Four Americans recently became Associates of the Worshipful Company of Farriers (AWCF), including the first U.S. female to earn this honor. Chris Diehl of Spring Grove, Pa.; Nick Hess of Lexington, Ky.; John Schmidt of Shelbyville, Tenn.; and Nichole Smith of Wichita Falls, Texas, achieved the second highest ranking in the historic British association following a 2-day examination at the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in late October.
With its origins dating back to 1356, the Worshipful Company of Farriers (WCF) is regarded by many as holding the highest standards in farrier examinations.
To take the associate test, a U.S.-based candidate must first be an American Farrier’s Association certified journeyman farrier for a minimum 2 years and be a member in good standing with the association. This and payment of about $530 earns a reciprocity exchange for a diploma in the WCF, the first standardized title of the company. The two-day AWCF examination, if held in the U.S., costs $1,600.
The exam has two modules. The first is the practical module, which tests farriers on an exhibition of shoemaking, a live shoeing and a discussion of farriery. The second part is the theory module, which consists of a written paper in which farriers answer five questions on anatomy, physiology and function and farrier theory. For candidates who pass one module, the failed part can be retaken independently. For this examination, Jim Ferrie and Simon Curtis served as the examiners (the senior examiner and farrier examiner, respectively) and Susan Taylor was the presiding veterinarian. Captain David Goodall was the registrar for the event.
A fulltime farrier since his 2006 graduation from Danny Ward Horseshoeing School, Diehl began working as an apprentice at the age of 12. In addition to his CJF, he holds a forging endorsement from the AFA. His practice covers Pennsylvania and Maryland, working with a variety of disciplines and breeds.
He says the AWCF experience required the most in-depth studying than he's ever done before.
"The syllabus is so detailed-oriented, yet vague at the same time," says Diehl. “So you don’t know what to exactly study for, so you study for everything."
To manage this daunting challenge, for a full year he committed himself to 1 hour of study during the middle of the day in between stops and 1 hour of forging practice every night in his home shop. He recommends building in study time during the day because it allows for a fresher mind to tackle the work than what you may experience at night.
Passing the test requires an analytic mind with attention to detail. Diehl says the oral exam can recap answers you provide in the written exam. The examiners may ask detailed questions, ensuring he was knowledgeable in the material covered. If you exclude the detail in your written examination, Diehl says the examiners may pursue that answer to greater detail in your oral exam.
Should you take the exam, Diehl advises being direct and keeping your answer specific to the question asked. There is a danger of elaborating beyond the answer required and delivering additional, yet incorrect information to the examiners. "Trying to prove how smart you are can end up hurting you," he notes.
Diehl adds that despite its reputation as a difficult exam, the AWCF isn’t impossible for those willing to put in the work.
“Any farrier who is 10 to 15 years in and who works in therapeutic cases has no reason whatsoever to not pass this exam,” he says. “It is the greatest farrier exam I’ve ever taken.”
Following his graduation from the Kentucky Horseshoeing School in 2010, Hess stayed at the school for 2 more years as an instructor. His practice is around the Lexington, Ky., area, primarily focusing on hunters and jumpers.
Hess says the beauty of the AWCF examination is in its comprehensive approach. To pass, you have to be well-versed in every footcare topic.
“You don’t have to possess the same level of understanding laminitis like Chris Pollitt to answer their question," he says. "But you have to be prepared for any question as it relates to the horse. You need to have a solid background and discuss the subject in depth."
Hess spent most of his time in preparation for the practical module with his forge work. For the theory side, he found it helpful to study British hoof-care books. "It can help with the terminology and build familiarity," he says.
First working on the shoe board and then in his everyday work, Hess would consider the necessity of defending your reasoning in the examination.
"I would go through every scenario in what they might ask me about for the shoe display," he recalls. "I began then to look at horses differently in the months leading up to the test and spent more time identifying specific conformation faults, defending in my head why I would trim or balance a horse a specific way."
Schmidt started working with his father in 1991, primarily with Tennessee Walking Horses. Today, his practice covers central Tennessee and serves a variety of disciplines and breeds. Schmidt enjoyed the challenge presented by the AWCF exam because its comprehensive approach.
"For example, you need to know how to work with modern materials because it is relevant to today’s shoeing,” he says. “You don’t see that in our exams. This is not a forging exam, it is a farrier exam. You can't focus on just one area. You don’t have to be a master in any subject. I think by standard you're expected to be a master of all."
To prepare for the exam, Schmidt committed himself to 3 hours a night of study. Although other obligations would get in the way, he said that commitment to review and forge work was essential during the final 8 weeks leading up the exam.
Schmidt advises anyone who wants to take the exam to attend preparatory clinics. He attended four, including two at the Kentucky Horseshoeing School. Although the exam is difficult, Schmidt adds that the WCF is willing to help. He reached out to British farrier and AWCF Mark Watson. Schmidt would submit answers to common test questions, and Watson would mark and grade these for accuracy.
He adds that while Watson and other British farriers were helpful, help from Americans who hold the AWCF proved essential.
“The British farriers are almost vetted for this exam,” he says. “It is part of their system as soon as they become an apprentice. Going to a 2-day clinic with Mike Poe (Columbia, Md., AWCF farrier) and talking to him afterward helped get me ready.”
Along with her husband Stephen, Smith's farrier practice covers the Texoma region. In addition to earning her CJF, Smith also has passed the Farrier International Testing System. While each farrier examination has its differences from one another, Smith says each has been valuable to her development. She adds that the FITS exam in particular helped prepare her for the AWCF.
To prepare for the exam, Smith downloaded the AWCF syllabus and prepared a plan of study. She says Facebook served an important role — there is a page that offers past questions and members answer these and provide feedback for one another. She also examined other farrier discussions on the social media site to help hone her ability to answer questions.
“I would go through different forums on Facebook and read the questions that people would ask about various topics,” she says. “I would write these down and think about how I would answer these if they were posed on the AWCF examination.”
Smith dedicated time each day to study the various subjects or practice forging. She does advise dedicating time and resources specific to improving on what you perceive as your deficiencies. For instance, she doesn’t feel her greatest strength is her skill in the fire, so she took time to improve that skill set. Although surgery limited her, she adds that competition was essential for this improvement.
“I think the World Championship Blacksmiths is an invaluable way to practice,” she says. “You’ll experience a lot of the different types of forging that you’ll be expected to have to do at the horse or for the shoe board.”
She also said another helpful resource is to ride with other farriers that you respect. One in particular she notes is Dusty Franklin, the owner and instructor of Five Star Horseshoeing School.
“He is honest with me and lets me know how to improve in certain areas,” she says. “He helped me develop my process for speed in forging, making sure I had a system in my head for how I might measure, the things I might have to do with the shoe and the different ways I could go about it with the heat of the shoes.”
How you structure your study and preparation for the AWCF is relative to the individual. Smith says the first step is to take time to understand the amount of preparation that goes into getting ready for the examination. Be honest with yourself whether you are willing to make that investment. If you are willing, the next step is to break down the syllabus and establish measurable and achievable goals for study and practice.
“If you don’t break it down into manageable pieces, it will overwhelm you and you won’t get there,” she says.
Despite becoming the first U.S. woman to earn the AWCF, Smith remains humble about the accomplishment.
“It is a very achievable test for an awful lot of people — I don’t think there is anything particularly special about me. I just happen to be the first woman to do it in the United States,” she says. “Hopefully, others will say, 'She could do it, so could I.'"
The Worshipful Company of Farriers held its first U.S.-based examination in 2009 at the Heartland Horseshoeing School in Lamar, Mo.
For future WCF exams in the states, contact the WCF registrar.