Finding a Good Farrier
© Ray Miller
I tried to call my farrier yesterday, but couldn't reach him. His phone is disconnected and none of my friends know where he has gone. So I called my neighbor, and he is going to trim my horse's feet, and he will only charge me five bucks. Anyway, that other guy wasn't so great; he was too expensive and never on time. I think I've got a better deal this way.
One of the most common complaints among horse owners is their inability to find a "good" farrier. They charge too much, are always late or breaking appointments, and don't listen to you when you tell them what you want are many of the objections to their talent or behavior. Those of us happy with our farriers keep quiet for fear that if he or she gets too many new clients we will lose him. Unfortunately, not enough horse owners really understand what constitutes a good farrier and how to find or keep one. And believe me, if you find a truly good farrier, you will want to keep him. With some careful thought and consideration, every one of us can find a farrier we can work with and will contribute to the well-being of our horses.
Most of us have heard the old axiom, "No foot, no horse." But despite how much biotin we supplement into the animal's feed or how religious we are about applying the hoof dressings, if the foot is not balanced and trimmed properly for the horse's conformation, the rest is inadequate. This is why a knowledgeable farrier is so essential to your horse's performance and comfort. Not enough of us, though, give this professional his due.
The first step toward a healthy hoof and reaching this utopia of horseshoeing is finding the professional with whom we can work. "Professional" is stressed for a reason; too often, horse owners hire an individual who works in this field only part time. You are not doing yourself, your horse, or the industry any good with this practice. Full-time farriers have much more invested in their profession than the person who buys a pair of nippers and a rasp and sets out after work to knock out a few horses for extra cash. The professional farrier invests in a full inventory of quality supplies, pursues further education in farrier science and may be certified and belong to one or more farrier associations. In almost every case, he will be much more knowledgeable about his or her work than the part-timer.
Finding this individual may be more difficult than calling the guy down the road, but will pay off in many ways. To start your search, check the classified ads in the horse section of your local paper. Many farriers advertise their business there. When you reach him, have prepared a list of questions regarding his business and expertise. Do not be shy about asking for his history working with horses, e.g., how long, what types of horses, and where he learned his profession. Watch for key phrases such as, "I apprenticed under," and others that suggest a serious attitude toward education. Those who apprentice usually work under a talented and well-established farrier, and the potential for learning is great in that situation. Also ask for references. The full-time farrier will have an extensive list of clients, either individual horse owners or barns, and should be willing to offer names for recommendations. But be ready to ask these references some questions; don't take anyone's word as absolute truth.
Another place to inquire is with other knowledgeable horse industry professionals. Ask tack store owners, trainers and instructors whom they use and why. Be sure to ask many people, though, and compare their comments. Personality clashes are not unheard of in the horse world, so keep that in mind when listening to opinions. Again, be active in your search; ask questions. Once you have some names start narrowing the field, and make a responsible choice based on facts and solid consideration.
A third option is to talk with some local horse veterinarians. During their day they see many horses and are well placed to observe the hoof condition of these animals. The vets have the opportunity to evaluate the farrier's work and often will get to know the individuals themselves. They can usually recommend a competent individual to work on your horse. Also, in many cases, the vet will take the initiative and point their clients toward a particular farrier, particularly if the horse needs corrective or therapeutic work.
Hopefully you have now found a farrier who meets your horse's needs. The next goal is to understand his position. Since he is (here's that word again) a professional, his schedule and price will vary from that of the part-timer. Let's first discuss how best to get your horse booked with an appointment.
The farrier who practices his profession full time will have a busy schedule; do not expect to call and receive an appointment the next day. Monitor the growth of your horse's hooves and try to call a week or two before a trim or shoeing becomes necessary. The farrier will appreciate this consideration, since it allows him to book clients together in a given area and prepare an organized schedule. Remember, too, that he is working all day with many horses; try to be considerate and avoid asking him to work all night, as well. Although their days are rarely nine to five or Monday through Friday, as clients we should try to book whenever possible, according to a regular work day. This means refraining from asking the farrier from coming by in late evenings or at other times when most people are not working. If you truly have an emergency call don't hesitate to contact your farrier, but be prepared to pay as you would an emergency vet call.
Since you have gone to all this trouble to find a reliable professional, it is important at this point to listen to what he says. If he makes suggestions regarding hoof care, consider them carefully. As much as you may know about horses, your farrier sees hundreds of horses day in and day out, and has the chance to examine many more animals and conditions than the average horse owner ever will. Along with his education, this experience is invaluable when evaluating what is best for your horse. And do not always expect farriers to completely agree on a proposed action. There is more than one way to approach many situations, especially when dealing with corrective work. Trust what he suggests and give his decision time to work; more often than not, you will be pleased with your horse's performance. Take advantage of his expertise.
So you have now found a qualified farrier and you have booked appointments with him. You are satisfied with his work and how he handles your horse. Now you want to keep him. This will require more on your part than previously, but if you are interested in having the best care for your horse, it will be well worth it.
One of the easiest things you can do is be accurate when you book your appointment. Be precise about how many horses will need to be worked on, and have a good idea of the type of work you want done. A big complaint of farriers is arriving at a client's barn with two horses booked and having five waiting. This throws their schedule thoroughly off, and the rest of the day is spent trying to catch up. The same problem arises when a client arranges for her horse to be trimmed, yet, when the farrier arrives, she decides instead to have the animal shod. A twenty minute job becomes a sixty-minute one.
Next, you can show consideration for your farrier's schedule. We have already covered when to request your appointments (please, some evenings and weekends off), but that does not always guarantee the appearance of your farrier and the scheduled time. Unfortunately, the best-planned days have the tendency to go wildly out of control. Do not be surprised when the farrier is early or late, but rarely on time. And don't be upset; those who work full time with horses are always trying to coordinate time remaining and "things to do." Not only does time get eaten up with extra horses and work, but poor roads, poor directions, and poor weather all conspire to make keeping a timetable difficult. What you should expect, though, is some consideration in return, and warning if your farrier is going to be late or unable to keep the appointment. If he is consistently very late or does not show without giving you notice, he is not acting professionally. Courtesy goes both ways and both of you should expect it and extend it. If an appointment is canceled, your farrier should get you rescheduled as soon as possible; but take an objective view of your horse's condition. If his hooves can afford to wait a few days, give the farrier that extra time to fit you in.
There are a few other habits you can adopt that will go a long way toward making your barn a pleasant stop. First, you will have well-mannered horses that are properly trained to stand quietly while their feet are handled. Unfortunately, not all of us own these paragons; if you don't, let the farrier know in advance. These horses invariably take longer to work with, and require a special frame of mind. Be sure your farrier is experienced in working with rough animals, and then be prepared to pay him for his time and effort. Remember, he is risking serious injury when working with those ill-behaved horses. Second, try to have a clean and roomy area in which to work. This means keeping all family critters-pets and kids alike- clear of the area. Nice also is a protected place, one that is shady in the summer and a wind-block in winter. Finally, have your horses clean, free from mud, manure and dirt. It is always a more pleasant stop when you can leave without smelling too badly of thrush or manure.
The most important factor in keeping your farrier is showing him loyalty. If you are constantly switching farriers, never allowing one a consistent position with your horse, you can hardly expect to head his client list. If you only call for emergencies or to fix another farrier's work, he will not be too anxious to fit you into his busy schedule. The same holds true if you only use a farrier for the busy summer riding months. He has plenty of business this time of year and welcomes yours, but those who stay loyal and have their horses attended during the other seven months are sure to be appreciated and will be important to him. Horses still need attending, and keeping their feet is peak condition year 'round will benefit you during the riding season; actually, both you and your farrier will benefit.
Your horses are very important to you, and any horse owner will admit that they are an expensive luxury. Everything concerned with them is time- and cash-consuming, and quality care is even more so. Don't skimp on foot care thinking that it is less important, and don't pinch pennies by hiring part-time and unprofessional farriers. Consistent and excellent care will allow you to spend less in the end, since maintenance is cheaper than correction. And you will be supporting the horse industry, so that professionals can remain full time and give you the knowledge of their experience.