FOR 16 years, we’ve had the pleasure of having farriers from Japan attend the American Farrier’s Association (AFA) conventions. We’ve watched this fun-loving bunch of farriers and other representatives enjoy the contests, lectures and demonstrations while coping with the language barrier.

The AFA has been around for a long time, but is quite young compared to the Japan Farriers Association (JFA). In October they held the 52nd annual National Contest of Farrier and Cow Claw Trimming; the farrier winner comes to the U.S. to compete. Private farriers can also come, but they must pay their own expenses.

The popular JFA Cow Claw Trimming contest also has lecture demonstrations and is held several miles from the Horseshoeing Education Center of Utsunomiya. Cattle trimming is a major part of the JFA, and 1,500 JFA trimmers work on some 4.7 million cows. That’s 3,133 cows per farrier! When both contests are over, everyone gathers for an awards ceremony and party.

Horseshoeing history in Japan goes back a long way. In 1873, the army controlled farrier education, then in 1940 the government started a license system that lasted for 30 years. The JFA was established in 1949 and took over licensing in 1970. For 30 years, Japanese farriers have needed a certification to work at racecourses and training centers.

The Japan Racing Association (JRA) with its 500 farriers is a subsidiary of the government. It oversees most horse operations, 10 racecourses and two training facilities. The National Racing Association (NRA) has 30 racecourses, but represents a much smaller farrier membership.

The JRA has facilities to raise and train racehorses with their own staff. They promote racing and offer race-ready horses for sale, so it’s very easy to get into the racing business. There are 39 JRA farriers on the racecourse staff, while about 110 JRA farriers tend to private horses at JRA tracks.

The handle taken in from Japanese racing is the largest in the world: about 4 trillion yen (roughly $38 billion U.S.) by the JRA and 4 billion yen (roughly $38 million U.S.) by the NRA. Many JRA tracks have 4,500-stall facilities.

The JFA is supported with a $223 million budget from the JRA. This affords the most awesome horseshoeing education I have ever seen! Sixteen students attend school for 1 year with the help of a large educational staff of five instructors, three veterinarian teachers and four dormitory staff. They even polish the anvils at the Horseshoeing Education Center in the evenings!

The JFA management includes President Ryo-ichi Segawa, Vice President Takio Yamakami, Executive President Dr. Takamsa Tsutsumy, Counselor Hideharu Miyaki, General Manager Kiyomi Kawaugchi and Chief of Research/staff veterinarian Dr. Osamu Aoki.

The JFA spends 950,000 yen (about $9,000 U.S.) per student per year, so only the most promising candidates are selected. After schooling, they must pass the level I examination. After 5 years they must pass the level II exam, and 10 years after that they have to pass the instructor exam (the highest level).

So are there horses in Japan? Absolutely! There are about 130,000 of them: light horses (including racehorses) comprising about half of all horses in Japan; heavy pulling horses; meat horses (about 30 percent); pleasure horses for sport, Western riding and dressage and an old Japanese breed. There are five horseshoe manufacturers in Japan as well.

Everything I have seen there is highly organized, with integrity and a format we could take some lessons from.