Stuff you don’t know about me!

I grew up at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural College and Experiment Farm, where my father was the deputy principal. Some memorable parts of my youth were hanging around the blacksmith shop where the smith was a lovely old Irishman called Fred Hall. He was a very old school tradesman from the days of wooden ships and iron men! He was a wonderful tradesman who had some colourful sayings with terrific imagery, for example, he would have made a pair or series of objects that wouldn’t have a hammer marks difference in them, he would finish up saying: “There, I don’t think that a blind man galloping past on a horse with a mouthful of boiling soup would notice any difference, do you?”. That was back in the 1950’s and 60’s.

I struggled all through primary and high school and when I left, I was offered an apprenticeship with Alf East, a farrier from Croydon in Melbourne’s Eastern suburbs. Well, my eyes lit up and against any measure of sound judgement, I took up this offer and spent the next five years (the length of the apprenticeship) learning to shoe all manner of horses, from little Shetlands to draught horses. These draught horses were milk delivery horses which were a large component of Alf’s business. In those days horses could still be safely ridden and driven around the streets and on Saturday mornings, the kids and other people would bring their horses to the blacksmith shop to be shod. We would shoe ten to fifteen horses and ponies on some days. They were wonderful times! On one occasion we were working at a point-to-point race meeting and I got talking to another farrier and I asked him how long he had been shoeing for and he replied “Oh, about thirty years.” And I then asked him how long did it take him to learn to shoe and he responded “Oh, about thirty years!” My response when asked those questions now, I answer “Oh, about fifty years!!! How very true this notion is.

After a working holiday in New Zealand for a year, I returned to Sydney and secured a position working for Albert O’Cass, a well-respected farrier with a large clientele based at Randwick Racecourse, where I shod some of the best racehorses in the land. Horses such as: Super Ego, Hard Lad, Gold Brick, Kista, John’s Hope; Sovereign Yacht to name just a few! It was a terrific experience from which I learned a great deal about shoeing and a great deal about hard work as well!
In those days the horses wore steel shoes while in training and on race day they had their shoes taken off and racing plates nailed on and then the reverse procedure after their race, a process called ‘plating up’.  Until the advent of work-n-wear plates, this plating procedure played havoc on their feet. Using these new work plates (aluminium plates with a hardened steel insert in the toe) which the horses wore for their entire campaign, meant a big drop in income but a great improvement in the horses’ feet.  There was lots and lots of work and it was a terrific experience, going to all those big city meetings and working with all the other farriers. There would be up to fifteen or so tradesmen at those meetings attending to their own clients. There was great camaraderie and I learnt a lot from this exposure.

I then spent some time working for myself  at Wyong Racecourse, then back to Wagga Wagga developing my skills. I then took a position as the resident blacksmith at the heritage village ‘Timbertown’ at Wauchope on the mid north coast.
Another really important episode on my learning curve was to attend  a clinic run by a world renowned Scottish farrier called Edward Martin FWCF (external site). This was an invaluable experience.
I next worked with Keith Swan at Ipswich in Qld. Keith was another top farrier and all-round good bloke. Among other things, he was a specialist at applying heart bar shoes to foundered horses for which he claimed a lot of success. It was interesting stuff! Now, all my life I have been plagued by a certain lack of confidence and as a result I tended to avoid attempting this type of work. Having said this, I always tried to do my work to the highest standard that I could, all the while following the ‘KISS’ principle: “Keep It Simple Stupid!” As a result I tended to find that by following sound basic shoeing principles, many problems where one might have used some special shoe or method, one arrived at satisfactory outcome.

Now there is a paradox here: as a result of this self discovery, I found my confidence growing to the extent that I found that I was actually able to do that which I had been avoiding. Well well Sandy, what about that!!!
Never-the-less, there is a lot of esoteric work going on out there and sometimes another old saying can come to mind: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!” Keith Swan had a saying that he said came from Bud Beaston, a well renowned American farrier: “There is no such thing as corrective shoeing; just correct shoeing!”

All this time, from Fred Hall to now, one endeavoured to develop the skills of the trade. Some of the skills have withstood the test of time, some have been amended over time and some that one thought were sound turned out to be downright terrible!  I am still discovering new ways to think about this ancient craft. Letting prejudice slip away and appreciation slip in. There are more things in Heaven and Earth than your philosophy Horatio (Hamlet). One never stops learning!!

When I went back to Wagga Wagga I developed a client base that allowed enough flexibility to consider doing some study. As a result I enrolled at Charles Sturt University to study for a Bachelor of Arts Degree. This was in 1993 and five years or so later I graduated with a BA. With one of my cheeky clients calling me ‘the Professor’!  By then I had a dose of the ‘study bug’, so I enrolled at CSU to do a Graduate Diploma of Education. After all this I was getting some ‘alphabet soup’ after my name: AHC Sutherland NSWMFA, BA(C Sturt), Dip Ed secondary (C Sturt).

By this time, my wrist, my hammering hand, started to give me trouble and over time it became so bad that I had to give shoeing away.

This is why I am not advertising for shoeing now!

While this was a great pity, I was, however able to sustain myself with relief teaching which kept me going for a few years. This relief teaching however, was really only there for the two middle terms of the year which was very frustrating which resulted in me going into semi retirement and looking for a few trims and other work that is easy on my wrist.  So, this brings me up to the present moment, casting my net looking for lovely clients like you!

Being the good reflective soul that I am, I found that in some subtle ways there are aspects of farriery and school teaching that can inform each other in many interesting ways that tended toward beneficial outcomes in my teaching as well as my practice as a farrier.

I have an excellent reputation within the industry and among my peers. My knowledge is considerable and my experience is wide. It has been a wonderful journey to date and I do feel that I still have a great deal to contribute.