AFA Research, CF, and Things


I’m grossly over due for an update. It’s been a busy year.  I did not take my certification in April.  I decided to wait until I was better prepared. So I have spent the spring and summer preparing with the guys and practicing on as many horses as possible.

In September the work paid off and I was able to pass my horse and attain my CF!  This happened in Illinois at the certification hosted by Alan Dryg and the Illiana Horseshoer’s Association. Alan, Doug Russo, and I worked together to bring the first AFA Research clinic together concurrently with the certification.


My horse, a good girl that stood very well for me to be able to pass my CF on time!

The clinic was a great success, I was only expecting a handful of listeners to my talk, but had close to 15 people listening and participating.  We went over the scientific method and how farriers can access the tools they need to start their own research.  We did a small experiment to collect data for the second day.  The second day we had the honor of Clifford Les, DVM, PhD going over the basics to statistics and why case studies are not an ideal way to go about proving information “correct.”  We got great feedback from the audience on how to improve the clinic, and may have another one in Oklahoma in January before we present all our information at the American Farrier’s Association convention in late February/early March 2018.

I helped out at the Michigan Horseshoer’s Association certification a few weekends ago as a scribe and general hand.  The participants in the certification were overall impressive with very clean work indicative of great every day farriery. Many people achieved their certification goals and I found out that I am now the head of the newsletter for the MHA.  I’m happy there’s a way for me to help that organization out.

Last weekend Dave had Bodie Trnka, CJF out for a clinic.  Bodie is on the American Farrier’s team and is very accomplished in his career.  I focused on the basics that Dave has been having me perfect at forge night and he was able to help tune up the small details to help me achieve my goals with heels, welds, and clips in particular.


Bodie demonstrating a contest shoe for the clinic.

So I’m continuing on my path to get better enough to start going after my certified journeyman farrier.  Soon I should only be putting on handmade shoes on many of my horses.  Reminding myself that inches of improvement matter day to day, as my trainer says about riding.



Farriery is Hard


I’m nine month into being a full time farrier.  I’ve never felt so healthy.  I’ve also never done something that was so hard.  I’m used to being someone that was at least pretty good at whatever I’ve tried. School work was never particularly hard, music was totally doable and learning many different instruments was easy, I was never super athletic but I did well enough in sports, I am decent rider.  Research itself was easy for me. Farriery is NOT easy in any way.  For that reason every success feels amazing, and I’m learning how to fail gracefully every day.

For the past 9 months I have been busy.  In October I went to a pre-certification clinic offered my the Michigan Horseshoer’s Association. This is a clinic designed to help farriers pass their American Farrier’s Association exams.  It was the first time my work was examined and scored by someone other than my mentors. It was also the first time shoeing on the clock. Clinicians  judged my shoes I had made for the shoe board and my live shoeing go. I missed the live shoeing go by a minute and 27 seconds. I got decent comments back on my shoes, but they still needed work.  I took the clinician’s advice with me as  I spent the next 4 weeks practicing any spare second I got on forging for my shoe board.  I learned how to jump weld and build a bar shoe, a required shoe, 2 weeks before the exam. I finished my shoe board 2 hours before the test.  It was to the wire.


Certification is a two day ordeal. I passed my written exam with a 93%, a very good score for this test, but that was what I was good at- school work.  My tester passed my shoe board, and I had to make quarter clips on a keg shoe in 30min.  Those passed too.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved in my life.  That shoe board was difficult for me to put together, by far my toughest exam to date.  The second day was the live shoeing.  I got my horse assigned, cleaned her up and got comments from my tester.  The test started and I went to work.  I didn’t plan well for the live shoeing.  The test is designed for a forge and anvil, I used a stall jack and then a forge to level the shoe out. Ultimately a fitting mistake failed me. I was pretty devastated.  I’m used to passing exams, this was my first official exam failure.   Despite this I requested to finish out my run, and was granted permission as the mistake was not a detriment to the horse.  I resolved to get myself a truck instead of my Honda Fit so that I could get a forge and anvil on the road and practice the proper way.

In the meantime my mentors nitpick at my trims and train me up on finishing touches.  They have told me some details again and again and have been patient while I figured it out.  I have learned about proper boxing and safeing, proper pad placement and fit, they have honed my trim skills, cleaned up my finishing, etc.  Every time they have made a comment, it implies that I have failed.  Every time I fail I want to be better, and I have to swallow that bitter feeling of not being good enough. This process has not only improved my work, but myself as a person.  Yeah I got criticism in research, but never to this level, and usually it was masked in severity.  All their comments are straightforward, there is no hiding, no excuses.  Just do it better next time.

In January I decided to compete at the Michigan Horseshoer’s Association’s annual contest and clinic the night before the contest.  As a result there wasn’t any time for my guys to help me prepare much. The first round required quarter clips and extended heels on a keg shoe.  When Mark Milster judged the shoes after time was up, he set my shoes aside and judged the rest.  I’ve never been so mortified.  For the next round I took my mistakes and learned from them.  This time when they were judged my shoes were in the running. I got 4th place out of 6 in the second round. That improvement was sweet.

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My next certification try is in late April.  I have spent time with more farriers to improve in addition to my usual help and guidance.  I finally have my rig set up and I can practice my CF live shoeing run properly. I have given up quite a bit to be able to afford the truck. It’s been scary and fun to set it up with my people. It is a huge milestone in my business and my skill.  I put my first set of shoes out of the truck with the forge and anvil last weekend.  I’ve never felt more like a real farrier. I’m ready to go to Iowa in April and try again to earn my CF.  I’m ready to fail, I’m ready to succeed.  If I fail, I try again, if I succeed I get to move on to my CJF exam in which I will probably fail again before I earn those letters.  I’m okay with that, those letters mean more to me than the prospect of “BS” and “PhD” ever did.  Blood, sweat, and tears literally go into them.  Failure means that success is real and tangible.  I’m proud to have chosen a profession that tests me every day, helps me grow as a person, and allows me the privilege of working on and with horses everyday.  Each morning I think “today I get to do this” and that is special.


Spartan Shoeing Goes Full Time


I quit my PhD last week.

There were many contributing factors, but when it comes down to it, the more data I produce and better I do at science, the worse I feel and the more irritable I become.  I just don’t like “Science Katie.”

I struggle with anxiety that started about two years into my time at Boston Children’s. Without a doubt it’s a huge part of what makes me so good at science.  I thought if I moved out of the city and I had a more experienced mentor than perhaps I could recover.  I know now that science, well it will always be interesting to me, is not for my full time career.  Horses have never been a wavering interest in my life, ever. I have a marketable skill, I have access to incredible mentors in farriery and opportunities beyond an apprenticeship.   Although I’ve been training in biology for 9 long years and it scares me to leave it; I can use it in my approach to equine feet, and I love how unique that makes me.

There was something like 800,000 PhD scientists in 2010.  Of those 200,000 were biological sciences and agriculture.  The unemployment rate as of 2010 was 11% in that field.  There are just a lot.  It’s competitive.  Since it’s competitive and you need to put in long hours to start a career it’s not all that appealing to me. Here’s a Slate article that lays this struggle all out-

Maybe I can take my 9 years and science and carry it over to farriery where there are 2-3 PhD’s I know of in the field. I don’t need one here to make an impact.  I know the science lingo, experimental design, and review process on one side, I know the farrier lingo, common problems, and I’m frustrated by how many time I have to tell clients I can give them an educated guess, but there’s no science to fall back on for your horse’s ailment.  I want to get farriers caught up with veterinarians in a non-intimidating way.  (Whether they choose to use that knowledge is a whole ‘nother game.)

I’m also looking to be outside more.  At school I’m in an office that has no windows, a lab that has no windows.  Everything I do is clean when it comes to work.  I like the sun and getting my hands dirty.  The physical aspect of this job is actually very appealing to me.

So I quit my PhD and I start my apprenticeship with 3R Forge and Farriery in August.  I’ll be working with the guys full time until I am able to attain my certified farrier and certified journeyman farrier accolades. Then perhaps I join the multi-farrier 3R team/family.


Tyson’s extensions to relieve some pressure on his weak and injured suspensory ligaments.  My first modifications I made myself and shod myself.

I missed an update (or 3)


Fall semester was crazy. I finished up the last of my didactic classes or those where you’re lectured at then you take an exam.  I still have 2 seminar based classes, but those are easier to deal with. My first committee meeting was in October.  I also have passed my Preliminary exams with conditions and submitted my first grant, an NIH-based NRSA for trainees. I was able to finally solidify some protocols that are working on a more consistent basis.

In the farrier world I have attended Mark Caldwell’s clinic hosted by Dave and the HTRC, MSU’s Arabian center, half of a certification, and the annual MHA contest and clinic. I have continued to learn more and have had some new interesting cases.  I have made mistakes and learned how to fix them. I have tried my best to help Dave prepare for his associates exam, but it wasn’t quite enough.

In the horse world I found out Foxi had an old SI injury that limited her to very light riding no more than twice a week. Following that I free leased her to someone very interested in using her good breeding as a broodmare. Foxi later punctured her knee on an unknown object and was euthanized.  Surgery was expensive and risky and recovery would have been awful for her.  I found a filly to take on trial, and while she mentally was what I wanted, she also had an old injury that I didn’t feel comfortable with.  Yesterday I bought Jack, a 5 year old Arab gelding started on ground work with little to no under saddle work.  No history of injury.

So crucial events in grad school.  Committee meeting went okay.  I felt like I was a bit of a mess as some things didn’t go to plan, but Kurt and the rest of my committee seemed overall very happy with my knowledge preparation and experiments.  I got some feed back and modified my proposal accordingly for the NRSA grant I submitted in early December. I used that NRSA submission as my thesis proposal and presented those ideas publicly a few weeks ago followed by a closed questioning session with my committee. I did great on my presentation, okay in the written, and okay in the closed questioning.  This week I’m working on researching some questions that the committee would like me to know more about and making changes to my written submission.  When that is done by Feb 11, I can finally focus on science since I finally have finished classwork, well the real class work anyway. My final proposal aims to elucidate whether Notch signaling in a specific lineage state affects the outcome of osteoblast differentiation using cell and mouse models.

Crucial events in farrier land definitely include the Mark Caldwell clinic.  Holy cow, we Americans have a lot to learn about farrier education.  Mark has an amazing handle on anatomy and the consequence of loading to the anatomy.  Combine that knowledge with years of farriery experience and the amount of information you get from this guy is hard to handle in a few days.  In the UK farrier schools are two year programs that are regulated by the government through the worshipful company of farriers.  It is illegal over the pond to nail a shoe on a horse without your degree.  Following this education is an expected at least two year apprenticeship that is hard to find and very coveted. Once you’ve completed those levels of education you can strike out on your own.  There are two more levels of certification though, the associates exam and the fellowship exam. Dave is trying for the associates, which is a farrier’s masters degree.  In contrast the US is completely unregulated and school programs vary between 2 weeks- 2 years in length. Apprenticeships are not uncommon but not expected of us either. Mark will tell anyone that the UK system is far from perfect, but it clearly has been better thought out than our system.  In addition to learning about some cultural differences we were able to do dissections and watch a horse with a painted on skeleton and key muscles lounge to get an idea of how gaits and strides change position of these structures.

My goal was to get my CF, or certified farrier certification this fall, but with the above grad school events, and Dave’s test, this was just too much. I went to the first day at Henry’s farm this year and got to see the judging of the forge work under the eye of Pat Burton. It was great to see what the expectation of the testers are and what mistakes people probably make. Now that I’ve seen both days I’m ready to tackle it in 2016.  Dave’s test was a fail again, but we now know what he has to do to get there. He wrote better, but just not enough in the written, passed the oral examination, and just fell short on the forging and live shoeing, while his shoe board itself passed. Here’s to a sucessful 2016 for the both of us.

The contest was judged this year by Dusty Franklin, proprietor of five star horseshoeing school, one of the best in the country. It was great to see Dusty’s take on trimming and shoeing. Seeing him and Mark talk in the same season was cool, a lot of their theories overlapped with distinct differences. Mark lives is a wet temperate climate, while Dusty lives in a drier, warmer climate.  I suspect what they agree on hold in every climate while their differences have to do with the environments they work in the most.

To elaborate on Foxi, I had her in training at Stapleton and Ellie did a fantastic job with her but she was still telling us something was wrong when I brought her back to Reining Around Ranch.  I brought her to Hamilton Ridge where I had lots of resources to once and for all figure out why she was off.  Michelle Allen was able to determine that it was most likely an old sacro-illiac joint injury that would not be able to hold up in dressage.  The accident was right before thanksgiving.

The filly was from Moore’s kill pen, her owner pulls a few out of the pen at a time and rehomes them. I took her on free lease based trial.  She came to MI with banged up hind legs and a fear of anything touching her hind legs. There’s a worrisome bump on her hock though and even though she’s sound now, I can’t have another Foxi.  She will go back to her owner for sale as a pleasure or trail horse with no fear of hind end handling and a bit of halter training.  I found Jack last weekend, he’s sound, no history of injury or lameness, great conformation and feet. Unstarted under saddle but ready to go with training in the next month or so.  Exactly what I wanted…except he’s a red head! I can get over that.

And that’s Spartan Shoeing news. I’ll try to be better this year with updates, especially on clinics. Dave will be hosting a owner’s lower limb dissection clinic next month hopefully.  so clients let me know if you’re interested.

Walter Varcoe Clinic


Happy spring/early summer to everyone!  I have been hard at work in the lab so it was a nice change of pace to get out of the vet med center and do some hands on work with bone instead of microscopic work with bone.

Walter is a retired corrections officer who managed the New York mounted police farm which included composting.  One of the mounted police horses got kicked one night and had to be put down after shattering a radius.  He composted it, and a few months later decided to have the inmates he was teaching farriery to put it together for the lower limbs, but then decided to do the whole thing.  Vets saw the skeleton in his office and word spread and he’s been building skeletons for educational reasons ever since (about 12 years now and 150+ skeletons).

Our small group challenged him to do 2 ponies, a horse, and a mini in 3 days, which ended up being quite a bit.  Dave supplied the ponies, Walter himself brought the horse, and Jen brought the mini.  We were unable to complete the Haflinger-like pony because the bones didn’t get a chance to dry enough, but we did finish the other pony, the horse, and a good amount of the mini- Jen still has too look for a few more bones at home to complete her, but did make some bones out of metal.  This was the most he had ever done in a setting and there were about 10 of us to help.  The pony was put down for chronic laminitis, the Haflinger because he didn’t stay sound, the mini died foaling, and the horse died of unknown causes to us.

The process is pretty simple.  You dump the bones out on a table after they had been cleaned by composting and dried. You sort out your bones, you put your spine together followed by the ribcage and the legs, you then attach the ribcage and legs to the spine, and then put on all your accessory bones like the patella, sesamoids, navicular bone, etc. There is some welding of the frame involved but the finish product hides the frame pretty well.

Sort the bones first.   Here's the mini.

Sort the bones first. Here’s the mini.

Along the way as we find them we’re able to ask questions about pathologies that Walter has seen, but also what we see on the bones as we handle them and try to put them together.  We’re also able to pose the horses in anyway we want, mostly provided it’s some what anatomically possible.

Pony's laminitic coffin bone, note the

Pony’s laminitic coffin bone, note the “notch” in the edge of the coffin bone and the corresponding shape of the hoof capsule.

Arthritis of the vertebrae where the ribs insert.

Arthritis of the vertebrae where the ribs insert.

Kissing Spine, fusion of the vertebrae.

Kissing Spine, fusion of the vertebrae.

Dave took home the pony and the Haflinger, the pony is complete and the Haflinger needs to dry as I mentioned before, but he is posed in a trim position so we could see what we’re asking them to do when we pick up their feet to work on them, so we look forward to “Hank” the haffie pony drying out so we can finish that project. One will always be available to the Michigan Horseshoers association for educational and promotional events, the other we’re still not sure yet.  The horse went home with Kelly who ultimately would like to donate it to the University of Wisconsin Veterinary school.  Jen needs to find the bones she’s missing with the mini, but it went home with her to finish up.

Finished pony.

Finished pony.

The horse completed.

The horse completed.

All of us that did the 3 days.

All of us that did the 3 days.

After this event and seeing pathologies on a grander scale (albeit without any fractures), it is inspiring to get back to work in the lab.  Things are heating up for us here, I have my proposal aims down for the most part, a good part of my committee set, and I’m busily doing some reading and putting ideas together to execute my science.  Meanwhile I have cells secured for the lab and some small pilot studies going.

We received 4 veterinary students for the summer that will help us out with our science.  Two are from MSU, and two are from Brazil.  Our second post-doc, Dan, is coming to the lab next month.  Looking forward to a productive summer in the lab, and enough data to complete my comprehensives and become a real PhD student.

On the farriery side of things I am working with Frank to practice my AFA style shoeing and shoeing in general, and I’m looking forward to continuing my forging education with Dave.  I will take my Certified Farrier exam through the AFA in early November.

Winter Time in Michigan


It’s been awhile since I posted anything. Last semesters finals got the best of me and I ended up with a case of strep and mono right before the holidays. Following that was a New England holidays visit, and the start of the spring semester. Time is really flying.

Since then I have attended my first farrier contest and clinic to cheer on Dave, Jennifer, and Jeff in their 3 man draft team class.  The contest is divided into classes, much like a pleasure show would be with different things “tested” in each class. The 3 man draft entails 2 parts.  In the first part they must have 2 people make 2 draft shoes while the third trims up a hind foot and a front foot. One of the 2 forgers is a striker who is responsible for swinging an 8lb sledge hammer when the other forger who is calling the shots and shaping with a 2lb hammer.  They generally switch positions after the first shoe, but that’s not mandatory. Once they are done making the shoes, the third guy must put the shoes on and they polish the foot. This part is in 90 minutes and they are judged on craftsmanship of the shoe, how the shoe fits, the trim job, and the work as a whole.  The second part is that each member is assigned a specific type of shoe to make and they must all three using 1 forge and 1 anvil must complete their shoes in 90 minutes.  The shoe is judged on accuracy to the plan assigned for the shoe and craftsmanship.  Dave may have convinced me to give a contest a try in March as a student. We’ll see if I have enough time to practice to make it worth it.  I have been working on re-learning how to make shoes with him since at OHS we had one demo and figure it out style, and I could make a shoe but I had bad habits and lack of finesse. In turn since he hopes to teach in the near future, he has a guinea pig!


Dave hard at work making sure his trim is perfect, and measuring the foot for the forgers.


Jeff and Jenn working on a shoe together.

Another major update is I adopted Foxi last week, the emaciated one of the two arabs I posted about back in June.  She is in desensitizing training right now as she was in jump out of her skin mode constantly, and she is responding really well to it! I hope to maybe saddle her tonight.  She will probably end up being a good source of practice for me every 6 weeks for shoeing and experimentation with new things. My ultimate goal is to get her into dressage training and see where it takes us, she has an awesome brain.  As you can see she finally has some weight on her.

Foxibary Breeze makes her debut at Reining Around Ranch

Foxibary Breeze makes her debut at Reining Around Ranch

Baby Foxi picture I found this week, she still prances like that.

Baby Foxi picture I found this week, she still prances like that.

Graduate school is slowly coming together.  I completed my two classes last semester, I’m in 2 classes this semester, and I have one more traditional class in the fall and then it’s research mostly requirements.  Our new post doc started last week and has been a tremendous help in pushing the lab from mostly complete to functional.  I have mesenchymal stem cells growing and big plans for them.  We now have in addition to the post doc, a veterinary student from Brazil that is working with me, an undergraduate who is working with the post doc, and a small animal surgery resident with her own project in addition to the LCOR at MSU.  The lab is growing quickly and we hope to really get into science mode.

That’s my winter update, my next event of interest may be coming soon, we’ll see how the case develops.

AFA certification


I went to an AFA certification today to see how it works and meet some more farriers in the area (and not the area). The AFA is the American Farrier’s Association, a body that runs a certification process to give farriers credibility for their clients. They offer exams for various levels of farriery, the most recognized is the certified journeyman or CJF.  The CJF test involves a score on a trim, making a full set of shoes and fitting for a score, and lastly putting the shoes on and finishing for a score.  The testee must maintain a 70% or above to pass on each section. There is a written test and shoe display that must be made before the horse part of the test, both are also scored separately and also must score a 70% or above. In order to take the test you must have 1 year experience as a farrier. There were also certified tests going on.  Certified status can be tested for out of school, there is no time limit to take the test and you can take the journeyman’s test without being certified. You would take a certified test if you wanted to have a credential in the year period before eligibility to the journeyman’s exam, and it serves as practice for testing in general.

Yesterday there were 14 people testing, 5 journeyman’s tests and 9 certified tests. There were about 6 testers, including Dave, and 1 head examiner on site.  The event was hosted by Henry at his blacksmith’s shop at his Amish home, another new experience for me. There was also a representative from the UK who was overseeing AFA standards to make sure that his company in the UK that oversees certification of farriers over there can continue to share their lowest standard with the CJF.

The day started with a tester’s meeting followed by retrieving the horses.  The first run of the day had 3 journeymen testing and a few certified, the second run had 2 journeyman and the rest of the certified.  Only 2 journeymen passed and no certified exams were passed.  The test is run in an educational manner in which feedback is openly given.  Everyone was able to finish their shoeing job even if they were stopped under the certification guidelines under the eye of a tester. At the end of testing if the testee passed then examiners went over their scores as well to let them know what they could improve on.

My job in this was to be a tester’s scribe, I worked with 2 testers in the morning, and one of the same and a new tester in the afternoon.  Out of earshot of the testee they were able to tell me why they scored the person they way they did on a 1-10 scale. This was good information for me too, I was able to see where I’m at in my own work and what I would need to do to take the test myself next year. The test is based mostly on the fitting of the shoes, with all other aspects being evaluated but passable if done correctly. It was really neat to talk to all the testers from different backgrounds and places.  They all had different preferences for different parts of the job, a reason why there are two testers per journeyman testee.

The other cool parts about yesterday was the setting and the UK perspective.  Henry and his family were extremely nice and accommodating.  His granddaughter rides better than I can ever hope to ride. His daughter made us a nice cornbeef stew with biscuits that were very good.  Henry is a full time farrier, but the farm raises longhorn cattle as well. The UK liaison from the Worshipful group of farriers, the UK company that regulates certification of farriers in the UK was also interesting to talk to.  He has done a fair amount of research in biomechanics in the horse relating to the foot and the back. He found that adding boriums to Police horses allows the foot to slip a little, but also extends the gait.  The slippage is necessary in the gait, a stop to the slippage makes the horse susceptible to arthritis, an unexpected result, as they thought the slippage was detrimental.  He also ended up changing the tack used as in the studies done they found that the weight and the fit was off in the former tack. All these studies were done through the veterinary college in London and published.

So it was an informative and fun day for me.  I have a lot of work to do before I can do a trim, forge a full set of shoes, fit them, and put them on in 2 hours. Hopefully forging with Dave this winter gets me closer to the goal.