Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Century Is It? Scotland's Royal Highland Show Clydesdale Shoeing Competition Keeps Tradition in Sharp Focus

New Shoes
Royal Highland Show 2011 Clydesdale Shoeing by David McCrone
Sometimes a great photo just jumps up out of the Internet and begs to be featured on the Hoof Blog. Of all the millions of photos in the world, why do these very special ones find their ways here? I don't know, but I'm glad they do.

You're looking at a Clydesdale, the great national horse of Scotland. Each year the famed Royal Highland Show hosts an equally famous shoeing competition for farriers. Shoeing these horses is a time-honored tradition, and there exist minute variances in the way they are shod in these competitions that only a keen judge's eye can discern.

At the end of the competition, the horses' feet might all look more or less the same to the casual observer, but the judge knows better. And even within the strict Scottish tradition, there is room for a judge to have individual prejudices and preferences for details in the work that will often be the only dividing line between highly skilled executions of one of the most difficult shoeing assignments on earth.

After this photo was first published, the photogenic lads in the background were identified as former apprentices, now "qualified" (graduates who have earned their diplomas, and stayed on as employees) farriers, of two of today's leading British farriers, business partners Jim and Allan Ferrie in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Jim wrote when he saw the photo on the Hoofcare & Lameness Facebook Page: "(That's) Graham McBurney on left and Jackie Campbell on right. It was their first time competing as qualified Farriers at the Royal Highland. Jackie won the apprentice championship last year. 

"Although they did not win, both got the hind toe bars welded on and finished on time with very respectable jobs."

Royal Highland Show Archives Copyright-Protected Image

Sixty years ago, the Royal Highland Show farriers worked outside. Here you see the late Edward Martin in his first Royal Highland shoeing competition. And right behind him, at the next anvil, is the grandfather of Allan and Jim Ferrie.  As you can see, not that much has changed, although Edward is sadly missed since his death. I hope that the Ferries will have some connection to the Royal Highland Show for as long as it continues, which will likely be as long as there's a Scotland.

This photograph has a great story to tell. Click here to reveal what this day meant in the life of a very young Edward Martin.

You won't see adhesives and casting tape or aluminum and plastic. You will see hammers and fullers and pritchels at the anvil, rasp and nippers and a knife at the horse. And not much else. You have to do it with the same tools they've always used.

Another reason to love Scotland: tartan plaid ribbons. In Scotland, the red ribbon is first prize. (Photo courtesy of the Royal Highland Show)