It seems that primary farrier education is under fire in the Pacific Northwest.
Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) announced in January that it would be eliminating its farrier science program in June when the 2018-19 school year is scheduled to end. Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) cut off registration for its advanced farrier-training program in February, the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) reports. Both institutions cite budgetary concerns that stem from declining enrollment.
Although KPU’s farrier program on the Cloverdale, British Columbia, campus, has not been officially eliminated, it’s future is in doubt.
“We’re not taking anybody new until we have an opportunity to see how we can do this and what we can do for the future,” KPU Provost Sal Ferreras told the CBC.
To this point, the university has offered it as a 9-month program that students take over three semesters. Gerard Laverty, the program’s instructor, emphasizes that those who finish the program are not quite ready to begin operating their own hoof-care practice.
“We expect you’re going to spend 2 to 3 years in the field before you actually start your own business,” he told the Cloverdale Reporter in January 2018.
Laverty was not available to comment on the future of the KPU farrier program.
Nearly 400 miles to the south, the decision to shutter the Walla Walla, Wash.-based program, is more defined. WWCC has a $1.4 million gap in its $30 million annual budget, My Columbia Basin reports. School administrators were tasked with closing that gap.
“We are always concerned, for both students and faculty, when very difficult situations are made on continuing programs,” Douglas L. Bayne, vice president of advancement at WWCC, told American Farriers Journal. “It’s an extremely unfortunate effect of numerous factors, including the economy and how education is funded in our state. We deeply regret that we have reached this point, but having explored all known ways to maintain the program, we have found no alternatives.”
Students, community members and the program’s instructor have been critical of the school’s administrators for not supporting the program.
“The farrier science program has not been well advertised by the school,” according to Halé Adams, whose husband Flint is a farrier student who will be graduating in June.
Bayne objects to those suggestions.
“We ran several direct articles in local publications on the program,” he says, “and used social media to promote the program.”
Further, he says the college included the farrier program in tours and promotions, and produced a video highlighting the program.
An internet search produces one article that was published by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin on Jan. 14, 2018; the video that was posted to the WWCC’s Facebook page on Sept. 12, 2018; and eight total Facebook posts (including both of the aforementioned media) since 2012. Five of the eight posts were added after the budget gap was announced in June 2018.
“I feel like the administration has twisted the facts to fit their scenario,” Jeff Engler, the WWCC farrier instructor for more than 20 years, told American Farriers Journal. “They have done little to market my program.”
Engler says he is saddened that WWCC is moving away from what has traditionally been the role of community colleges — preparing students for the workforce.
“I’m disappointed to see that they’re not supporting a 45-year program that’s been putting a lot of kids to work and allowing them to earn an independent living,” says the American Farrier’s Association (AFA) certified journeyman farrier (CJF). “That’s what workforce education is all about. Our college is slipping away from workforce education and into a liberal arts education, and that’s not in any community college charter that I’m aware of. It deeply saddens me.”
The community also feels a deep connection with the program and are vocal about the need for it to continue.
“This program has been taking care of our stock for over 15 years,” says Kevin Kromm of Touchet, Wash. “We bring in approximately 15 head of horses and mules as we prepare for hunting season for these young students to learn on. The teachers are always keen to the students work and we have never been unhappy with the results. This program makes it affordable for us folks and many others that have numerous stock, as well.”
Meanwhile, Sheridan College in Sheridan, Wyo., is doing just the opposite — it's reviving its farrier program after more than a year on hiatus. New instructor Quint Gonzales, a CJF from Buffalo, Wyo., kicked off the 15-week course Jan. 21 with six students.
“I thought it was a great program when he was teaching it and was kind of sad to see it go,” Gonzales says, “and when I heard that they wanted to get it going again, it kind of sparked my interest.”
Much like the Walla Walla and Surrey communities, Sheridan has a large horse population, Gonzales told Sheridan Media. Wendy Smith, the Sheridan College’s vice president for strategic communication, concurred, noting that the farrier course provides a service for the community.
The differences between Sheridan and the two communities in the Pacific Northwest couldn't be more stark. One college has its finger on the pulse of its community. The other two? Perhaps a hard look at priorities and creative ways to make their respective programs work rather than tossing in the towel would serve their communities well. It certainly would be a shame to lose two quality farrier programs without putting in the effort.
Walla Walla Community College’s Board of Directors has scheduled meetings on March 20 and March 25 to discuss its budget decisions. The public is encouraged to comment.