Is Farriery for You?
The ideal candidate for a career in farriery isn't that different from an ideal candidate for a career in most any other profession. The advertising campaigns of some horseshoeing schools and the overenthusiastic "selling" of the profession by some farriers has created the false impression that farriery is easy to learn and an fast way to get money and respect in the horse world. This causes many people who wouldn't dream of trying to start a career as a veterinarian, doctor, lawyer, or other professional to think they can enter the profession of farriery quickly and easily. This is not the case.
Ideally, a person should start a professional career early in adult life, before he has a family to support and mortgage to pay. Farriery is becoming reestablished as a full-fledged profession. Professions, by definition, require years of preparation before one can become a competent practitioner. An aspiring farrier has a much better chance of getting through these years if he can dedicate himself full-time to developing his knowledge and skills rather than trying to become a farrier with what time and energy he has left over from his "real job".
A young person might also have a great advantage in that he may still have the financial support of his parents. In any event the ideal candidate for any profession, be it medicine, law, or farriery, has to be fiscally prepaired for years of continuing investment in education and business set-up with little income in return.
A good educational foundation is a must when going into any profession, and farriery is no different. In days of yore, farriery was learned through "show and tell" from one farrier to another. Today's farrier student has the opportunity to learn from countless top farriers, as well as vets and researchers through publications, lectures, and the Internet... If one is literate enough to understand the information presented. Research, record keeping, and accounting skills are also a must for any professional.
To succede in any profession, a student must be seriously dedicated. For farriers this means a love for equines, a desire to work with one's hands, and a kind of compulsion to shoe horses. Lots of students who thought they'd like to be farriers are now "former" shoers or perennial part-timers. It's the ones who can't imagine not shoeing that go the distance and become professional farriers.
Farriery differs from other professions in the extreme physical demands it places on its practitioners. Horses are very strong, fast, and heavy. It takes a lot of effort to bend steel around. A farrier not only has to be strong enough to do the work, but also strong enough to do it and keep his brain going full-force at the same time. A farrier does not need to be a hulking brute (although I find that it comes in handy from time to time), but he should be physically sound when entering the profession. Again youth is a plus, as inexperienced shoers are more often injured than veterans, and young people tend to heal faster. In recent years a growing number of women have entered the profession and many have done well. Most of the women farriers I have encountered are of "normal" stature rather than the she-brutes some people would suppose. Please note that whenever I use "he" or "she" in reference to farriers, vets, or horseowners in this writing, I mean the terms in the generic sense, referring to people of both sexes.
Over the years I have had a lot of middle-aged people ask me about taking up farriery as a second career. The corollary is almost always a question about whether there is enough income in farriery to support the lifestyle that has been established over 20 years as an airline pilot, police officer, etc.
Farriery can indeed provide a good income... But only to established, qualified practicioners. One must enter the profession prepaired to invest years and considerable money before a return begins to be reaped.
Many take up horseshoeing and think they are making money early-on. This is because they are still have the support of a salaried job and are shoeing part-time on the side. People in this situation are not forced to reckon with their full expenses as horseshoers, and usually wind up subsidizing their horseshoeing habit with their regular income whether they realize it or not. Part-timers are rarely able to make the ongoing investment of time and effort needed to be a professional-quality horseshoer, as it can be difficult to take time off from the regular job to attend farrier conventions and symposiums. Since they do not have to make a living from shoeing, part-timers typically undercharge for their work, creating unfair competition for career farriers. It is also difficult for farriery to be presented to the public as a valid profession while there are so many part-timers playing at being farriers. You don't see other professionals working at Kmart and practicing in their off-hours.
Most part-timers claim that they want to shoe full-time, but cannot yet afford to make the transition. Many of these part-timers claim to be just as knowledgable, skilled, and "professional" as the full-timers in their areas. Instructions for going full-time can be found HERE just for them.
I've also heard from many horseowners who "just want to learn to shoe their own".
Often these horseowners think that shoeing their own will be a good way to save money. In fact, by the time they have invested the time and money it will take to acquire the basic tools and training to do even fundemental keg shoeing, any hoped-for savings will have evaporated. And if amateur shoeing eventually leads to problems that have to be corrected by the combined efforts of a farrier and veterinarian, shoeing one's own horses can become a very expensive proposition indeed. A professional farrier is really a good value at thrice the going rate.
Some horseowners say that they need to learn to do the work for themselves because they cannot find a good farrier in their area. Quite often I can check my records and locate a qualified farrier in their vicinity, which leads me to believe that these folks just need to look harder and be more willing to pay a fair price. In areas where there really is a vacuum of qualified farriers, I'd suggest that the horseowner look around and guage the demand for a good farrier in the area. If there is demand and no supply, maybe she should not only learn to shoe her own, but should also go into the business!
A good reason for a horseowner to want to learn shoeing is just to gain a better understanding of an important aspect of horsemanship... Learning enough to understand what her regular farrier is saying and doing, and to do any "patch" work that may come up between regular appointments. Most farriers encourage their clients to do this, as learning basic shoeing only helps the horseowner to appreciate what the professional farrier does.
I'm not out to dash people's dreams here. If you're a forty-two year-old civil servant with a world of financial and familial responsibilities and still your heart and soul yerns for the life of a shoer... If you find yourself preferring the smell of scortched hoof over that of baking bread... If you wake up in the morning and think that it's just too darned easy to stand upright... Then go for it! But do it with your eyes open and your expectations realistic.