Questions of Curiosity
"Farrier-Friendly"™ series By Bryan S. Farcus, BS, CF

The Unanswered…

An anonymous author once wrote:

Everything that is either timeless or priceless comes to us in the form of art. Those things which are based on mechanics alone must be updated periodically and for a price.

Each time I read this passage, I am reminded of the importance of recognizing our work as an expression of art. And, to express oneself requires that we get in touch with our artistic abilities. These abilities are comparable to muscles – only through exercise will they develop and become definite. A master craftsman or artist in any field can have some difficulty explaining how his or her work turned out so beautifully. Similarly, an expert horseshoer can perform his or her work on such a level that there seems to be an indescribable beauty about it. On a fairly regular basis, I am approached by many different people and I receive a variety of questions. The most difficult to explain are those that involve the "feel-of-the-skill." In all honesty, the clearest understanding of any art involves going beyond what any words could ever reveal.

The Easily Answered…

Fortunately, there are a few questions that are simple and general enough to answer. In top ten order, they are as follows:

#10 – How can a person become a farrier?

There are two ways to obtain the horseshoeing and horsemanship skills that are necessary in order to become a professional farrier. One is through a Farrier Studies program at various accredited schools and the other is through a private apprenticeship program offered by many older, more experienced farriers. Personally, I recommend a combination of both. In most cases, expect at least two years of basic training. Also worth mentioning is the idea of Continuing Education. This can be achieved through clinics, seminars, "ride-alongs" with more experienced farriers, or just simply taking some time to research new ideas.

#9 – Is there a high risk of back injury?

To honestly answer this question, I must start by saying that horseshoeing is a physical activity and just like any hands-on activity there is a chance of injury. However, there are two measures a farrier can take to lessen this risk. The first is to prepare for the activity by stretching and exercising. Many farriers do a daily routine of stretching the lower back muscles before doing their work – very similar to that of a baseball catcher before the start of each game. The second involves preparing the horse. Most often the majority of injuries result from failed attempts to shoe untrained horses. Forceful pressure or restraints put upon a horse will always increase the level of a horse’s "trapped fear" and, in turn, that increases the farrier’s odds of getting seriously injured. Instead, I recommend that we rely on a "lasting" training technique, in order to gain the horse’s trust before attempting any horseshoeing.

#8 – Does a farrier get kicked often?

Any experienced farrier knows all too well about this. I think I’m not alone in saying that on an on-going, almost subconscious level, the fear of getting kicked exists and the amount of risk a farrier assumes is based on his or her personal experiences. More definitively, I can say that by nature a horse will kick for one of two reasons: a) the threat of an attack, or b) the threat of being trapped.

In my opinion, to lessen the risk of a kick and at the same time gain a more "lasting" control of the horse, the farrier should prescribe to the horseowner a logical horsemanship training technique. There are several Basic Body Language Systems (BBLS’s) currently being used and promoted by successful trainers.

#7 – Can you make a living as a farrier?

According to recent survey published in the American Farriers Journal, the average annual income for a farrier is between $40,000 and $60,000. This, of course, varies according to the individual experience and demand factors.

#6 – How much does it normally cost to have a horse shod?

Depending on the extent of the work, which is based on the health of the horse’s feet, the price can range anywhere from $50-$100.

#5 – How often do horses need farrier work?

This will depend on the overall condition of the horse, the climate he lives in, and what his job is. On an average most farriers will recommend a visit every 6-8 weeks.

#4 – Are there different shoes for different horses?

Yes. Modern day horseshoeing requires that the farrier choose the shoes that will best support and protect the horse and at the same time allow him to perform. A qualified farrier will examine the conformation and movement patterns of a horse, in order to select the shoes that are most beneficial.

#3 – Why do some horses need special shoes?

In this situation, you may hear some farriers referring to the concept of "corrective" shoeing. Perhaps it is more easily explained if you consider this simple thought: "A horse is shod correctly if his shoes promote strong feet, strong legs, and strong gaits (ways of traveling)." If for some reason a horse is weak in any one of these areas, special shoes could help. These are three of the most common situations:
  1. Weak, tender feet often bruise easily. Flat padded shoes can prevent such occurrences.
  2. Weak limbs, resulting at birth or due to an injury can be supported by various combinations of Bar shoes and / or Degree (wedged) pads.
  3. Occasionally, horses have trouble moving freely, and this weakness in gaits could cause the horse to experience a hitting (interfering) of his limbs. Various toe or heel adjustments of the horse’s shoe can improve the support, timing and direction of his footfall patterns.

#2 – If the horses in the wild can survive without farrier work, why can’t the others?

The truly "wild horses" as we know them are a thing of the past. In modern times, horses are products of human influence. Being as it may, horses are now managed and even bred selectively to meet human standards. Unfortunately, these standards are not always in the horse’s best interests. And, as a result, over the centuries weaker traits have become more dominant. Remember that in the actual wild only the strongest of stallions and mares successfully bred. This was the natural order of selection, which in most cases produced stronger, healthier feet.

And the #1 question most often asked is… Does nailing on a shoe hurt the horse?

If done properly, the horse does not experience any pain. The Keratinization process (division of dead cells) that occurs within the horse’s hooves is the same as that of our finger and toe nail growth. Within reason, you can cut through or reshape the nail. Each time a farrier works on a horse’s foot, he or she learns the quality or "vertical depth tolerance" differences that exist from one horse to another. A competent farrier will spend hours practicing the mechanics of accurate nailing techniques. These hours of practice can be compared to the countless number of bullets a marksman will fire at a target in an effort to become a sharp shooter. The ability to develop a strategic approach toward nail placement, along with the ability to analyze the health of each foot, is the key to keeping the shoeing process "horse-friendly."

© 2000 Bryan Farcus. All rights reserved.
Bryan Farcus, certified farrier and head of the Department of Farrier Science at Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, has been combining the skills of horseshoeing, teaching and riding for the past ten years. He has also achieved a BS in Business Management. Bryan is the creator of "Farrier-Friendly"™ articles and products aimed at improving the general understanding of horseshoeing through horsemanship. For a complete collection of "Farrier-Friendly"™ articles click here.

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Updated: October 2005.