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South Valley Journal

Herriman Hosts World Championship Blacksmiths Competition

Aug 03, 2016 04:51PM ● By Tori La Rue

A blacksmith fits a horseshoe onto a horse at a World Championship Blacksmith competition in Herriman that took place from June 16 to 18. –Joe Oliver

By Tori La Rue | [email protected] 

Herriman, Utah - Farriers from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Denmark gathered in Herriman during Fort Herriman Days for a three-day World Championship Blacksmiths competition June 16–18.

“It was pretty easy to get it all set up because Herriman City Days are based around horse and wagons and that old-town feel,” said Scott Hill, a Riverton resident who helped set up the Herriman competition. “The blacksmith competition just fell right in.”

About six World Championship Blacksmiths Competitions happen around the world each year, and 2016 marks the second year that the contest has been held in Utah. Hill and his friend Travis Swenson, a farrier who lives in Riverton, and Swenson’s mother, Rhonda Withers, coordinated with the World Championship Blacksmiths team and Herriman city staff to bring a horseshoeing competition to Utah after one fell through in a nearby state[J1] .  

Craig Trnka[J2] , one of the founders of World Championship Blacksmiths, described the Herriman 2015 competition as “one of the most extreme contests,” adding that by midday it was 102 degrees outside, and that was the temperature before contestants got next to fires to forge horseshoes. Two blacksmiths from England almost passed out from heat exhaustion, but the event was successful because of the attitude of the locals and turnout from competitors, Trnka said, which is why his group brought the competition back to Utah this year.

Like all blacksmithing competitions, the World Championship Blacksmiths competitions are education based. In the United States there’s no mandatory education for farriers. Besides the 40 to 50 large private schools for horseshoeing, there aren’t many opportunities for blacksmiths to gain hands-on education on a continual basis, Trnka said. 

“Through competition we make a pipeline of networking for people to go and continue their education,” he said. “Everything farriers do is hands-on. You don’t really learn that much from reading a book about horseshoeing. You’re only going to learn it by monkey see monkey do, and that’s what’s at the heart of this competition.” 

Trnka’s competitions have eight go-rounds by design so each contestant is a spectator seven times to every one time he or she is a contestant. Each blacksmith can learn techniques as he or she watches the other blacksmiths. 

Trnka rolled into the W&M Butterfield Park on June 15 in a semi truck carrying all the equipment needed for 10 competition workstations. Contestants began arriving and were set to begin their competition on June 16.

The competition consisted of three kinds of events: two man, individual and live shoeing. Two-man and individual competitions are both 60-minute rounds in which contestants must make a horseshoe, but in a two-man event, one farrier makes the horseshoes while the other man assists by working a fire and swinging a sledgehammer. In an individual round, each contestant must man his own sledgehammer and fire.

Live horseshoeing is a 70-minute round where a contestant must shoe a horse with a handmade shoe while making a look-alike specimen shoe at the same time. Contestants are given the design for the shoe two months prior to the competition, and the goal is to replicate it as closely as possible.

Each contestant started out with a perfect score on June 16, but points were docked for imperfections after each round of judging. Justin Fry, CJF farrier from Minnesota, judged the competition.

“When you get judged, it exposes you to other eyes, and it makes you better,” Robert Jukes, contestant from Texas, said. “You see what you are missing, and it helps you to improve your trade.”

Jukes, who’s originally from Australia, said he noticed his job as a blacksmith was becoming monotonous soon after he moved to the United States. It wasn’t until he started participating in competitions regularly that he “rekindled the fire” of his craft.

Since that time, Jukes has gone on to participate in several elite blacksmithing competition teams, including the World Championship Blacksmith International Team, a four-man team made of the top scorers from World Championship Blacksmiths competitions.

Jukes placed third overall at the Herriman competition.

“At the end of the day, it’s not really about what you score, though,” Jukes said. “It’s just nice to get around people who are doing the same things as you every day, who are like-minded. We all have a good time, and it’s a good time to hang out and get a break from the daily grind.”

At the end of each competition day, blacksmiths gathered around and created art pieces including steel roses, some of which they donated to charity, according to Withers. 

“They create the most amazing art, yet they don’t believe they are talented,” she said. “People should really come down and see the work they do. It’s incredible.”

At the conclusion of the competition on June 18, farriers headed home, but Withers said she’s hopeful they’ll be back for a similar competition in Fort Herriman Days 2017.