Q: I have always been fascinated with shoeing horses. I’ve done a little trimming of my own horses, but I haven’t been to a shoeing school. The only farrier education I have comes from asking questions and getting pointers from other farriers, along with reading books that I’ve purchased.
I work on a ranch in northeastern California and have been married 2 years with no kids yet. I would love to have my own farrier business! Can I support a family being a full-time farrier? How do you suggest that I get started?
—Frank Emsoff, email@example.com
A: If you have a fascination and are seriously interested in becoming a horseshoer, I’d definitely encourage you to pursue shoeing for a living. One important thing to know is that working up to a full-time business may take a while. A good plan is to attend a reputable farrier school and try to ride with a full-time journeyman farrier. I’d also suggest getting a subscription to American Farriers Journal and attending clinics in your area.
After you have a good educational foundation, you can work on building up a clientele. Any good business takes time to build and a farrier business is no different. I’ve made many good fiends in this trade and found many people willing to share their knowledge with me.
A: The best blacksmiths I know all had a mentor. I know some self-taught guys that make a lot of money. And I know some guys that went to horseshoeing school that have a lot of clients. But the guys I know that do the best work were professionally trained.
Doug Butler, in his book Six-Figure Shoeing, claims that about 5 percent of all horseshoers who start in the business make it past 5 years. He also states that only 5 to 10 percent of horseshoeing school graduates become full-time farriers after 5 years. I believe him. I’m not trying to talk you out of the business, but what I’m getting at is that the value of a good mentor is irreplaceable.
You need someone who can teach you how to handle the highs so you can survive the lows. Horseshoers need to be versatile and you need someone who can
teach you about horses, blacksmithing and people. Try to hook up with a farrier who has had what it takes to last 30, 40 or 50 years in this business. Finding an old timer like that can be tough, but it’s a great way to get started!
—Eric Wilt, firstname.lastname@example.org
A: There is money to be made in this business. I agree that the best way to start out is to find a mentor. In Europe, you can’t even get started without one.
Maybe you want to think about working part time as a shoer’s apprentice for free first, while working elsewhere to make money. Find a shoer and offer to help him 1 or 2 days a week. It will give you a chance to learn enough about the job. I mention this so that you don’t start out buying all kinds of stuff and then sit down and wait for customers to call you. They may even call you, too — but then what? Be sure you know what you get yourself into.
Being a farrier is the best job in the world if you’re willing to learn. But it’s also one of the toughest jobs in the world.
—Ronald Aalders, email@example.com
A: The first thing to do is read Doug Butler’s book, Six-Figure Shoeing. I would suggest going to a good school, too.
If I had to do it over again, I would go to a good school, move to a place that I didn’t want to permanently live, get a night job to supplement my income, mentor under the good farriers in that area, build up a clientele, work at that for a few years and get certified by the American Farrier’s Association. After that, I’d move to an area where I’d like to stay permanently, coming to that area as the certified expert.
If you’re thinking about getting into this business, you’ve got to go to clinics. You can meet some of the people who run shoeing schools and a lot of folks who can help you out in a lot of ways. There will be lectures and demonstrations by some of the best farriers in the country, so you can pick up really valuable tips and knowledge.
—Bill A., firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: I have a horse that wears two different-sized shoes on the front. One hoof is close to being an ideal hoof and the other is somewhat club footed. A year ago, he developed an abscess in the club foot which distorted the hoof. He’s back to normal now, but wears a size 2 shoe on the club foot and a size 1 on the normal hoof. I’ve tried to squeeze a size 1 on the hoof, but it’s just too small.
Is it common to have a horse with different-sized hooves? Is there any way to fix this or is it just the horse?
—Sam Carter, email@example.com
A: Although angles and toe lengths may be different on a horse’s front feet, the ground surface (shoe size) can almost always work out to be the same. Using your example of a horse with one club foot, here are some steps that might give you some corrective ideas.
Step 1. Where the normal foot might grow more toe, the club foot probably grows all heel. Dress the normal foot down the way you normally would and remove any wings and excessive wall thickness in the toe (if there is any).
Step 2. Measure the normal foot from the bottom and the distance from the point of the frog to the outside of the wall at the tip of the toe. Let’s say, for example, that the distance is 1 1/4 inches.
Step 3. Go to the club foot. Since you know that foot really grows heel, trim it down as much as possible when you dress that foot. The club foot probably doesn’t have much wing, but it may have a dish in the toe. If it does, treat that dish like a wing and rasp it back until the distance from the point of the frog to the tip of the toe is 1 1/4 inches, just like the other foot (in our example).
Others may not agree on this technique, but I’ve never had any problems. Although the exterior of the foot and its visible appearance may change over time, once a horse is full grown, the insides of the feet don’t change much where size is concerned.
—Eric Wilt, firstname.lastname@example.org
A: I’ve seen this kind of case before. My first question is: Where was the abscess? Was it in the toe area? Did it distort the white line? If so, you may have slight separation that can give the foot a little more toe, requiring a different size shoe. If this is the case (and I’m only guessing here), then you need to address the problem. My advice would be to get a vet to look at it.
There’s another thing to keep in mind. Let’s say that you weren’t able to buy ready-made shoes and that you had to make shoes for this horse. In most cases, you would find that after measuring around the hoof, the shoes you made would most likely not be the same size. They might be close — but definitely not exactly the same.
I am always modifying keg shoes. As long at the horse is sound and there isn’t separation in the hoof wall and the foot looks to be in good health, I wouldn’t worry about putting an extra-size bigger shoe on the club foot.
It sounds to me that there was more going on than just an abscess. I’m wondering if this horse might have had a mild case of laminitis.
—Curtis Brown, email@example.com
A: The big-foot, little-foot question was asked during the oral part of my certification test many years ago. Always start with the big foot, as it can be trimmed down. The other good foot might just need the rasp drawn across it a few times to make it level.
Depending on the breed, such as a Tennessee Walking horse, it’s no problem to make the good foot bigger — meaning that it should be shod fuller than usual. Or you can alter the bad foot by rolling or bcking up the toe. It all comes down to balancing the feet.