The Talent Code

I believe one of the main reasons we hear so much criticism of the lack of farrier skills today is due to a lack of long-term commitment to skill mastery. It seems that many people only want to put in the minimum effort needed to graduate from a farrier school or to make a living. They value their free time when they’re not working more than their work time, which could be devoted to skill improvement.

Daniel Coyle in his book The Talent Code says that greatness or excellence isn’t born, it’s grown. He makes the case that anyone can become excellent at what they want to do, if they will do what the author calls ‘deep practice.’ It takes a long time – at least 10,000 hours – or about 10 years to master most skills with deep practice. Time to learn them can be significantly reduced by setting goals and focusing with our full attention. Initial training at a farrier school (of whatever length) should be seen as only the beginning of life-long learning. Yet, the old saying, “How you start out, is how you’ll end up,” is still true. You can be taught how to use deep practice to improve your craft.

Experience verifies that those who have a long term commitment to mastery and an obsessive desire to improve will eventually achieve what they seek. Inborn abilities can be cultivated or they can be ignored. Studies have shown that to achieve world-class mastery in anything requires about 10,000 hours of ‘deep practice.’ Deep practice is defined as practice where correction is made each time an error is made. This takes about 10 years for most people. Most world-class experts practice between 3 and 5 hours a day, no matter what skill they pursue.

Talent isn’t so much inborn as it is developed by focused and mistake correcting repetition. As we do deep practice, the myelin insulation covering of our nerves increases its wraps and eventually gives us skill mastery. All skills are built using the same fundamental mechanism. The mechanism involves physiological limits from which no one is exempt. The true expertise of geniuses resides in their ability to deep-practice excessively, even when it doesn’t look like they’re practicing. They have the ‘rage to master.’ It’s so obvious that if you have to ask if persons have it, they don’t. Talent development is best done when you are young as myelin breaks down with age.

Many of the more recently held theories on talent and skill development have been debunked by current research. The idea that has been held since at least 1899 that it takes 10 years of focused effort to become a master at anything is as true today as it was then. This applies to all skills including horseshoeing. The apprentice system has great value.

Every skill is a form of memory. Memory is strengthened by repetition. Higher skills are made of million-neuron wire-like chains working together with exquisite millisecond timing. Wrapping wires with insulation makes the circuits work faster and smoother. Repetition causes the body to wrap layers of myelin insulation around our nerves. Circuits that are fired the most and used most urgently are the ones that are wrapped with the most myelin insulation. As many as fifty layers have been measured – the thicker the insulation, the greater the skill.

Much of your ability to pay the price to achieve skill mastery goes back to your perception of self. Have you made a long-term commitment to achieve a goal of mastery? Have you identified a master you want to be like to create the ‘ignition’ needed to motivate you to put in the time and make the great effort to ‘deep practice?’ Have you set goals to prepare for certification or competitions? Can you visualize yourself mastering these skills in time?

External motivating factors may be helpful but not essential. Losing the feeling of security by: 1) losing a parent (“I’m not safe”), 2) being the youngest in the birth order (“You’re behind – keep up”), or 3) poverty or a failing economy (“I may starve if I don’t work hard”), can be primal cues to provide the energy needed to cause you to dedicate the time and effort necessary to build up your talents and take advantage of opportunities that lead to success. More commonly, identifying a master you want to emulate provides the cue that creates the ignition needed to acquire skill mastery.

The sequence is: 1) Talent development requires deep practice, 2) Deep practice requires vast amounts of energy, and 3) Primal cues trigger huge outpourings of energy. Learning any craft is best taught by watching it demonstrated the right or easy way, then observing and trying it the wrong way, and then seeing the right way again and then practicing it the right way.

Edward Martin, a Scottish Master Blacksmith said, “The difference between knowledge and skill is practice.” Francis Whitaker, the Dean of American Blacksmiths said in a clinic several years ago (he was 90 at the time), “Art is long, life is short, get going!” This applies to all crafts, and especially horsemanship and farrier skill. Pat Parelli says in his book Natural Horsemanship that it takes about 1,000 hours in the saddle to become comfortable with a horse and it takes 10,000 hours to become a high level horseman.

Because of the rapid expansion of knowledge in farrier and veterinary education, those who don’t work at obtaining significant continuing education, are inadequately prepared, even if they graduated in the last few years. It is a common saying among college graduates, “If you got your degree more than five years ago, you used to know a lot.”

The AAEP once said that less than half of the veterinarians who treat horses make a serious attempt at continuing education. This number is probably much less for farriers.

More important than attending meetings or subscribing to journals is the amount of effort you put into learning. Continuing your education helps you feel better about your performance, increases your competence, and your business becomes more financially rewarding. If you are not willing to take the time to become a master of your profession, there may come a day when you will regret you don’t have the skill needed to help a horse and its owner that are depending upon you. Consider the enjoyment you could feel knowing that you did the best that could be done – if you had made the effort to practice and develop your skill.

  1. Bill MintiensAugust 31, 2011   

    Doug – I enjoy reading your blog posts – and I’m not even a farrier. There are too many folks writing/posting about things that will do nothing to improve peoples’ lives. You always cut right to the “quick” – great lessons for both aspiring farriers and we common folk. Thanks.

  2. MonirMay 02, 2014   

    I have a 3 yr. old thoroughbred filly that is (recently) lame in both front feet. Her right front hoof is sratnitg to gape wide at coronary band, sort of like peeling the skin from a grape. Also, her left front hoof is cracked and seeping. She is in excruciating pain ..don’t want to have to put her down, she is an excellent filly in every other way .do you do corrective shoeing? She needs immediate help .she is on bute for pain and pennicillan to fight infection .in addition we have been soaking her in an epsom salt solution once a day. She lays down a lot to take the pressure/pain off her feet and is getting up and down okay bowels are fine, bladder is fine, she is eating grain, grazing when she can, drinking okay .she has lost some weight but not too stoved up, yet. I’d really like to give this game little filly a chance .please let me know if you can help.

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