Ocala, Fla., is a horse capital. With nearly 1,200 horse farms in Ocala’s home county of Marion, the equine industry is big business. According to the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Economic Partnership, the local horse industry generates around $2.2 billion annually. These big numbers have attracted many folks looking for equine-related jobs, including farriers. There are plenty of opportunities among the massive Thoroughbred farms, successful sport horse operations, backyard accounts, Paso Fino barns and the multitude of other breeds and disciplines.

Primarily practicing in the Ocala area, Scott Chandler’s diverse practice that mirrors the variety in Ocala — backyard, show barns, breeding farms and occasionally some Thoroughbreds headed to the racetrack. He also travels to Atlanta, Ga., and southern Florida to handle some high-end sport horses.

During show season, Chandler estimates there are around 400 farriers working in the concentrated Ocala area. There is no shortage of horses for these farriers to work with, but Chandler, who also has worked in Maine and North Carolina throughout his career, finds the attrition rate for farriers higher compared to other places he’s worked.

“There are new farriers who search on Google, see the horse population of Ocala and decide it is a good idea to move here and work,” he says. “But that’s not enough to be a successful farrier — shoeing horses is a lot more than showing up where the horses are.”

Some of it is easy to explain. Like elsewhere, lacking the knowledge and ability to work as a farrier will cause failure no matter what. But Chandler has identified a few common reasons some farrier practices sputter or fail in Ocala despite the equine population or adequate skill and knowledge to trim and shoe horses.

Although Chandler delivered these tips specifically on his experiences in Ocala, they aren’t exclusive to that area. Being mindful of these will prove beneficial for any farrier practicing throughout the United States.

Don’t Charge Enough For Services

Chandler says among these reasons, the most common business mistake he sees many local farriers make is pricing their services too low. In an area with plenty of work to go around, this results in the farrier working with more horses in a day to make up the income needed to match revenue goals. This can result in the negative impacts of fatigue, health problems, poor customer service and lack of attention for all of the horses worked on as the day progresses.

Because of variation of farrier knowledge and skill, mixed with the economics and types of horses, Chandler has seen the price of a trim and four shoes range in cost from $65 to $300 in the Ocala area.

“I’ll ask guys who ride with me, ‘Where do you want to be on that scale?’” says Chandler. “We already know that being a farrier is tough work. But you also have a truck to pay for, supplies to buy and so much more. The cost of everything we use as farriers rises, but unfortunately the prices of some farriers here are not only too low, they never increase.”

Often the excuse he hears is that “my clients won’t pay that much money.” Certainly, there always will be clients who undervalue quality footcare, but those are the clients to replace. However, to grow your income, Chandler advises doing fewer horses.

He works with five or six horses each day, other than the times he does a few more so he can travel to show his paint horses. His advice counters the notion that more horses equals greater pay. He says to earn a greater income, take your time and concentrate on your work.

“Slow down and focus on what’s important — spend enough time with each horse, addressing its particular needs,” he says. “The clients will see the results and that you care about the work you do.”

Chandler is a second-generation shoer who started in 1977. His father bought his teenage son a set of tools. The older Chandler told him that if he ever had to follow him to fix a problem his son introduced to a horse’s foot, he’d throw the tools into the swamp.

“He knew I wouldn’t have the money to buy new tools,” Chandler says with a laugh. “So I wouldn’t be a farrier for very long.”

The tools never ended up in the swamp, but the lesson stuck with Chandler.

“He really taught me that lesson on how to slow down and focus on my work so that I take the time to do it right the first time and there is no need to go back to fix a problem,” he adds.

He finds slowing down results in keeping those horses sound, fewer phone calls about problems and loyal clients. Chandler adds that this philosophy works in places like Ocala, which is rich in the number and types of mid- and high-end horses, so there are a sufficient number of clients who appreciate quality work.

Chandler says some farriers in his area will make the mistake of giving clients discounts. Besides lowering your status as a professional, Chandler says this may cause you to lose additional income from other clients.

“When a client asks for a discount, I explain to them that I need to stay in business,” he says. “‘If I give you a break, that means every additional person will expect a discount.’ Word travels and the other owners will find out.”

He admits there always will be gray areas in what to charge that requires thinking about the circumstances; for example, charging for thrown shoes. He advises understanding what caused the shoe to come off and measuring the time it takes for you to get it back on.

“Even if the client has the shoe and I only need to tack it on, I still need to drive there and set up,” Chandler says. “For me, that is about a 30-minute average from heading there to when I leave the barn. Add more time if the trainer or owner needs to discuss something.”

This time frame justifies charging for the service. However, Chandler cautions against charging for thrown shoes — even if the cause rests with the owner — if that account is responsible for a significant portion of your income. This requires weighing what you’ll earn vs. the business you may lose.

“I’ve found that some clients view it as nickel and diming to tack on a shoe,” he says. “That $25 isn’t worth losing a large account.”

One of the first questions prospective clients will ask a farrier is “How much do you charge?” After Chandler tells the horse owner, the follow-up question is usually, “Why so much?” This is usually a red flag, but whether or not he will work with the client, Chandler sees this as an opportunity.

“There is a reason why they are coming to me,” he says. “They are not satisfied with their current footcare. I ask them what that reason is and then I explain why that extra money is for a higher level of service that addresses that need.”

Lack Attention To The Customer

To succeed with the high-end clients he works with, Chandler says you have to address their demands. That might mean coming in late at night because the horse has a problem and they’re supposed to leave for a show in the morning.

“This is a service industry, and those demanding clients expect a high level of attention,” he says. “If I can’t meet their expectations, they’ll find someone who will.”

Chandler relocated several times and often spent weeks on the road and flew around the country to build a reputation with those show clients. When he finally settled in Ocala nearly 15 years ago, the investment on the road helped his status.

“The show world is tough to break into,” he says. “Work a lot of horse shows, and don’t be afraid of travel, especially places you might want to eventually live. Success doesn’t happen overnight. It happens by working those shows and living out of a suitcase.”

Communication is critical for any farrier. Poor communication results in lost clients. It isn’t simply addressing client questions and concerns, but compelling them to manage the horse. Otherwise farriers can earn blame for issues they don’t hold the responsibility in creating.

“With many horses, we are breeding substance out of the feet,” he says. “When my owners buy these horses, I teach them that it is their responsibility to manage the feet.”

For example, with the climate and environment, problems with the feet become more common. He discusses the feet of each horse with the owner and explains why leaving a horse out overnight in a wet grassy field will compromise foot health. Failure to address these issues through client communication will make it more likely that you have to return to put a shoe back on because the owner left the horse out in a muddy field overnight.

“I hate cleaning the stalls for my horses as much as the next guy,” he says of his paint horses. “But my horses are in their stalls every evening at 5, and aren’t turned out until the morning.

“You have to be persistent with the owner, trainer and groom to let them know they have a responsibility to manage the feet and the environment.”

Word travels fast in the horse world, but avoid your role in this when shoeing for high-end show horse barns or breeding farms. Chandler says to keep a good relationship with Ocala’s trainers and owners, his policy is to not talk about their horses to anyone.

“I tell farriers who ride with me that the barns are like the Las Vegas slogan, ‘What happens in the barn stays in the barn,’” he says. “Maybe you tell a few people about one horse that was a real challenge and what was wrong with the horse. If word spreads, then you are part of turning what might have been a $200,000 horse into a $50,000 horse.”

Of course, developing such a reputation gets you fired and hurts your employability. In addition, it can damage working with clients. According to Chandler, there is a danger of a trainer not being as forthcoming with information if there is a concern about the farrier potentially sharing that information. Without that trust, quality footcare becomes more difficult to achieve.

Fail To Improve

It’s been said that a farrier who works in isolation is the best farrier that he knows. Chandler says that the farriers of his area aren’t as engaged with one another as they are elsewhere. Chandler says those farriers who don’t work with others, go to clinics or take advantage of any educational opportunities won’t be able to meet the high-level footcare needs that the demanding clients mandate. One of Chandler’s favorite education sources is Versailles, Ky., equine vet Ric Redden’s podiatry courses. He found that the insight he gained from Redden and peers on these days proved valuable in addressing those high-end client needs. Surprisingly, the most important lesson he learned from the Hall Of Fame veterinarian had nothing to do with feet.

“Dr. Redden was important to helping me understand that it wasn’t how much money you put into your pockets, but how much of it stayed there,” he recalls. “That’s a lesson a lot of shoers around here don’t realize.”

When it comes to continuing education, Chandler says you should let your clients know you attend.

“CE benefits their horses and factors into how much you should charge,” he says. “It goes back to showing why you charge more than those who don’t improve.”