Roland’s nags and nails: my uphill battle with making shoes

  • It’s been a while since I mentioned the uphill battle I have with shoemaking. It’s a very big part of the farriery apprenticeship and, while most modern farriery businesses will stock machine-made shoes and fit them to their horses, being able to make shoes from scratch is still an integral part of being a farrier.

    Our final exam in two years time will be to make and fit two shoes, one hind and one front shoe, with a specific variance, such as set toe, rolled toe, hunter fit, either fullered or three quarter fullered. A key moment in that exam will be deciding on how much steel to cut for each shoe. Get this bit wrong and it is potentially fatal. Just thinking about it gives me butterflies.

    When I am shoemaking I record, in a book, the length of steel I start with and the size of shoe that I end up with. Depending on the type of shoe I am making affects the outcome of the size. For instance fullering steel will “draw” (stretch) the material meaning that it will produce a larger shoe than if I wasn’t to fuller the steel. Also, the number of times I hit the steel will have an effect on how much draw occurs.

    The better I become at shoe making, the fewer times I need to hit the steel which, in turn, means less draw. Therefore, over the next two years, I will continue to record my sizes so that when I am examined, I know exactly how much steel to cut. There go those butterflies again!

    There is just one other thing to mention about the shoemaking side of the farriery apprenticeship. It is relentless. There is no let up. If you do not put the hours in then expect to fail either the final exam or one of the milestone exams that take place before hand. There are no shortcuts and no quick wins. It takes effort, sacrifice and determination and many, many hours of practice.

    Other than that shoemaking is a doddle!

    Until next week,


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