Finding a Farrier
If you’ve ever moved to a new town, you know how difficult it can be to find good service professionals: auto mechanics, hairdressers, doctors, dentists, and so on. You know your needs, but how do you select the appropriate providers when you know little or nothing about them, other than what you read in Yellow Pages listings or see in advertisements?
First-time horse owners, or those who are moving to a new area, face the same dilemma when it comes to selecting their equines’ health-care providers. For this article, we’re focusing on farriers. We’ll discuss some of the criteria that set the top farriers apart from the pack and give you tips on how to find a well-educated shoer whose experience is suited to your horse’s breed and to your equestrian activities. Finally, we’ll tell you what questions to ask a prospective farrier and what to expect at—and how to prepare for—the first visit.
The Certified Farrier
Farriers don’t have to earn a specialized degree to be permitted to practice their craft. As a profession, farriery is more like riding instruction: Voluntary coursework and certification are available (and desirable), but almost anyone can “hang out a shingle” and advertise for business. Competent farriery requires extensive knowledge and training, and you are strongly advised to seek a farrier who has earned an American Farrier’s Association (AFA) certification.
Through its more than 52 chapters, the AFA administers a rigorous program of education and testing, open to AFA members. It offers the following classifications and levels of certification:
AFA Interns have successfully completed an entry-level written examination on equine lower-limb anatomy, physiology (characteristics and functions), and pathology (disorders); conformation, gaits, and movement problems; and types and sizes of American horseshoes and horseshoe nails. The title “intern” is a classification only; AFA Interns are not certified farriers.
AFA Certified Farriers (CFs) have at least one year of farriery experience. To earn CF certification, a candidate must pass a more detailed written examination on the above subjects, and take a two-part practical exam on shoeing and shoe display (making a variety of “regular” and therapeutic horseshoes and traction devices). All practical exams are administered and scored by AFA Approved Examiners or Approved Testers.
AFA Certified Journeyman Farriers (CJFs) have at least two years of experience and must have earned CF status. To earn CJF certification, the highest level offered by the AFA, a farrier must pass a third, even more advanced, written test and a second practical examination. In the CJF practical exam, candidates must shoe four feet with handmade shoes and must make a bar shoe to exacting specifications. After they earn CJF certification, farriers can pursue two additional AFA “specialty” endorsements—Therapeutic and Educator.
The AFA maintains an international database of certified farriers. For the name, city, and state (or country), and telephone number of an AFA-certified farrier in your area, visit the AFA website at americanfarriers.org.
Area Of Specialty
Some farriers specialize in shoeing particular breeds or for particular disciplines. Although all AFA-certified farriers have demonstrated competency in evaluating and shoeing a range of horseflesh, you might want to look for one who’s experienced in shoeing for your own equestrian specialty, particularly if you pursue your discipline competitively or at an advanced level. A farrier who shoes mostly jumpers and dressage horses, for instance, might not be as well acquainted with the stresses of and shoeing requirements for reining or cutting. And one whose clientele consists mostly of Quarter Horses might not be accustomed to working with a five-gaited Saddlebred’s long hooves and special weighted footwear.
If you board your horse at a specialized training facility, or a barn whose clientele consists mostly of horses and riders in your chosen breed or discipline, ask the barn manager, trainer, or other horse owners for the name of their regular farrier. If the facility has a reputation for excellence and most of its clients use the same shoer, chances are that he or she is among the best in the area. If you keep your horse at home and don’t have fellow boarders or a manager to consult, try telephoning a well-known area facility that specializes in your area of equestrian interest. Ask to speak with the stable manager, then ask that person if he or she can recommend a reputable farrier who has experience shoeing for your discipline. A savvy stable manager, recognizing that you’re a potential client, will be happy to help.
If you know that your horse requires special shoeing—if he has navicular syndrome, for example, or suffers from chronic laminitis—you’ll want to find a farrier with experience in trimming and shoeing to minimize these conditions. Your veterinarian can be a valuable reference in such cases, as can area veterinary schools and large-animal hospitals. A farrier who’s earned the AFA’s Therapeutic Specialty Endorsement also would be a good bet.
The Prospecting Call
After you’ve obtained the name and number of a likely farrier, call and briefly describe your horse, the type of riding you do, and any known hoof conditions or lamenesses. Ask whether he or she is accepting new clients. A good professional will return your call promptly (or will have left a message stating how long he or she will be out of town and to which associate calls are being referred) and will be happy to answer your questions and to provide references if you so desire.
If the farrier makes regularly scheduled visits to your barn, you might need to do nothing other than to have your horse’s name placed on the list and to provide the date of his last shoeing and the name of your regular veterinarian. If your barn will be a new stop for the farrier, ask how he or she schedules regular trimmings and shoeings. (When my horse is shod, my own farrier leaves an appointment card with the date and time of his next visit—and he shows up on the dot.) Other farriers don’t come out until you call to make an appointment, and some are vague at best as to the time of their arrival. Ask how the farrier operates. If you must call each time your horse needs a trim, find out how far in advance you should call to make an appointment. I had to call a former farrier at least seven to 10 days before my horse was due for a trim to ensure that he would get to my horse in the appropriate timeframe.
Ask questions about pricing, payment, emergency visits (such as lost shoe replacement), and any other concerns you might have before you engage a farrier’s services. Feel free to ask various farriers what they charge for new shoes, resets, trims, and special shoeings, but be aware that the better farriers probably command higher fees. Some farriers expect to get paid at the time of the shoeing; others bill their clients (but all appreciate prompt payment). If your horse loses a shoe the day before you’re scheduled to leave for a show, you’ll appreciate having a farrier who will obligingly stop by and tack it on. (Being able to reach your farrier, obviously, is key; if he or she has a car phone or checks voice mail frequently, your chances of communicating are greatly improved.)
Even if your horse is in perfect health, the day might come when you’ll be glad to have a farrier who is willing to work as a partner with your veterinarian (and vice versa). Most reputable farriers and veterinarians respect one another’s specialized knowledge and skills and are open to discussion on how to keep your horse’s feet and legs as sound as possible. Although some veterinarians and farriers might disagree about therapeutic shoeing, good veterinarians and farriers each have valuable skills and experience that, combined, can make for superior shoeing approaches and treatment of hoof disorders.
The First Appointment
Even if you keep your horse at a full-care facility, it’s best if you can be present for his initial appointment with a new farrier. Establish yourself as a must-keep client by having your horse ready and waiting at the designated time; don’t wait until the truck pulls in the driveway to wander out to the field to catch Dobbin. (Dobbin does stand quietly and lift his feet obediently, right? If he doesn’t, give him a refresher course before the farrier arrives; enlist the help of a qualified trainer if needed.)
Provide your farrier with a dry, covered, relatively dust-free, well-lighted, uncluttered space in which to work. Easy access to an electrical outlet and to running water are pluses. A fan in hot weather, and a door to keep out winter’s chill, are much appreciated; as is the offer of a (non-alcoholic) cold beverage on a hot day or a steaming mug of coffee or cocoa when it’s freezing outside.
Before the farrier begins working on your horse for the first time, he or she should take a few minutes to examine the condition of your horse’s feet and legs as well as the type and wear patterns of existing shoes. Next, you should be asked to walk and jog your horse in a straight line so that the farrier can observe his movement. These getting-to-know-you steps are of critical importance in trimming and shoeing your horse correctly.
If your farrier tells you something you don’t understand, or if you have a question about a recommendation or a procedure, don’t hesitate to ask. A good farrier welcomes clients’ questions and is happy to explain terminology, observations, and techniques.
Observe your farrier’s work habits, treatment of your horse, and conduct. It’s hard to stay spotless when you’re working around horses, but your farrier should present a workmanlike appearance. Most farriers take pride in their work and endeavor to keep their trucks’ work spaces neat and well-stocked.
Note the way your farrier works around your horse. Farriers might not themselves be riders, but they should at least appear to like horses and enjoy working with them. Patience and kind words are always preferable to yelling and hitting, especially if your horse is nervous or fearful. Unnecessary roughness is not acceptable. Also unacceptable, of course, are signs of alcohol or drug use while on the job.
A good farrier leaves your horse feeling and moving better than before. Even the best farrier can “quick” a horse—drive a nail close to or into the sensitive laminae—on rare occasions; but, unless he’s lame to begin with, your horse shouldn’t habitually be sore after he’s trimmed and shod. Take the time to find a good farrier, then strive to be the kind of client with whom it’s a pleasure to do business. Your horse will thank you for it.
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