About 20 years ago, I couldn’t find a good farrier. My trusted farrier’s back had finally given out and he was done. Farriers don’t grow on trees, and GOOD farriers are a rare bird. During a visit to ISU vet school, I asked their residential farrier if he knew someone that I might call to do my regular work. He said, “Well, I have a guy that you can call. He’s very good. He’s a Certified Journeyman Farrier, but he’s kind of prickly. He doesn’t get along with everyone. You might not like his personality.” I looked him square in the eye and said, “Listen. I don’t need a great guy. I need a great farrier.” He gave me the man’s number and he has been my farrier for almost 20 years.
Now, farriers are funny birds. For a group of strapping men (usually), they are a bunch of prima donnas. Each one has his likes and dislikes, and if you get one as good as I have, you want to make sure you keep him happy. In turn, he guarantees his work. He never leaves me hanging if one of the horses loses a shoe. He educates me. He works with my vet. He can read x-rays. He keeps his appointments. Most of all, every single one of my horses travels better and happier after he has touched them. This man is a treasure and probably more important to my business than I am.
As you know, I am here to help. How do you find and keep a farrier?
Start by going to Americanfarriers.org. Under Resources click “find a farrier” and enter your criteria. I would suggest looking for a farrier that has CJF after his name. This means he has been educated, has a degree and a lot of knowledge. Plenty of guys can buy a rasp and a truck and say they are a farrier. I had two lame horses using that method.
When you contact the farrier, ask questions. Does he have references? Does he seem like a professional businessperson? My farrier made only one appointment with me, did a few horses, and refused to make another appointment until I’d had a little time to decide if I liked his work or not.
You have completed the easy part. You have found a farrier. Now is the hard part. How do you keep him? The farrier is blamed for everything and owners notoriously treat farriers badly. One woman told my farrier that her horse was perfect in all respects except that he beat up the farrier.
Rule # 1- MAKE YOUR HORSES STAND FOR THE FARRIER. Treat him like a respected professional. Do not let your horse put his mouth on the farrier. Ever. It is so disrespectful. The farrier is in a vulnerable position to perform one of the most important services that you and your horse need. When he is bent over trimming a front hoof, don’t let the horse put his lips anywhere near the farrier. Even though your horse doesn’t bite.
When the farrier is trimming the back feet, expect your horse to stand quietly, even if this means that you pick up his feet and hold them multiple times a day until he does. Farriers get hurt because horses kick or yank their feet away.
If your horse is naughty, arrange with your vet to tranquilize the horse. It is not the farrier’s job to train your horse. Not getting hurt is his only job security.
Rule # 2- Be on time for your appointment. Again, a professional courtesy. Do you like to wait in the doctor’s office for 45 minutes when you showed up on time? Neither does your farrier want to wait for you. Does he pull up to your farm on time, only to have you show up late and then go catch the horse from the pasture? And speaking of the pasture, bring your horse in early and make sure he’s reasonably clean. Can you empathize with picking up four feet that have been standing in the mud?
Rule #3- Make regular appointments every 5-6 weeks. Your farrier doesn’t want three months’ worth of a mess to clean up. If you care about your horse’s comfort, be regular with his trims and resets.
Rule # 4- Let your farrier be the professional. I don’t hold horses for him while I am telling him how to do his job. If you hear any words regarding angles of hooves or any form of advice or knowledge coming out of your mouth, just stop talking. I have been a trainer for about 30 years, and I would never presume to tell my farrier how to trim feet or shoe a horse. My experience tells me that I can tell if one, “just ain’t right”, but I would not begin to have the knowledge or skill to fix it. I inform him of any problems the horse is having. If we have a veterinary issue, he has conferred with the vet, but I don’t tell him how to fix it. That is why I have the farrier I have. He is good at his job. Great even. Do your research and find a great farrier, then get out of his way.
Rule # 5- Listen to your horses. How are they traveling after the farrier visits? I have had horses come into my barn with terribly shod feet. In most cases, one visit with my farrier will make that horse happy. Horses spend up to 24 hours a day on their feet. One of your most important tasks is to have a trained, educated, knowledgeable professional trim and shoe them. I have seen horses come back from lameness, from sore backs, from stuck shoulders and poor performance because of a talented farrier. When you think about how much we spend on this sport we call Dressage, why not invest a little more money in having the best. Then, treat him like the valued professional that he is.