Should Farriers be Licensed?

Horseshoers (farriers) in the United States have long practiced with no regulation and only voluntary certification, but some in the industry think that will–and should–change soon. An American Farrier’s Association (AFA) task force presented

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Horseshoers (farriers) in the United States have long practiced with no regulation and only voluntary certification, but some in the industry think that will–and should–change soon. An American Farrier’s Association (AFA) task force presented a proposal to the AFA Board of Directors in late February on this issue, and that proposal has generated an explosion of controversy.

“Our charge was to evaluate the current status of farrier education in the United States and to look at the issue of farrier licensing or registration,” stated an introductory note in the report. “These issues have suddenly become critical to the future of farrier work in the United States, due to the emergence of legal restrictions on farriers in several states.”

The report cited as examples veterinary practice acts in Florida and Arizona that state or imply that professional health care work (including farriery) on animals is within the realm of veterinary medicine. This opens the door for legal action against farriers providing hoof care in those states, which understandably causes a lot of concern for farriers throughout the country.


What’s the Problem?

Many have said that one of the strongest forces behind the legislation and the movement toward licensing is an increasing frequency of poor hoof care by inadequately educated or “bad” farriers and the resulting lameness and owner dissatisfaction. People on both sides of the issue agree that many farrier courses are too short and don’t provide enough education and practice for a student to be a proficient, professional farrier immediately upon graduation. Another issue many agree on is that owners today often want more accountability for a professional’s work than in years past.

“With many owners, when you talk about licensing, the first words out of their mouths are, ‘What, they’re not? They ought to be, they take care of my horse’s most prized possession–his feet!’ states AFA Executive Director Bryan Quinsey.

“This situation is largely the result of our own lack of uniform standards of education and practice and the loss of confidence in farriers, as a group, by much of the horse industry. We owe it to our profession to raise it once again,” noted the task force report.

But not everyone thinks there is a problem with the farriery profession in the United States that needs fixing–just legal issues that need to be rectified. “I don’t see more owners being upset at quality,” says Henry Heymering, AFA Certified Journeyman Farrier, president of the Guild of Professional Farriers (GPF) and a Registered Master Farrier of the Guild. “Quality has continued to improve year by year. But I think (the laws including farriery under veterinary medicine) are outrageous.

“If we had licensing, it (farriery being considered veterinary medicine in some states) would still be the case unless the law changed,” adds Heymering.

Ralph Casey, president of the Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association (BWFA), says, “This isn’t the AFA’s view, it’s a handful of their leaders’ view. They are trying to use a scare tactic. Licensing won’t help anything, it will drive up prices and hurt horses and owners in the long run. You can’t expect someone to protect everything. There’s a lot of bad (farriery) that goes on, but a lot of good, too. You can still get ripped off by a licensed plumber or electrician just as easy as an unlicensed one.”


Improving Farrier Education

The AFA task force found that there are currently at least 65 farrier schools in North America, with 11 associated with a university or community college. The first goal of the AFA proposal is to survey all North American farrier schools to document the quality of instruction, instructors, and facilities available; the survey (to be developed by a new task force responsible only for the survey, not licensing recommendations) is targeted to commence in July.

For now, however, there currently is no minimum standard for farrier education; schools range from distance learning to two-day short courses to full-time programs spanning up to six months. “Raising the minimum standard (of farriery practice) goes back to the educational component,” states Quinsey.

Also, many farriers currently practicing didn’t go to any farrier school, and a large percentage of those who did quit the business within a short period of time.

“Many practicing farriers have little (in terms of education)–they don’t have to!” Quinsey says. “They can buy supplies, print business cards, and say, ‘I’m a professional farrier.’ ”

“I hope (licensing) would give owners a better sense that they’re working with a professional,” says Quinsey. “When you get your hair cut or your teeth cleaned, those people are licensed. Why would you consider having work done on your horse, a valuable commodity, by someone with no credentials?”

“We can do a lot with schools to produce students that remain in the business,” says Heymering. “There are lots of schools where 95-97% of graduates aren’t practicing after six months. Out of my class with 63 students, to the best of my knowledge only three of us were still shoeing six months later.

“I would love to know the percentage of students staying in business (from different schools),” he continues. “Then find out why–curriculum, teachers, both, what? That would give you a reality-based thing for someone to decide which school to go to.

“I think the idea of accrediting schools is a good idea,” he adds. “Any sort of certification for individuals or schools is good so the public has some idea of the standards a group or school has.”

However, Heymering thinks this might not be the AFA’s responsibility. “Education is good, but I don’t know that it’s the job of the association. The veterinary/medical associations, they don’t–it’s not their job to educate,” he says.

He adds that one problem with some farrier certifications is that there is currently no continuing education (CE) requirement, but Quinsey notes that the AFA is already trying to increase education of their members by instituting a continuing education requirement of 24 hours in two years to maintain certification status, effective July 1.

“The AFA doesn’t believe licensing is the solution. Education is,” says Quinsey. “Licensing just comes with it. A change in educational requirements is what’s really going to make a difference.”

He said licensing can also encourage farriers to keep educating themselves to provide better service, such as by requiring continuing education. “Professionals need to invest in themselves,” says Quinsey.

“If the owner has some means of knowing who has qualifications and who doesn’t, that would be good,” suggests Heymering.

Casey also believes that farrier education needs more study. “A lot of what we (farriers) do is just the same way our dads and mentors did it,” he says. “We need to study the horse more, and the effects of shoeing, before we even think about regulating things.”


Why License?

Licensing proponents claim that the goal of farrier education revamping and licensing/registration is to raise the level of professionalism and practice in the U.S. farrier industry by creating a minimum standard of practice that currently doesn’t exist. They also claim that the main beneficiary of such an industry change is the horse, which will get a better standard of care. “Liability and insurance coverage might be easier for farriers to obtain under a licensing system,” says Quinsey.

The problems with relying on individual farriers and owners for top hoof care, as is done now, are that not all farriers do good work (as in all professions), and not all owners (perhaps even very few) know how to evaluate that work to select a competent farrier. Licensing, or requiring a certain minimum standard of competence of every farrier, would give some proof of minimum competence before work is done on a horse. In an ideal world, it would avoid making the horse-owning public weed out bad farriers after poor work or even damage to their horses

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Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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