When it comes to farriery, one of the most recognized symbols of the craft is perhaps the iconic horseshoe. A product that is strong and dependent while withstanding the test of time is the ideal representation of the industry as well as those involved in it. But a key difference in this comparison might be in how much the two have evolved.

Tom McNew of Gadsden, Ala. points out in a recent episode of Absolutely Alabama on WBRC-TV that while the horseshoe has for the most part stayed the same, the farrier industry has undergone some remarkable progress.

Tom and Lane McNew own and operate Lookout Mountain School of Horseshoeing in Gadsden. The school has offered classes on farriery since 1987 and has welcomed students from all over the world, including Ireland, Scotland and Germany. As a farrier for more than half a century, Tom’s knowledge of the industry has helped numerous beginners develop important skills and go on to become successful in their practice. Through decades of teaching, he has seen significant change in his line of work.

“We’re getting a lot of ladies that do better with their hands than a man does,” says Tom.

Tom says another recent change is that the quality of factory-made shoes has started to exceed what is crafted at the forge. Although it’s now typical for many people to buy their horseshoes from a larger company, it is still a priority for the students of Lookout Mountain to learn how to shoe the old-fashioned way.

“You’re going to have to make specialty shoes all your life,” Lane adds. Even though the methods of production have shifted, it’s important to the McNew family that students retain the valuable skill of being able to make custom products.

Lookout Mountain is a school that recognizes the advancements of the business while at the same time appreciating the value involved in expanding knowledge of different methods. Other notable changes in farriery over the years include access to quality coal, hot vs. cold shoeing and the portable gas forge. You can read more about these innovations here.