Prophet's Thumb Ranch

Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc.
Established 1998.

Whose Horses Are These, Anyway?

No matter how many times you save the world,
it always manages to get back in jeopardy again.
Sometimes I just want it to stay saved!

-Mr. Incredible
(of The Incredibles)

      Eight years ago, a disgruntled horseowner with delusions of grandeur tried to launch a crusade to require state licensing of farriers. He was surprised to find that there wasn't much support for the idea, either from farriers or horseowners... In fact, he was confronted with staunch opposition, especially from yours truly and a then-new group of professional farriers.
      He eventually gave up and went away... Presumably to go mess up someone else's trade.

      Now the specter of farrier licensing is being raised again. This time by none other than the American Farriers Association.

      It's still a very bad idea for many reasons...

Naked Grab for Power and Money.

      There's a reason why trade associations often lobby for the government to license the tradesmen they supposedly represent.

      Licensing means control. Control means power and money for the ones who wield it. That means the trade association and its officers.

      Sure, they'll claim that licensing is to improve the standard of practice, to protect the public from incompetent horseshoers, and to uplift the profession as a whole. Some of them might even try to believe it. But there's no rational way licensing can accomplish any of these things. All it can do is attempt to FORCE the farriers and horseowners (most of whom the AFA was never able to win over fair and square) to support the organization's programs whether they want to or not, making the officers into real big shots.

No Need for Licensing.

      It is true that there are horseshoers in America who aren't really competent. Heck, some are downright ignorant hoof-butchers. On the other hand, there are an awful lot of very competent, knowledgeable, skillful, and experienced farriers in the business as well. Of course, there are many shoers who are somewhere in-between.

      It's not always as easy to tell the good from the mediocre from the bad. Anyone can buy some tools and make up some business cards. Some horseshoeing school diplomas aren't worth the paper they're printed upon, and the best of them represent only a good start to a real farrier's training. The 40 year old shoer may be a rookie, and the 20 year old may have started at 15. Some guys claim decades in the trade, but have only been playing at it on the side most of the time, and haven't learned much since they started out. The guy recommended by the vet, trainer, or stable manager could have won favor by means other than truly competent horseshoeing. (Low or discount price, old friends, allows them to dictate shoeing approach without argument, etc.) Physiologically bad shoeing can look pretty and stay on tight. The ability to spout the latest farrier science catch-phrases and half-comprehended theories in an authoritative manner does not a knowledgeable farrier make.

      This is why the Guild of Professional Farriers was created. To become a member of the Guild, a farrier must meet a set of standards which are designed to demonstrate professional competence. These cover hands-on skills under the horse and in the fire, technical knowledge, and real world experience. The Guild is revolutionary in that it doesn't have "associate" or other sub-journeyman levels of membership. You hire a Guild member, and you get a qualified Registered Journeyman Farrier (RJF) or Registered Master Farrier (RMF)... But the Guild has never supported using force of law to impose these standards... They are offered as a tool for farriers who wish to formally differentiate themselves from the chaff of the trade, and for horseowners who want to make sure the horseshoer they hire meets a meaningful standard of competence.

      The AFA actually has its own voluntary certification system. It's highest level, Certified Journeyman Farrier (CJF) requires farriers to demonstrate a very respectable level of technical knowledge and skill. Unfortunately, the contest-shoeing orientation of the practical exams tends to exclude many competent working farriers while giving an edge to competitive shoeing hobbyists, and the experience requirement is far below what has traditionally been considered acceptable for a journeyman. Undermining the AFA certification system further is the existence of two sub-journeyman certification levels as well as uncertified Regular Member farriers.

      It's true that the horseowning public's response to meaningful, formal farrier credentials has been underwhelming. Maybe they feel that there are better ways to judge a horseshoer's competence. Maybe they don't believe that farrier competence is really all that important, and they'd rather just use the guy who's available quickest or works cheapest. Whatever their reasons, most haven't been demanding RJF or even CJF farriers. So most horseshoers don't bother with credentials at all, or just take the easy road to certification through the BWFA.

      But the professional standard exists without the need for government licensing. All the horseowners have to do is demand it.

      The notion that, sans licensing, farriers are completely unregulated, is also mistaken. The law already requires that farriers take ordinary care in practice, and can hold them liable for gross incompetence just like state-licensed practitioners. Furthermore, any horseshoer representing himself as possessing formal credentials he does not actually have (like the RJF and Guild membership) can be prosecuted for fraud.

Licensing Won't Work.

      Imagine a meaningful licensing system were put into place... One that required all horseshoers to meet the RJF or CJF standard.

      The bulk of shoers would be out of business. Those that were left would be swamped trying to take up the slack. Supply and demand dictates that shoeing prices would skyrocket. This would draw new men into the trade, but one cannot become a journeyman overnight, and in the meantime, the system would collapse.

      So licensing cannot impose a meaningful standard. Instead, it must grandfather-in the existing horseshoers, competent and incompetent alike. New horseshoers would have to meet requirements, but those would ultimately be lowest common denominator in nature. There's just no real incentive to make the standard any higher.

Licensing is Unenforcable.

      Horseshoeing is done on private property, usually out of public view, and involves no legally restricted materials. The horseowner isn't going to turn the farrier he hired in. The farrier isn't going to turn himself in. The horse isn't going to squeal on anyone. And, if Law Enforcement has the spare resources to spend sneaking around trying to bust "illegal horseshoers", they are SERIOUSLY overdue for budget reevaluation and I'm even more overdue for a tax cut that I already think I am!

Licensing is Counterprogressive.

      Farrier science has made fantastic progress in the last couple of decades. And that progress has grown primarily from the free, innovative environment of America. In the UK, where farrier practice is licensed and closely regulated by law, the typical farrier has an admirable level of classic horseshoeing skill, but cannot innovate much on his own without risking trouble with the authorities, so they are years behind technology-wise.

      Farriery is an art and a science. There's no one "right way" to manage founder. No single "correct way" to shoe a hunter-jumper. What works on one horse for one farrier might fail miserably if tried by another farrier on another horse.

      Regulation leads to standardization, which makes innovation and an individual approach to each case impossible. Why do you think Americans have to travel abroad to get medical treatments which are well-known to be effective, but haven't been approved by the ponderous medical-government bureaucracy?

Licensing is Morally Wrong.

      Your horses are yours. You paid for them with your own wealth. They are not a public resource. They are not supported by public funds. No one else has any right whatsoever to dictate who you may or may not allow to work on your horses' hooves. Anyone who tries to do so is grossly violating your right to control your own private property, which is essentially the same thing as stealing.

      My tools and skills are my own. I paid for them with my own wealth and effort. They are not a public resource. They were not provided at public expense. No one else has any right whatsoever to tell me how I may or may not employ them. Anyone who tries to do so is grossly violating my right to liberty, which is the same as trying to enslave me.

      Your money belongs to you, and my labor belongs to me. If we willingly choose to exchange them, it's nobody's business but our own. Our transaction has no effect on the public at large, and they have no right to any say in the matter.

      Free people don't need permission to control their own private property or to conduct private business.

      Yes. Some people will make poor choices and hire incompetent horseshoers. Since meaningful formal credentials exist, they have no one to blame but themselves. No law can protect people from their own stupidity.

      Yes. It is sad that some horses suffer because of their owners' poor choices. But licensing won't improve their situation. They'll just be poorly shod by an incompetent horseshoer with a government permit. And the owner will be able to justify using the hack by saying "Hey, he's a genuine State Licensed Farrier!"

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