Farrier Competency for Horse Owners by Doug Butler

I’m often asked how I would define farrier competency. “What should a competent farrier look like?” “How will I know one when I see one?” In the British Isles, they would call such a person “a qualified farrier.”

The way a person starts out is generally the way he or she ends up. Attitude is nearly as important as talent. We see this with students at the Butler Professional Farrier School. Those persons that get the highest scores on exams, and become the most successful farriers after graduation, almost always are those that are internally motivated by a strong desire to learn and be of service to others.  Those that require someone else to motivate them, and dare others to teach them something, rarely become competent.

We have found that the state or country of origin, the age, or the sex of the student is not as important as possessing a strong desire to learn. We have had excellent students in all these categories. Horse experience is probably the most important prerequisite. I will refer to the competent farrier hereafter as a he for ease of writing, but we have had many outstanding female students.

Be aware that the passing of certification exams or membership in farrier organizations is not as important as the preparation and commitment to excellence that motivates a person to take an exam. Most horsemen don’t realize the effort and practice it takes to pass a craft exam. Therefore, the main benefit is to the craftsman who challenges himself to do it, puts in the time to make a good job of it, and thereby increases his competency. You, as the client, are directly benefited by getting a more competent farrier and a higher standard of work done on your horses.

First and foremost a competent farrier must know horses. This takes time. That’s why we recommend horse experience before farrier school and apprenticeship afterward. A competent farrier (or any horse professional) should know the horse inside and out. He should know anatomy or structure vocabulary and the physiology or function of the structures. He should recognize effective horse training methods, proper horse nutrition, and what constitutes humane care for horses. To advise the owner, he should know when a horse needs to be shod and how and when it only needs trimming. He should be aware of the top horses and the top people in his specialized breeds and disciplines. He should know the ideal conformation and gaits of these horses and the methods to achieve the best performance in these various disciplines. In other words, he should be able to “talk the talk.”

A competent farrier must be able to do the work. Farrier work is hard work and not everyone has the capacity to do it. The farrier must have the required tools and know how to use his tools to create a solution to foot problems. He must balance the feet and be mindful that he is shoeing the whole horse, not just the feet. He needs to be able to explain what he is doing and why. In addition to carrying an inventory of materials needed to solve foot problems, he must be able to make or modify a hoof or shoe in any situation. He should be capable of following instructions from the horse owner and veterinarian. He should be able to convince owners and vets of the merit of the technique he recommends to help the horse. In other words, he should be able to “walk the walk.”

A competent farrier must know business. He needs to run a sustainable business that will be around at least as long as you own the horse. This requires self-discipline, since the farrier is self-employed and is, in fact, the business. He keeps accurate records and knows his costs. He makes and honors appointments. He returns phone calls and is available during business hours to answer questions, especially when a new horse has been purchased. He is constantly learning by studying, attending selected clinics, and practicing to master his craft in order to be a reliable resource for you, the horse owner.

A competent farrier must have character, not just be a character. He must be clean, courteous and respectful. He is free of addictive habits that adversely affect his business and relationship with you, the client. (He understands that today’s health-conscious clients do not appreciate those who are not.) He must know his limits and be willing to refer cases to more advanced practitioners when necessary. If you move away with your horse(s), a good farrier will help you find a competent farrier in your new area.

This is what I think a competent farrier looks like. I believe a number of the problems confronting our industry at this time are due to the fact that not enough farriers fit this profile. If you are fortunate enough to have a farrier like I’ve described, you will want to do your part to keep him or her happy!

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