Chase Roybal and Andrew Varela gave a great demonstration forging handcrafted horseshoes. Andrew has been a farrier for over 30 years. Chase has been a farrier for about 6 years and has been working with Andrew for most of this time. Chase considers himself an apprentice of Andrew, though Chase gave an impressive narrative during their demonstration that gave away his vast and growing knowledge of his trade. Forging of horseshoes is only one piece of the trade of farriery. Farriers must have a knowledge of the animals anatomy, veterinary medicine, and much more. However, the horseshoe forging demonstration gave our group the opportunity to see how farriers use the same tool kit that the blacksmith uses for creating horseshoes from scratch. Many people do not make the connection between horseshoeing and blacksmithing. Chase and Andrew enlightened us with their knowledge and skill demonstrated while forging two handcrafted shoes from bar stock.
Chase and Andrew used a forge with an electric blower and used industrial coke for fuel. This coke burns very hot, and served them well for the demo. They mentioned they often use a gas forge when in the field shoeing.
Chase gave a wonderfully colorful description of a day in the life of a farrier and his experience as a dedicated apprentice. Chase and Andrew work Monday through Friday together caring mainly for Andrew's clientele. Chase is building his own client base on weekends. One day Chase will graduate to Journeyman and transition to catering mainly to his own clients, though they described how many farriers work together for many years. In the meantime, Chase enjoys the friendship and professional mentorship of his talented teacher. It is impressive to see Chase's skill and positive attitude as a reflection of his teachers excellent knowledge, skill and craftsmanship. This tradition is lost in many crafts, so it is refreshing to see the practice alive and well and growing the latest generation of skilled farriers.
Often farriers use keg shoes (factory made shoes), however Andrew mentioned that they do about half handmade shoes and half keg shoes for their clientele. The demonstration commenced with Andrew leading us through a handcrafted shoe with Chase striking and giving narrative. Starting with a piece of rectangular bar, Andrew forged the shoe from scratch, including creasing (fullering), punching, and upsetting (bumping). The care and attention to detail is obvious in the work of these men. They relayed much technical information about the construction of the shoe, the forging techniques and the reasons why different shoes are used. They shared some of the differences in terminology such as farriers say bumping; whereas blacksmiths say upsetting.
Sometimes the market pressures dictate whether a keg shoe or a handmade shoe will be used. There is an intermediate level of production in which a pre-fullered material, called "concave" is used to complete the shoes. As in many businesses, there is a balance in which the farrier needs to be profitable in order to survive and this "concave" is one way that they can cut costs and still deliver a product that meets their standards and the clients needs.
Chase did a solo demonstration in which he forged a bar shoe. This shoe is essentially a forge welded flat ring with specialized features that are formed to match the hoofs anatomy. For instance the forge weld of the ring is skillfully completed to match the frog (V-shaped part) of the horse hoof. Sometimes they have to construct a toe clip on the front of the shoe which can help prevent the shoe from getting knocked off in situations where the horse may be walking more on the front of their hoof (sometimes caused by flies). The bar shoe can be used as a therapeutic shoe in cases where maybe a fracture has occurred. The point is, good farriers must know their animals anatomy and ailments in order to prescribe the correct horseshoe choice.
Chase gave us a glimpse into the level of attention that they take in the final product. He mentioned "creating lines", alluding to softening the lines of the shoe by lightly chamfering all corners and planishing all surfaces. In addition to making sure the final shoes look beautifully done, the dressing may serve the more utilitarian purpose of preventing the horse from injury from sharp edges. The shoe must do its job, or as Chase said, "if the nails don't fit, it ain't a shoe" Each shoe must be functional as well as show the observer that it was completed by competent craftsmen and knowledgeable horsemen.
The well practiced synchronization of Andrew and Chase was inspiring to watch as they did two man hammer technique in unison. This demonstration gave many indicators of the passion Andrew and Chase have for their craft and the pride they take in making a simple horse shoe become a functional and beautiful work of art.
Both Chase and Andrew have been participating in the SWABA meetings in order to expand their exposure to related blacksmithing arts and techniques so that they can push their own limits. I look forward to see what Andrew and Chase create in blacksmithing with their finely honed forging skills as they explore other facets of blacksmithing.