Editor’s Note: With the hard work of every day shoeing, it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race. But keeping the following tips in mind will make the tough season go better for everyone.
1. An Appointment Is A Two-Way Situation.
I venture a guess that I could ask thousands of horse owners the same question and get the same answer most of the time.
The question would be, “What is the biggest problem you have with farriers?” The answer I’d expect would be some variation of, “He doesn’t show up.”
I have lived and worked in various parts of the country from California to North Carolina, and I’ve concluded this shortcoming is all too common to our trade. Maybe it is a reflection of our independent nature. But no matter how you slice it, it’s rude.
Many horse owners take time off work and care enough about their horses and farrier to catch the horses and have them ready for the shoer’s arrival. If we fail to show up — or don’t let them know when we’re going to be late — we show a lack of respect for that customer. Folks have told me that often when a farrier was a no show, he or she never even called to say why the appointment was not kept.
I can’t see how anyone can run a business that way. Most of us pride ourselves on being professionals. But behaving in this manner is diametrically opposed to the image a professional should portray. Our customers should know that we know that their time is valuable. That’s the way professionals operate. We should not just show up when we feel like it and expect them to pay us.
2. A Phone Call Deserves A Call Back.
A related item is the telephone. We are known for not returning phone calls. There’s no excuse for this in an age of answering machines and voice mail. I know we are all busy, but none of us is so busy that we cannot return every call made to our business line. Granted it might take us a day or so to call back, but we should never just leave people hanging. If we are too busy to do the work or do not want that particular customer’s business, we should at least tell them so.
It’s also a good opportunity to refer them to another farrier who is just starting out. We all needed help getting a client base when we were rookies.
3. Watch Your Mouth - Others Are Listening
Returning the call and keeping the appointment are just the beginning of minding farrier manners. Consider foul language and jokes. I’m no saint, but I try to be sensitive to my customers. My mother’s ears might spontaneously combust if she heard me talk during some of my appointments. But I know when and where NOT to talk that way, too. (Or at least I try.)
Jokes fall along the same lines. One of my customers fired her previous farrier because on the first appointment, he told her a blonde joke. And she is a blonde! So who was the stupid one in that situation? I wholeheartedly believe in joking around and having fun with my clients. We want them to look forward to our arrival and consider us enjoyable to be around. We don’t want them wondering if we’re going to offend them with off-color jokes.
Be sensitive to the situation. If in doubt, don’t tell the joke. We are there to do a job first. Entertainment should be the icing on the cake instead of the main course.
4. Keep Your Gossip To Yourself
Professionals don’t gossip. I hail from a small town where gossip is common. But doing a “he said, she said” when it comes to your shoeing clients is profoundly unprofessional. Even if you start out with, “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but...” you’ll cause your clients to wonder who you’ve used the same phrase with before passing on a juicy tidbit that involves them! Being known as the neighborhood gossip is never good.
5. No One Likes A Know-It-All
Now to open another can of worms. Many farriers come across as know-it-alls — with clients, horse trainers, veterinarians and with each other. One of the things I admire about Mitch Taylor, one of my instructors and the owner of the Kentucky Horseshoeing School, was something he said on our first day in class. “I’m not going to teach you the only way to shoe horses,” he said. “I’m going to teach you my way. And if you’re smart, you’ll keep on learning about this trade as you go.”
Our trade is both science and art. We each develop our own signature style and we each excel in certain ways. But in my 14-plus years as a farrier, I have run across more than a few shoers who reek of superiority. There is nothing as attractive as someone who is really good at what he does and yet is humble about it and open to other ideas.
6. We're All In This Together
Another area where manners come into play is in our dealings with each other. Over the years I have met only one farrier who was overtly rude to me. But how often have we heard one in our craft badmouth that so-and-so who was the previous shoer. I have always wanted people to respect me on the merits of my work instead of because old so-and-so did such a poor job.
7. Remember, The Real Client Has Four Legs
Last but not least, I suggest we treat horses with proper manners. After all, where would we be without them? We should show them kindness and respect. I have called horses names over the years, both under my breath and out loud. But only when they endangered my life or safety. I always feel bad about it later.
If you think about it, it is remarkable that they allow us to nail something to their feet — especially since we are predatory creatures who hold them in captivity. Think about that the next time a horse is breathing on your neck while you’re finishing his foot on a hoof stand.
To sum up, this trade means a great deal to me. Let’s try and work together to improve our image and help each other along the way.
As Irish Johnny, a farrier from Acton, Calif., one said in his unforgettable brogue, “Shoein’ horses is a hard way to make a livin’. We hafta stick together.”