Prophet's Thumb Ranch
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!
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Free people don't need
permission to control their own private property or to conduct
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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