Ever since the farrier trade evolved from largely a stationary profession to a mobile one, the shoeing rig has become a necessity for most practices. The farrier rig must be equipped with necessary tools and adequate supplies to handle the horses and their needs forecast for that day.

Over the years, new ideas have been introduced to provide a more complete workstation. The last couple of decades have seen great innovations in rigs to address the needs of the mobile farrier. How has rig design been influenced by the changing needs of farriers?

Smaller, More Efficient Rigs

“There is no doubt that a lot of guys are going down in size,” says John Halko, CEO of Georgia Farrier Supply in Jasper, Ga. “I’m seeing fewer duallies, and instead seeing more short-bed trucks.”

He sees the major driver of the downsizing trend as fuel prices.

“Twenty years ago, when fuel was around 80 cents a gallon, long-bed trucks and duallies were the thing,” he recalls. “But now in the U.S., fuel is approaching $4 a gallon. Fuel is a commodity that we depend on. For most farriers, fuel is an incredibly big part of weekly expenditures. Not counting repairs, a lot of farriers are putting $50 to $60 a day into their trucks. If you are pulling a trailer, that will add to it.”

He also sees more farriers moving to a V6 or V8 truck to pull trailers rather than a larger model truck. The change to a smaller vehicle can provide an additional 10 miles per gallon. Before making the switch to a trailer, consider that your vehicle will need a gear ratio that won’t tax your engine. Going with lower gears will adversely affect gas mileage.

Ken Scott, the production and sales manager for Purdybilt, also sees the downsizing trend, but sees other factors contributing to the movement to trailers. Fuel doesn’t seem to be the driving factor in the trailer market, but more farriers are making the move to trailers.

“Whether it is the larger model with a lot of drawers, like the F3, or a small one like the Colt, the trailer needs to fit the needs of the farrier in terms of the type of shoeing they do and the distance they travel more so than the fuel economy issue.”

He does see a movement from a cargo trailer to a fully aluminized trailer that weighs considerably less. Scott finds that trailers that manufactures build specifically for farriers are a better option than buying a $9,000 to $10,000 cargo trailer, then outfitting the interior with another $5,000 to $10,000.

Lou Sposito, CEO of Stonewell Bodies, still finds more interest in shoeing bodies in the last couple of years, however, he does see a growing interest in trailers. He doesn’t see any sweeping trends affecting rigs.

“I think there are small, incremental changes in how farriers approach work space,” says Sposito. “A lot of things like fold-away products are more popular.

“Farriers are moving to more ergonomic workspaces. We are all getting better educated on the subject. For example, if someone is lifting a 100-pound anvil 10 times a day, that person is going to look for alternatives.”

Sposito finds that many are looking to get long-term usage from a rig and are looking to get it right from the beginning. He says by building a rig in a modular format allows for flexibility.

“Maybe in a couple of years, that farrier will take on an apprentice,” he says. “It is relatively easy for us to tear out certain parts and reinstall what is needed. This building block approach can allow the new guy to enter into an efficient workspace without knowing exactly what they need and give them an infrastructure they can build upon as the needs change.”

With trailers, another trend Scott finds is more customers want to limit the need to step up. Seasoned shoers particularly want to avoid having to climb inside the trailer.

Truck bodies and trailers still account for the most popular rig options among farriers. Scott says caps are becoming less popular because the sides of pick-up beds are becoming higher.

“Reaching over the side is getting to be a difficult task,” he says. “These farriers are more likely to buy a truck body to avoid having to reach over the side.”

One minor trend he sees with trailers is farriers who have seasonal work out of state will often utilize a smaller model trailer and leave it in that location year-round to avoid wear-and-tear and travel costs.

Scott says the life of a trailer is dependent on how well it is maintained.

“If you clean it once a month or so, you’ll have a trailer that lasts a long time,” he says. “That means cleaning and lubricating it inside and out.”

Putting grinders and other power tools on swing-outs and slide-outs has become popular for this reason. This will keep the steel filings out of drawer slides and areas within the trailer or farrier body. Scott also advises using aprons to shelter the rest of the body or trailer from that micro debris.

The Downside To Downsizing

While decreasing truck or trailer size makes the most sense to save on fuel costs or increase efficiency, the most obvious consequence is less space. Halko estimates that going to a short-bed body can cost a farrier 15% in storage capacity.

“Every 1,000 pounds will cost you about a mile a gallon,” says Halko. “It forces you to carry less inventory. But that isn’t uncommon. For example, check your local auto supply store. For a certain type of bulb, they previously may have carried five, but now are carrying two.

“Farriers are seeing this too. Instead of carrying 500 pounds of extra shoes, they will get that inventory off the truck.”

Inventory control is paramount for most farriers. Because he also runs a supply shop, Halko can see how farriers are addressing the issue. For him it is as simple as better managing your practice. Previously he would see farriers who would come in every 2 to 3 weeks, now coming in every week or multiple times per week to pick up supplies. For shoe storage, where he would previously see 500 shoes on a rig, he now sees 300 more frequently.

He points out that you have to be practical with inventory management, with proximity to your supply house being the primary consideration. He also believes that more farriers are utilizing online purchases of supplies to avoid the additional travel to supply shops.

“You are going to go home every night, so you can restock at the end of the day rather than once a week,” he says.

Halko finds swing-out arms to be the best solution for limited storage capacity.

“The smaller truck really changes the dynamics of how you would work behind the truck,” he says. “If you have to continually walk around the truck to get things, you are wasting time. If your forge, anvil and anvil stand are stored in the back of the truck, then you are limited to the supplies and tools you can access back there.

“I see more farriers placing a forge on a swing-out on the truck or trailer side, but being able to swing it out toward the back of the truck.

“Slide-out tables are a great way to adjust to a smaller truck,” he says.

He sees more farriers than not equipping their rigs with grinders and drill presses. Sure there is the added weight and space, but the benefit comes in improved efficiency.

“You can take a shoe off the rack and grind or drill it in a third of the time that you would spend using bar stock,” he says.

Scott thinks grinders on swing-out arms will become more common than on slide-outs as farriers look to get the units farther away from the body, specifically for the cleanliness issue listed previously.

He also sees more interest in drawer space on trailers than shoe racks. Often placed below the shoe rack, the drawers will accommodate supply storage and often replace other shallow, vertical storage, like pad racks.

“A main point of moving toward compactness is to speed up the time to get in and out,” says Scott. “This is true for your swing-out anvil. This is to provide for the fewest steps as possible and the most utility. When you add up setup time throughout the entire day of four to five stops, that is the time that could have been used for a sixth stop. It has real value.

“I often hear from customers that the appearance has made them more professional, the setup has made them more efficient and business has increased by about 10% because of those factors.”

Sposito has had his own experiences in utilizing customer feedback to influence layout. As going smaller with a rig eliminates space, a customer wanted to utilize more of the open vertical space, which led to stacking the grinder to save space on the deck.

“If you look at the history of Stonewell, 90% of what was built here was due to customer innovation, collaboration and requests,” he adds.

If you are thinking about moving to a smaller size body or trailer, Halko says first consider how you can limit your inventory for the smaller storage.

“I often see someone will have four drawers in their truck, but three of them haven’t been opened in a week,” he says. “You don’t need them. Many times, the things in those drawers should be left off the truck. I’m talking about the guys who have seven rounding hammers. Have a spare for your items, but to have that excessive amount is unnecessary.”

In the coming years, Halko expects the downsizing of rigs to continue. “Even if you are to see a change in how the government approaches fuel, you won’t see it return to those prices from 20 years ago,” he says.

Trust The Experts

When it is time to buy a new rig, treat the manufacturer as an adviser. Halko uses floor plans as a standard way to show how it works.

Manufacturers say it is unlikely farriers will stick with a single rig, as needs change over the evolution of a farrier career. Halko finds that rigs don’t really change that much. There will always be the base equipment that a farrier needs. The remainder on a rig is what influences efficiency.

“I can’t tell someone what they want,” Halko says. “Whether it is a truck body trailer or drop-in, they will all work. It is what you like. The basic workability will all be the same, but it relies more on your preference and where you are at to make the decision. We have received a lot of good design ideas from our clients, and we are not so stubborn as to not be continually creating a better product with their help.”

“I always tell customers that we want to build what they want, not necessarily what we envision that they need,” says Sposito. “They are out there every day doing the work, they know what their next step is.”

Sposito will suggest add-ons that he thinks will benefit the farrier, like the popular swing-out arm for an anvil.

“A younger farrier won’t think twice about lifting a heavy anvil several times a day. That is fine at age 24 or 25, but I’ll ask them if they want to do that when they are more seasoned. They want the rig to last them for 20 years. In that case, something will have to happen now to not have to make any significant modifications down the road and keep your cost of ownership down.”

A current trend related to shoeing rigs that Sposito believes is generational is financing. Younger farriers have always lived in a world in which consumer debt is acceptable. Older farriers still tend to be more cash oriented. Also the veteran farriers usually have a quality rig to sell and help fund the new rig purchase.

“I think there will be more willingness to finance because rates still are cheap and the emergence of the newer group that has different buying habits and an acceptance of consumer debt.

“It’s also a great way for the younger group to establish credit.”

Where you fall in a career’s timeline often defines the shoeing rig purchase. In terms of trailers, Scott finds the farriers who are moving to smaller trailers are often the more seasoned ones.

He finds a mixed bag of certainty among customers. Some have a very clear idea of what they would like, others need more guidance and advice.

“Sometimes people will ask, sometimes we will request,” says Scott. “For example, we recently outfitted a trailer for a farrier who wanted the anvil on a double-knuckle, swing-out arm so he could have the anvil beneath the forge and go from forge to anvil quite easily. That was asked for, and now it has become a staple.”

He adds that the Internet revolutionized how farriers can shop for rigs.

“We post many pictures of each trailer on our site because we want people to get ideas from that,” says Scott. “Because of it, we have business in California and Texas. People are very willing to read testimonials and look at pictures to decide whether they want it or not.

 “We want people to write reviews on our products because we want to know what they think.”