In pursuit of a career as a farrier, a former Taranaki man headed to the United Kingdom because he wanted to be the best.
Andrew Reader-Smith, who grew up around horses on the family dairy farm at Cardiff, became interested in a career as a farrier when he was managing Terawhiti Station on Wellington's south coast. The isolated, windswept station near Makara was home to about 20 horses and it was there that he was introduced to shoeing the animals.
"Working hot steel to make shoes appeals to me. I always got on with horses and I like working with them," he said.
He's visiting his parents, Barrie and Dorothy Smith, in Stratford this month with wife Cathy and daughter Madeline, 7.
While he's here, he'll pass on his expertise at farrier clinics in Inglewood and at the Taranaki Pioneer Village.
Reader-Smith left Terawhiti Station to shoe horses fulltime around Wellington for three years. Keen to hone his skills even further, he headed to Britain where he'd arranged a job with Cecil Swan, a noted farrier who owns a company that designs and manufactures gas forges.
"I wanted to be the best, so I had to go where the best are. I was fortunate to land a job with Cecil because he allowed me to take part in shoeing competitions."
Reader-Smith said the practice required for competition and the scrutiny of competitors' work raised farriers' standards.
"You need talent to succeed, but you also have to rehearse and practise.
"I like competition. I'm not content with just being another number. I want to be the best."
He has unfinished business in competition because he wants to win a world championship. This year they'll be staged in Calgary, Canada, where he'll compete as a member of a top-line team of four international farriers.
"I've still goals that I want to achieve - I'd like to have a crack at a singles title at the world champs.
"When I'm content, I'll come home."
Competitors forge specimen shoes which they fit and nail to horses' feet in events throughout the United Kingdom as well as in Canada and the United States. The most prestigious event is the World Champion Blacksmiths' Competition at the Calgary Stampede, where Reader-Smith has been a judge.
He's competed in the United States and this year he will defend the title he won as a member of Team Wales at the 2013 Kentucky Horseshoeing Classic.
In the UK, he gained the diploma which allowed him to become a member of the centuries-old Worshipful Company of Farriers. He's also on the Worshipful Company of Farriers' judging panel.
In 1999 he established his own business, Silver Fern Forge Ltd in Dorset. Among his clients is top British and former World No 1 eventing rider William Fox-Pitt, who lives across the road from Reader-Smith's forge.
"We serve the horse. When you see the horse, it's about reading between the lines," Reader-Smith said.
He takes pride in shoeing all types of horses, including dressage and eventing horses, showjumpers, ponies and hunters.
"I shoe everything, but cart horses are my favourites. They have big, strong feet - I just like them."
He's sad to see the decline in the number of cart horses, although he notes many UK breweries still deliver kegs of beer to pubs in drays pulled by cart horses.
He's not so keen on shoeing racehorses. "If you do racehorses, you get grief from the horse or grief from its owner. They're light- footed - they have crap feet."
Communication is an essential part of his work. Before he shoes a horse, he always talks to its owner to find out what it does and on what surfaces. "Every horse is different. You shoe it for what it does."
For example, a set of shoes on a hunter in Britain would last only three hunts, so if it took part in three hunts in a week, then it had to be shod weekly.
"But if you're hunting on grass - as in New Zealand - a set of shoes would probably last all season."
As a farrier, not only does he communicate with a horse's owner - he also has to pass on his craft to his apprentices.
"You probably pick up about 20 per cent of what you need to know by doing it, but the majority is passed down from teacher to pupil."
Being a farrier is physically demanding and at the age of 50 he's finding it tough on his back, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
"You've got a 23/4-pound hammer that you're swinging all day, so it takes its toll."
But he says success depends on technique rather than strength.
He said farriers needed a capacity for hard work.
"It's not a job for lightweights. It's a life of punishment - you're mauled by horses, you get burnt, you can be kicked and killed, it's a dangerous job.
"Horses are masters of body language. Some are out to get you and they can be pretty slick about it. If a horse wants to, he'll get you.
"You pay attention to lessen the likelihood of that happening. Don't be complacent - and there are ways of getting around horses.
"I've had a few boots from horses - but no broken bones from shoeing. A horse is 20 times as strong as you and it tolerates what you are doing to it."
He readily concedes that lameness occurs as a result of shoeing. "Everyone lames a horse. You're nailing into a living structure. You're shoeing by experience - and you'll get it wrong sometimes."
His message to anyone thinking about being a farrier: "You've got to be besotted with it to have a chance of being good at it."
* Andrew Reader-Smith is running farrier clinics at the Inglewood property of farrier Jock Good on Saturday and at the Taranaki Pioneer Village on Sunday.
- © Fairfax NZ News