Major Challenges Confronting Today’s Farrier

It’s important to realize that our present situation is a result of our past activities and decisions regarding the challenges that confront us. Many people tend to focus on the past instead of the future. They think about what could have been or should have been. Because they spend their present in the past, they not only miss the present, but they also are disappointed by the future as well. Others live only in the future dreaming about good things that might happen to them but never take action to assure that they do. Although we can’t change the past, we can change the future by making good decisions today and acting on them.

Frank Lessiter has done more than anyone in recent memory to elevate the standard of farrier related publishing with his American Farriers Journal and the reprinting of classic out-of-print books on the subject of horseshoeing. In his editorial in the May/June issue of AFJ he published a list of eight major challenges farriers face today. This list was compiled from data obtained from a survey of 160 farriers at his International Hoof Care Summit held earlier this year.

I am listing these challenges in the order he did followed by my comments on each.

1. Rising Costs – Fuel, especially diesel fuel, insurance, and steel and tool supply costs have all increased significantly. Normally, this would not be a problem if farriers could readily pass these costs on to clients. However, in a down economy, coupled with the decrease in value of marginal horses due to the passage of the national anti-slaughter law, these rising costs can have a devastating effect on your farrier business. Fortunately, horsemen who generate income from businesses that are less affected by the downturn, or that use their horses for generating income, still maintain their horses to a high standard. Switching to these kinds of clients may be even more important in the future.

2. Client Education – Confronting wishful thinking and harmful fads coming from Internet “experts” is a major problem. One of my customers compared a lot of what is on the Internet to the writing on the walls in public restrooms since it seems to have been put there by some of the lower forms of life. While there are many good things to be said about the Internet, an executive of one of its largest search engines recently called today’s Internet “an open sewer.” Customers who have been conned by charlatans prove to be difficult to convince that there is a more excellent way to provide sound hoof care for their animals. Much of the problem originates with the lack of horsemanship skill and common sense possessed by some of today’s new horse owners, trainers and caretakers. And, some is due to the natural resistance people feel to learn anything new after they are first presented with a reasonable sounding idea. Psychologists call this “the primacy effect.” As farriers, you must become educated as to what is being said, the fallacies in the ideas, and how to present a sensible point of view to counteract them.

3. Continuing Education – How does one keep motivated in the face of challenging times? Farriers must keep learning and progressing. Farrier school is just the beginning. There are few occupations where one can start with a few weeks of basic instruction, a few thousand dollars worth of tools and supplies, and then after learning by experience for a few years, make an income comparable to other professionals. Since time and resources are limited, you must choose carefully what you read and believe, as well as who you choose as mentors. To keep progressing, you must work with someone who has the skill you want to have. You must learn from those who have done it. Not all educational opportunities or experiences are of equal value.

4. Business Management – There must be some effort to adjust to client restraints in a down economy. This could mean temporarily lowering your price, creative payment terms, or extending the shoeing interval when money is tight for a client. More likely when faced with such a situation you would be forced to change clients. Most farrier businesses turn over about 10% of their clients per year for various reasons. The number one concern in horse owner surveys I have conducted over the years has been the lack of business management skills by farriers. A section of our foundation farrier courses is devoted to helping students develop these skills. Farriers must learn to pace themselves so they stay healthy and motivated. Life balance must be a significant part of business management.

5. Staying Healthy – Good health habits include adequate rest, good nutrition, adequate water intake, and avoidance of unhealthy substances. All these considerations are most important since farriers make their living with their bodies. You must take care of the tools you use to generate income. Retirement planning is an important part of your job. You can’t do this job forever. Being self-employed in a physical job means you must plan for the future. Savings, wise investments, and provident (frugal) living are all things to consider now more than ever.

6. Professionalism – One of the characteristics of a profession is the adherence to a Code of Conduct. To be effective it must be a part of you, and your clients must recognize that you have adopted it. I feel so strongly about this I wrote a book several years ago I called The Cowboy Code® emphasizing the Code portrayed by the silver screen singing cowboys of yesteryear. James Owen, a Wall Street investment consultant, wrote Cowboy Ethics to encourage higher ethics in the business community emphasizing the Code portrayed by working cowboys. Farriers have an image of ignorance that has been perpetuated by persons who have little concern for their own individual reputation or the collective reputation of all farriers. Horse owners are repelled by your conflict with other farriers, veterinarians and barefoot trimmers. It is not so much about what you say or do, but rather how you say or do it. If you disagree, do it in an honest and agreeable way and back up your claims with sound reasoning.

7. Serving Clients Effectively – You must increase your value to clients with your service. This usually means improving yourselves since you are the business. The best way to prevent an owner from switching to another service provider is to give extraordinary service and be a person of integrity they can trust.

8. Effective Scheduling – Grouping clients together geographically helps keep travel expenses down. There will always be a certain amount of schedule changes in any farrier business due to unforeseen emergencies. Plan ahead for possible last minute schedule changes by having backup plans, so that you can profitably use your work time. Schedule horses ahead as far as possible. The best time is right after you complete the last job. Provide reminder notices. Schedule your family time and vacations first. Carry your scheduling tool wherever you go. Be accessible, but be committed to a schedule that keeps you in control of your life.

Solutions to these challenges faced by today’s farrier are all covered in the business portion of our courses. Your success is our goal. You can’t change the past, yet we can help you change the future by showing you how to choose and implement a plan to meet the major challenges facing your farrier business today.     

Personalized courses to help practicing farriers reach the next level can be found at 1-800-728-3826.

  1. Jim GoedeMay 20, 2011   


    My situation is a bit different from most other farriers due to 2 reasons: 1. the area I live in and 2. an injury last year. As to the area, I live in a place referred to as “Horsetown USA”, where having a horse is not so much a luxury as a right. It is also a very blue-collar area where many of my clients have been severely affected by the down economy. Most of these clients have 1-3 backyard horses. The second issue came into play last year when I ended up completely down for about 6 months due to herniated disks in my back. The bad news was that I ended up losing about 50% of my clients. The good news is I found out who my good clients are. I still have ALL of them.

    There is a “normal” seasonal slowdown every year during the winter that usually results in a drop of about 20%, which comes back in the spring when the weather clears. Not any more. Due to lost jobs, gas prices and subsequent feed prices, many people have been forced to sell or even give away their horses just to survive. I also lost many clients to cheaper farriers who “poached” them by offering discounts (so much for loyalty). But again, this is where you find out who your truly good clients are. I am currently attempting to rebuild my practice, but it’s been really slow going so far. However, I see this as an opportunity to develope a better client base than I had.

    I am hopeful that this spring/summer will show signs of life. I wish all you other guys and gals out there good luck in the coming year. We will need it. Manage your business and common sense – words to live by.

  2. Tammie BakerMay 24, 2011   

    Thanks Doug for the words of encouragement. Ive been a professional Farrier for 28 years. I had no formal schooling except your shoeing principals book. My business is mostly performance horses from working cow, barrelracing, endurance, eventing ect…………… and throw in the aging athlete that keeps you on your toes. I have not been kind to my self over the years and I hate using the excuse of being a woman but I have had to work tenfold harder than a man to gain the respect due to me. As a result I have had 2 back surgurys one was a 2 level fusion and the other, 2 years later to remove the hardware that I could no longer live with. With that said I love my craft and I try to keep things as fresh as I can including pulling out old issues of my Farrier journals.
    Tammie Baker
    If the Shoe Fits Farrier Service
    Silver City New Mexico

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