The winning four-person team in the World Horseshoeing Classic, to be held Feb. 19 through 22 in Madison County, takes home $10,000 and a set of belt buckles proclaiming the team's superiority in equine foot care.
The event draws teams from all over the world — including Wales, Denmark, England and Canada and, stateside, Texas, Wisconsin and California — but given travel costs for four people and the $10,000 prize, winning might be more about the belt buckle than the cash.
The World Horseshoeing Classic is put on by the Kentucky Horseshoeing School, the only training center of its kind in Kentucky. There, students take courses including equine anatomy — in which a cadaver horse leg is dissected, with school owner Mitch Taylor poking at cartilage around the hoof area — and also work, initially, with shoeing legs from cadaver horses and finally, working with the real, living, four-legged thing.
Students at the school "have to know what it (the leg) is doing, and how to deal with it," Taylor said. "You have to understand anatomy. You have to have some blacksmithing work to shoe your horse correctly."
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The 16 teams in the three-day competition have to shoe three different types of horses: draft, hunter and roadster. The teams are evaluated on a system of 40 points per competitor, with 10 points each being given to trim, fit, shoe making and overall job and finish.
Taylor said that the hunter shoeing is the most difficult of the three, with "penny on a penny" standards meaning there's no room for error.
"This fit is an extension of the hoof wall," he said, emphasizing the exactness that's required.
There is no licensing for horseshoeing specialists, no required minimum standards for training and demonstration of competence, so all farriers should participate in competitions, Taylor said.
"It's a craft; it's an art," said Joe Police, director of marketing for the horseshoeing school. "It's a love of the craft and skill of horseshoeing. These men and women are artists."
In addition to finding the world's best horseshoeing team, the competition spotlights the horseshoeing school, which has classrooms, labs and dormitory space just over the river off I-75 south in Madison County. Students range in age from 18 to 60, Police said, and they come from countries including Uruguay, Canada, France and Israel. The school has 32 students enrolled.
In the laboratory spaces, students work with anvils and forges. A former student crafted the lounge furniture out of horseshoes.
When students arrive, Police said, "They're not all familiar with horses. We have a student here, a woman, who is an accomplished musician."
One current student previously worked for a New York race track. Daniel Sahl, 21, the youngest farrier in Denmark to ever win the Danish horseshoeing championship, is a student.
Owner Taylor told Sahl that his school is the best place to learn the farrier's art. Hence, Sahl said, "I'll be staying for a while."
Although Taylor said he has held competitions for decades, Police said this particular horseshoeing competition is in its fourth year.
"It exposes the school to people who would otherwise never have come to Kentucky, or to the horseshoeing school," Police said.
Added Taylor: "Competitions are one of the ways farriers can not only improve their our talents, but showcase them."