practises this himself!) to go to the horse when the first branch and first three nails holes have been forged, particularly during their examinations. This allows the farrier to check that the shoe is forming into the correct shape, if it isn’t there is more time at this point of a class/examination to re-start and ensure that the fit and shape is correct. The shoes were nailed on with the nails driven one third of the way up the foot with a slight inclination toward the toe.
The day was complete with a rapturous applause from all who had attended and positive comments regarding the quality and quantity of information supplied by the two clinicians have already been received. Jim and Grant, whilst different in many ways, are both highly motivated professionals working in an industry they obviously feel very passionate about. An inspiring clinic delivering a wealth of ‘take home’ information from two industry figures you cannot fail to admire and respect.