Farrier Competency for Farriers by Doug Butler

Farrier work is a craft skill. It takes many years to master any craft. Farrier school is only the beginning. You must study and practice to become competent. You must train your eyes, your brain, and your motor nerves and muscles to do this precision work. You must obtain the knowledge and develop the skills of a competent farrier. This means you know your craft and are no longer struggling.

There is a shortage of competent farriers. Many are practicing with inadequate training and experience. The only reason more horses aren’t lame is because most horses are very forgiving of farrier error. Following are skills that are essential. If you don’t have these, the horse owner will look for one who does. Your possession of these traits raises the cost of switching to a new farrier.


1) You must be able to balance a foot. To do this you must take into consideration the horse’s conformation, gait, use and environment. You must position your eyes perpendicular to the plane you desire to assess. You must be able to project the ideal on to and compare it to each foot you work on. You must be able to recognize and describe balance. You must be capable of compensating for imbalance.

2) You must be able to use the trimming tools to achieve balance. Keep your tools sharp and well maintained. Replace them when they are worn out. Practice making over lapping cuts with your nippers to create a level hoof that requires very little rasping. Remove hoof distortion or flares with your rasp. Trim hooves and fit shoes so there is no sole pressure. Round the edges of hooves that are to be left barefoot.


3) You must be able to select or make and fit shoes to the trimmed and dressed hoof. Shoe fitting skill is often lacking in practicing farriers. You must see the hoof shape first before you can accurately fit to it. Visualize and shape starting with the toe and move toward the heels. Shaping shoes accurately is aided by the forge. You must learn where on the anvil to hold the shoe to make precise adjustments. Even well made machine made shoes must be altered to fit individual feet. A well fit shoe is easy to nail accurately.

4) You must know the anatomy and physiology of the horse’s foot. You must know the foot and what’s in it. You must know how it works, what can go wrong, and what may be done to fix it. You must learn the vocabulary, the form and the position of the structures. You should know the foot as well or even better than the vet. You must become a respected foot specialist.


5) You must be aware of foot abnormalities and be able to accommodate them by forging alterations in shoes. You should be able to recognize abnormal conformation of the foot and limb. You should know the common foot diseases and what the vet can do to treat them medically and how you can treat them mechanically with various therapeutic shoes. You must be efficient in your use of the forge to make and alter shoes.


6) You must be able to explain what is needed to the horse owner and veterinarian and convince them of its value. You must know anatomy and a specialized industry vocabulary so that you can adequately explain a problem and present options for them to choose. After they have chosen and committed to the agreed-upon course of action, you must continually remind and convince them of the value of such a course.


7) You must be able to run a sustainable business. To do this you must exercise self-discipline. Don’t waste your resources. Keep accurate and honest records. Live by a schedule. Plan ahead so you can be on time for appointments. Communicate your expectations. Guard your health. Thank people for their business. Be an information resource. Do those things that will keep your clients happy.

This is what I think a competent farrier should be able to do. I believe a number of the problems in our industry are ones that poorly prepared farriers have brought upon themselves. They are not doing any or all of these things to a high standard. As a result, farriers have an image of ignorance. I hope you will commit to changing that image by resolving to be a professional farrier and master your craft!

  1. Jon WhiteJune 09, 2010   

    Good read before I head out the door, gave me a little reminder of my weaknesses; where I need to strive to improve. thanks.

  2. DanielJune 11, 2010   

    I value and enjoy the information from you and your sons shared here. I have heard of a Farrier training school that is involving horse denistry or tooth floating. Yet I hear some veteranarians are complaining that non- vet certified Farriers are doing this work with their customers other than horse shoeing. Will horse denistry become a new wave of added skills for farriers in the future. Is it a good idea to look into aquiring this skill with Farrier training, or is it a waste of time ?

    • Butler Farrier SchoolAugust 31, 2010   

      This is a question that is frequently asked by new students. I have strong feelings about this. I don’t think it is a good idea to combine dentistry with farriery. It takes a long time to become expert at either one. Dentistry has traditionally been a realm of the veterinarian. If a farrier chooses to enter that realm, they can’t help but alienate those who would be their best allies in servicing their equine clients. In addition, to do a good job it requires administration of drugs which is unwise as well as illegal for farriers to do. We farriers need to make the effort to become proficient at what we do rather than being a “jack of all trades and master of none.” We farriers should recognize when a horse needs dental care, but I don’t believe that we should practice dentistry. We should refer the horse owner to a competent veterinarian specialist.

  3. DanielJune 11, 2010   

    In choosing a Farrier nail driving hammer, do you go for the heavier or a lighter weight of hammer for most horses ? Aprx what ounce weight of driving hammers do you and your students use at your school and why ?

    • Butler Farrier SchoolAugust 31, 2010   

      We recommend the 14 oz driving hammer for new students. However, if they intend to shoe race horses, they could go with a lighter hammer or draft horses – they could go with a heavier hammer. But on the average, 14 oz will suit most needs. Important in selection of a hammer is the claw design. You want it to ring a nail rapidly and cleanly.

  4. Ernest BacaAugust 23, 2010   

    Before I became a farrier, yes I went to school to be trained, I was a subcontractor. I know from experience that certain people do not like to be told how to do their job. Try telling an architect that his design will not work because it does not allow for x y z! Architects vary rarely will even communicate with a sub because the are above talking to them. You have to submit a RFI to general contractor (request for information) and then you may get a response. I have never met a bunch of arrogant individuals like architects! Now take that example to a vet and he just may think you are trying to make him look inferior and seek revenge against you to the owner! I have not encountered a vet yet, but I know when to be quiet and when to speak up. I know of 3 different vets from customers and they all said they are idiots and will never use them again.
    in closing you can put two cents in but with the wrong vet you can find it not worth your time and with the right vet you can have a long relationship with a good vet which translates well to the customer.
    now that is my two cents worth take it for what it is.

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