By Elyse Schenk
July 24, 2020
Your horse’s feet carry the burden of their overall health and performance. Thus, having a great farrier on your team is one of your greatest assets. But how do you know if a farrier is great before it’s too late?
An industry saying goes that “a great farrier knows how to hide.” Whether you’ve relocated, or your previous farrier wasn’t the right match, selecting a new farrier whose expertise and professionalism you can trust isn’t exactly straightforward.
We asked David Hallock CJF, AWCF—head instructor of the Michigan State University farrier school, education chairman of the American Farrier’s Association, and owner of 3R Forge and Farriery Services— to share his advice for selecting the best farrier to suit the needs of your unique program.
Again, farriers know how to hide. Most experienced horseshoers don’t spend a lot of time advertising. Instead, word-of-mouth marketing is how business gets done. Thus, referrals are your best bet to connect with a great farrier. Talk to a veterinarian (or several), a respected horse trainer, or a horseman you trust in order to earn a recommendation. This will give you crucial insight into a farrier’s reputation, their strengths and weaknesses, personality, and level of professionalism.
Keep in mind that many highly skilled and specialized farriers accept new clients by referral only. It’s not unusual for the best, most sought-after craftsmen to be unable to accept any additional clients. However, a quality horseshoer will be eager to care for your horse if one of their current clients, or a fellow horse care professional, vouches for you. Take advantage of your connections.
Use context when evaluating reviews
Everyone makes mistakes. This overused excuse may feel insufficient to entrust someone with the delicate feet of your beloved (and expensive) animal, but let’s be realistic. Bad news always travels faster than good news. You could miss out on excellent care because one poor review scared you away.
If you hear a poor review, try digging a little deeper. How long ago did the mishap occur? Is it possible they’ve improved since then? A vast majority of farriers constantly strive for progress. Thus, it’s unlikely that one mistake made years ago will happen again.
Plus, a poor review is only one side of the story. Miscommunication might account for an inaccurate criticism. Of course, it’s also entirely possible that a poor review is completely credible and serious. To get to the truth, pay attention to patterns. Did you hear repeated complaints of the same issue? If so, would this particular issue be a deal breaker for you?
For example, a few people complained of their typical tardiness. Can you be flexible on subpar professionalism if their skill is superb? Or is punctuality absolutely necessary for the management of your farm? Obviously, we’d all prefer someone perfect in both professionalism and skill. Just be aware that you could risk losing the opportunity to work with a great potential teammate if you discount them based on a single flaw.
Decide which traits matter the most to you and your program. Then, consider the full story when collecting farrier reviews. Keep in mind that no one is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle.
Image courtesy of Jonathan Bean via Unsplash
Know what does (and doesn’t) make a farrier qualified
Technically, there is no required training to be a farrier in the United States. Farriery remains one of the few unregulated American industries in this respect. The absence of a single governing body for farrier work allows freedom in education, but difficulty in training continuity.
Many farrier schools, apprenticeships, endorsements and certification programs exist for farriers to gain skills and varying degrees of credibility. These programs may earn a mess of acronyms after your name, but they’re complicated to compare.
Generally, the American Farrier’s Association (AFA) generates worthy horseshoers. AFA training requires students’ work to be judged by others, which produces excellent, fine-tuned knowledge as a result.
The levels of AFA certifications to pay attention to:
1. Farrier Classification (FC) – entry level training of basics
2. Certified Farrier (CF) – first level of certification
3. Certified Tradesman Farrier (CTF) – second level of certification
4. Certified Journeyman Farrier (CJF) – highest level of certification
Additionally, apprenticeships are a typical form of farrier training. Apprentices work hands-on, which is the most reliable method to gain skill. However, farrier techniques and experience may differ depending on who they train under. Research the tradesman who trained your potential farrier to see if their experience, specialties, and predominant discipline is relevant to your horse and farm.
Farrier schools are slightly more standardized than apprenticeships. University farrier schools are especially likely to offer the most up-to-date knowledge and latest research on farrier techniques.
Note that formal training is more helpful for farriers to learn than it is for providing clients selection criteria. Ultimately, the longest list of certification titles doesn’t guarantee the most skilled farrier. The best learning comes from doing, collaboration with other farriers, and other independent research. Thus, don’t spend too much time evaluating formal training levels when choosing a potential farrier. Focus more on experience and reputation.
Don’t ignore the tack store bulletin board
While it’s true that most experienced farriers don’t actively advertise, this shouldn’t dissuade you from contacting those who post their business cards around town. The typical demographic posting these ads are new farriers to the area, or new farriers in general. They’re not incompetent. They're just looking to build clientele. You may stumble across a talented farrier who hasn’t yet established their reputation. Give them a shot!
Image courtesy of Gayle Lawrence via Pixabay
Be open to unfamiliar horseshoeing approaches
Horsemen are rooted in tradition and often weary of change. This mindset could limit progress for our industry, and for your horse’s feet. Think outside the box when evaluating farrier practices.
Unlike Europe, farriers in the United States work primarily individually. This dynamic may be shifting, for the better. If you notice that a farrier tends to work with a partner, or team, or calls for advice often, don’t be skeptical of their knowledge. The trending farrier camraderie allows multiple great minds to fix your horse for the price of one. Everyone benefits when advice is shared.
Similarly, research may indicate that some standard shoeing practices are outdated. For example, recent studies suggest that 6 weeks is too long to wait between farrier appointments. 4 weeks between appointments may significantly reduce incidences of lameness.
Modern farrier practices may look different than you’d expect. Keep an open mind to innovative horseshoers.
Let a good trim speak for itself. Farriers say “the last foot of the day we drop is our calling card.” Ultimately, the best evidence of a great farrier is pride in his/her craft. Look for the farrier whose passion is obvious.