For many kids growing up, their childhood hobby is often soccer, baseball, football or a combination of them all. Others turn to the arts, be it a musical instrument or theatre as their calling.
For Dillon Crane, however, none of those activities quite piqued his interest. Growing up in a Charlotte, N.C., farrier shop run by his father Jeff, Dillon has been riding and shoeing horses since his sixth birthday. As he watched his father run the business and assist numerous farriers in their pursuit of certification, Dillon’s passion grew to continue the family tradition.
So perhaps being one of the youngest ever to receive his American Farrier’s Association certification (CF) at just the age of 14 isn’t as surprising as it seems.
“Dillon’s just been exposed to it,” says Jeff. “By being out here and watching the forging and building of shoe displays, he took some interest and said, ‘Hey, I want to see if I can try that.’ He started making some modifications of his own and began studying for the written certification test, and before we knew it, he was prepared for it.”
Dillon says the family shop gave him an edge as he prepared for the certification since he had the opportunity to hone his skills whenever time permitted.
“My dad would put me on the horses and he’d help me shoe them,” he says. “Then we started doing timed runs, did a lot of practice on my shoe board, studied a lot and went from there.”
The process is divided into three distinct sections. The first step is a written exam, which covers various topics including anatomy, pathology and shoeing in a true-or-false format. In addition, the candidates must replicate 13 different shoe display modifications at home, which are then turned into the judges. Next is the shoe display section, where candidates must explain the benefits and potential downsides of particular modifications, and then reproduce one of the modifications they discussed within 30 minutes at the test site. Rounding out the certification is the shoeing portion, where they have exactly one hour to shoe two feet using keg shoes. Candidates are evaluated not only for the quality of their final product, but for adequate hoof preparation as well.
In short, Dillon managed to pass the certification process that will make his driver’s test look like a cakewalk in a couple of years. Looking back on the test, Dillon says the shoe display section gave him the most trouble, citing the struggle between accounting for strict details and still finishing the replication in time.
“It’s probably the most challenging for me because you’re in the shop working on it pretty much every day, and it’s super hard to do,” he says. “It’s difficult because there’s a lot to it. You have to look at every detail.”
The Start Of A Promising Career
The young Crane has competed across the country, visiting Georgia, North Carolina and Utah. Perhaps his personal highlight came during the World Championship Blacksmiths event in Herriman, Utah, a competition in which he bounced back from a tough start to finish sixth overall out of 32 in the novice class.
Dillon has won numerous awards for his efforts at events; however, he sees himself as not only a competitor, but also a student of the game during competitions. With opportunities to travel come opportunities to meet key players in the industry with priceless insight to offer. Craig Trnka, Roy Bloom, Shayne Carter, Bob Davis, Lamar Weaver and Steve Prescott are just a few on the extensive list of professionals Dillon says have had an impact on his education.
“It’s amazing to meet the people,” Dillon says. “I’ve seen videos of all their work, and I want to get out and work beside them, learning about the shoes, the horses, and just experiencing everything.”
Although he is often the youngest competitor in the field at many events, Dillon says competitors don’t underestimate him because of his age and only give credit where credit is due, regardless of experience. He adds that if you put in the hard work, everyone will cheer you on and give advice.
The Cranes’ involvement in the farrier industry extends beyond just Dillon and Jeff, however. Complimenting the welcoming attitude of the farrier industry as a whole, Jeff says the entire family, including his wife and daughters, enjoy attending events on a regular basis.
“Everyone pitches in, and all they want to do is educate and help you,” Jeff says. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or how old you are. The way they’ve taken my whole family in, there’re no words to describe the atmosphere.”
On the horizon, Dillon is working toward the journeyman test (CJF). Already a one-time participator in the test, Dillon missed the achievement by just a few points in the written and shoeing sections.
Despite his initial shortcomings, Jeff, who received his CJF in 2009, remains confident that Dillon passing it is only a matter of time.
“The written test is 80 questions, and they have to make a bar shoe to fit a pattern in 35 minutes, plus shoe a horse with all handmade shoes in 2 hours,” Jeff says. “It’s a whole new ballgame, but he’s knocking on the door.”