With the new year underway, the American Farriers Journal editors gazed into our crystal balls and made a few predictions on what we might see in the equine footcare market over the next 12 months.
The AFJ staff didn’t put together a prediction article for 2020, but if we had, we probably would bet that 2020 would be a better, more interesting or normal year than 2019 turned out to be. But with the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19-19, that didn’t happen.
As we look ahead to the next 12 months, here are a number of trends we predict for 2021.
1 Bold predictions get headlines when they come true because they seldom do. Change in the farrier industry moves at a glacial pace. Perhaps this is a boring prediction, but it’s based on the fact that few trends or fads seemed to gain ground in 2020 (possibly due to the seriousness of the need for COVID-19 isolation after March). So few new trends will be recognized in 2021, especially with the absence of trade shows and large scale clinics during the first half of the year.
2 The farrier industry is not homogeneous, differing by region, disciplines worked with, income levels, etc. As a result, it is difficult to make a blanket statement regarding how COVID-19 will affect the industry in 2021. Yet being classified as “essential workers,” U.S. farriers will continue to work unabated until herd immunity and widespread vaccination occur, with isolation being optional. Time will tell as to how various segments of the industry will be affected, particularly backyard clients whose horses are a luxury vs. those segments that are a business, which may be negatively impacted by economic issues.
3 Some horse owners who have out-of-the home jobs didn’t see much, if any, reduction in family income while working from home in 2020. Many found their expenses were reduced due to limitations on the ways to spend discretionary income. Little or no vacation travel, participating in fewer horse shows and little local recreation, such as eating out or going to high school sporting events, placed a new focus on their horses and investing in upgrading facilities. This reduction in spending and more time spent with their horses will continue until COVID-19 is brought under control later in 2021.
4 With the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act signed into law in late December as part of the federal government’s omnibus bill package, Congress provided critical protection for horses that the equine industry has fought over for many years. This legislation provides for the elimination of doping among racehorses, ends horse slaughter in the U.S. and expands funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to address the issue of soring.
5 While some farrier education events took place as planned in 2020, a large number were postponed or canceled, which has carried into 2021. These clinics and conferences have been greatly missed, particularly in states that enforce stringent COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings. When restrictions are lessened, it will not be surprising to see larger farrier attendance numbers than have been traditionally seen in previous years. The question is — how long will it last?
6 As the Biden administration assumes power, manufacturers and distributors of imported steel and aluminum products such as nails and horseshoes will likely have fewer regulatory hoops to jump through, along with possible lower tariffs that could boost their bottom line.
7 Soring has been a hot-button issue in the horse industry for more than a half-century. Although the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act in 2019, its companion legislation in the Senate continues to stall in committee. In the final 2 years of the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture successfully pushed to establish a rule that would stiffen regulations, inspections and penalties on those responsible for soring horses. However, the Obama administration dropped the ball when the final rule was not published in the Federal Registry and the Trump team dropped the pending rule changes. The incoming Biden administration includes officials who were heavily involved in the attempt to amend the Horse Protection Act. They will want to avoid the same embarrassing missteps that led to their failure 4 years ago.
8 The World Equestrian Center (WEC) opened in 2020 with little fanfare in Ocala, Fla. But now that the cathedral has been built, they’ll continue to book more shows and attract more horses to pay for the gigantic investment. You’ll see more shows coming to WEC, especially when crowds resume at full capacity. This will cannibalize participation in other horse shows around the country.
9 Businesses fail, merge and expand — sometimes by taking over other companies. The farrier industry is no exception as it has seen companies such as Hoofjack, Thoro’bred, Cliff Carroll and Vettec acquired by others in the past year. The industry can expect a few more such acquisitions in 2021 and beyond.
10 Chicago, Illinois; Montreal, Quebec; and Rome, Italy; are among cities that banned horse-drawn carriages in the past year. Pressure will continue to be placed on companies that provide these services in more cities around the world, most notably on the streets of New York City.
11 Farriers planning annual price increases will likely experience more push back than during a typical year because of the financial impact of COVID-19 on some horse owners with fewer horse shows, organized group trail rides and other equine events.
12 Federal legislation targeted at curbing the practice of “soring” and as well as the Horseracing Safety Integrity Act passed by Congress in late-December 2020, seem to suggest animal welfare is going to continue to be a serious matter of public interest and concern.
13 With growing concerns about animal welfare, greater scrutiny by animal rights groups will likely be given to other farrier practices including hot shoeing and nailing on shoes. As a result, the desire for alternatives (glue-on shoes and boots) to replace these practices will require more farriers to carry more product inventory and expand their skill set. More manufacturers will gear up to meet that demand by developing more of those types of products.
14 An increasing number of farriers seem to either be interested in or actively pursuing ways to further monetize farrier education by offering it as an income-building service tied into their business or forming a new and more formalized educational organization. This will likely continue to be the case as shoeing school education continues to be unregulated.
15 With the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act signed into law in late December as part of the federal omnibus bill package that provides several needed horse protection measures, retired North Carolina State University equine veterinarian Dick Mansmann believes it offers the equine industry the chance to start working together. It’s time for equine groups to stop thinking only about their own needs and work together for the good of the horse and the overall equine industry. Unfortunately, there’s too many dollars at stake for everyone to adhere to the moral notion of what’s best for the horse and the industry, such as has proven to be the case with the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act passed by Congress in 2019, Sadly, we’re predicting that there are always equine groups looking for an advantage and somehow they’ll find it no matter the government rules that are in place in 2021.
16 Manufacturers will continue to see strong sales in steel shoes, as it remains the most immediate cost effective solution for the majority of horses that need to be shod.
17 There could be growing interest among the new presidential administration when it comes to adjusting the classification of independent contractors, which could seriously impact farrier apprentices.
18 More farrier suppliers will develop new lines of adhesives and glue-on shoeing materials.
19 The number of women represented in the farrier industry (full-time) has seen a 10% increase from 2016 to 2020 according to data from the American Farriers Journal Business Practices surveys. Anecdotal evidence (conversations with farrier school operators) suggest this trend will continue and the increase will be positive for the industry and offer new opportunities for manufacturers to create new specialized products. Some recent horseshoeing school classes included 100% female students.
20 Farrier organizations will become more international with education and foreign memberships. As an example, the American Association of Professional Farriers recently changed their official name to the International Association of Professional Farriers in an effort to expand membership numbers to footcare specialists around the world.
21 As more ill-intentioned people use the platform of the Internet to make a quick buck, there will be growing concerns about horse owners getting website misinformation and “fake news” about the equine foot and footcare gimmicks.
22 Improved smartphones will be used more by farriers for client contact, hoof photos, individual horse records, etc.
23 Specialized social media footcare groups, such as 3-D shoe/pad printing, the barefoot movement, equine podiatry, sport horse footcare, etc., will continue to grow in popularity among farriers.
24 Farrier groups will offer more specialized discipline education, certification and trimming/shoeing endorsements, such as therapeutic, educators and forging endorsements offered by the American Farrier's Association. The International Association of Professional Farriers also offers several shoeing specialties, such as hunter/jumper and dressage credentials, and has as many as 2 dozen more in the planning stage.
25 More equine boarding and training facilities will requiring farriers to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance to avoid increases to their own insurance costs. This will become more common among larger facilities housing higher dollar horses.
26 More single-horse clients will opt for peer-to-peer social payment options like Venmo.
27 An unfortunate decades-long trend that will continue during 2021 is the fact that few horse breeders are selecting for better feet.
28 The apparent lack of interest in licensing of farriers will continue into 2021.
29 Several veterinary practices will launch or expand their current equine podiatry groups.
30 The 3-D printing of horseshoe and pads was a new development in 2020. There’s some interest, but it’s not practical except for special “one-off” therapeutic needs.
31 Equine veterinarians will still primarily be “hands-on” with horses, particularly in lameness and sports medicine. However, we will see more vets adding telehealth as an option in their practices.
Plus, a Few COVID-19 Related Trends
32 It looks like a good deal of 2021, which everyone was looking forward to with pleasure, may turn out to be much like the tail end of 2020. We can’t expect any “new normal” in North America until COVID-19 is contained.
33 With working spouses returning to offices and kids back in school as the COVID-19 crisis becomes controlled, there will no need for some horseshoers to be doubling up as at-home teachers.
34 COVID-19 will continue to affect the equine industry for at least the majority of the year. Farriers who have not yet been affected may find more horse owners will want to extend the intervals between trim/shoe appointments or shift to barefoot.
35 Supply chain issues affected by COVID-19 will be remedied in 2021 for most hoof-care product manufacturers.
36 Farriers who do not require payment at the time of the service may find themselves doing more bill collecting than they are accustomed to doing with COVID-19 financial concerns.
37 A number of farrier practices experienced something of a boom during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many businesses in the overall U.S. economy have suffered economically and furloughed workers, some horse owners working from home are finding that they have more time to ride. Farriers would do well to prepare for a potential downturn as the pandemic hopefully wanes later this year, although the working from home trend may keep more riders in the saddle.