Despite long, hard days and the dirty work of shoeing horses, farrier apprenticeships are in high demand in the U.K., according to The Guardian. There are nearly half a million horse-owning households there, instilling a passion for horseshoeing in the youth who are now seeking careers.

“It’s extremely competitive,” Alex Bradbury told The Guardian. In June 2015, Bradbury started his 4-year farriery apprenticeship with Huw Dyer, an established farrier in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

After finishing his A-levels, Bradbury sought out apprenticeships by sending out 100 letters with stamped and addressed return envelopes. He received only one reply, which ended up being a rejection. Despite the difficult odds, he kept trying by following up the letters with phone calls. Eventually, he became Dyer’s apprentice. 

Bradbury had grown up around horses and learned to ride at a young age. He watched the farrier work on the horses and enjoyed it. During his schooling, Bradbury studied his way through many science courses on route to the university. However, he changed his mind and completed a pre-farrier course before working with Dyer.

In the U.K., farriers are required to be registered with the Farriers Registration Council. The pre-farrier course is also a requisite. Young farriers must be prepared to trim hooves, fit shoes, work with a hot forge, identify common hoof ailments and adapt shoes for such issues that arise. They must also be ready to accept the risk of working with a large animal.

“I’ve had quite a lot of kicks,” says Bradbury. “I’ve been kicked in the face. I went blind in one eye for about two hours. It wasn’t too bad. I went to the hospital, and they glued my eye back together. And they sent me on my way.”

Bradbury emphasizes the importance of understanding horse psychology. When entering a horse’s stall, the farrier is as strange to them as they are to the farrier. Observing the signs of trouble is key to preventing problems that could arise. 

“You just have to accept that you don’t have any control over what some horses do. If they want their foot back, they have their foot back,” Bradbury says.

Part of the farrier’s job entails wearing protective clothing, including steel-toed shoes, safety goggles and a leather apron. It is necessary that all employers of apprentices provide insurance, and professionals farriers need their own insurance as well. 

For Bradbury, the farrier apprenticeship isn’t his only source of education. He spends 3 weeks out of every 6 months studying at Myerscough College in Preston. There, he learns about the veterinary side of horseshoeing, as well as how to make various shoes. 

In May, when he qualifies, Bradbury plans on setting up his own business. This would include his own van that he would take out to private stables and racehorse owners. In the beginning, he says he might stay with Dyer a few days a week until he feels more confident. Bradbury plans on staying in the field for the long haul.

“It’s a job that’s hard on your back. You are bending over in the skiing position all day,” he says. “But I absolutely love it. However, I don’t think you can do it until you are 65 unless you take on apprentices.” He notes how many farriers retire in their early 50s due to the laborious nature of the career.