Whatever your plans are for the next five minutes, change them. Stop and think about how far your industry has come in the last quarter century.

For younger farriers, this may not be an easy thing. But for veterans, you’ve got to agree—we’ve come a long way. With the birth of the American Farrier’s Association to flourishing state and local organizations to professional trade publications like American Farriers Journal, much has been done to promote continual education for the betterment of the horse.

But one area that may be a bit foggy for some farriers is the responsibilities that come with owning, operating and maintaining a shoeing business.

“With all the information and educational opportunities available today, the concern isn’t so much about the quality of farriers,” says Steve Richardson. “Right now, a major problem lies in the business skills within the farrier community.”

Richardson, a shoer from Elizabeth, Colo., knows how to do things successfully, and perhaps just as important, legally. He says there are certain steps that farriers should take to protect themselves, their businesses and their family. The steps are easy, make sense and can save you time, money and headaches in the future.

Business Problems

“Too many farriers today aren’t running their shoeing business like a business,” Richardson says. “Instead, they’re taking ‘dead money’ or cash and trying to expand their income. I call it ‘dead money’ because if you’re hiding it, you can’t really invest it anywhere where you create a paper trail. It has nothing to do with how skillful or knowledgeable you are about the shoeing profession. I’m talking about surviving financially.”

The problem with farriers who “take the money and run,” Richardson says, lies in how it affects farriers who are running businesses legitimately.

“Anyone running a business who’s paying taxes and trying to make a living to support a family has to compete with these guys,” he says. “I’ve even had people brag to me about not paying taxes.”

The first red flag, he explains, is last year’s national average charge of $68 for one horse shod with four keg shoes.

“I can assure you that few people can run a business and support a family on $68 a horse,” he says. “For me, I set my prices at $100 per horse plus a farm call charge plus extras.”

Recognize Business Obligations

The first step Richardson suggests is to recognize there are certain obligations that need to be met in running a small business. “If you’re out there working too cheap, other farriers have to compete with the lower prices that are set,” he says.

Get The Message Out

Despite the measures taken to make more supplies available to farriers worldwide, Richardson argues that farrier suppliers and manufacturers could also be part of the problem.

“In no other industry is the price structure set at one amount,” he says. “Every other industry has a price for the public and one for the professional.”

Hiring Outside Help

While the common complaint heard through the country may be that farriers can’t afford to hire a second man for what it would cost to shoe horses themselves, Richardson claims this is a tell-tale sign of a non-profitable business.

“This tells me they’re living less of a lifestyle than anyone who works for a wage,” he says. “It might look good on the outside, but when you put it on paper, they’re really not making any money.

“I’ve talked to farriers who call it contract labor. It means you are hiring an independent business or person to assist you. But there are stipulations on who can be a contract laborer.

“First, you have to hire someone who has a legitimate business to start with. But you are still responsible for their taxes if they don’t pay them. There’s paperwork and forms that need to be submitted for the person you’re hiring.

“In any other professional industry, a person who doesn’t have the discipline to set aside taxes, retirement or insurance, could still get a job because the professionals are the ones setting the price scale and taking care of taxes and insurance costs. But not in the farrier industry.”


Whether farriers should pay apprentices has long been a battle. But before you decide on taking on a new apprentice, Richardson warns there may be legal complications associated with not paying them.

“The American Farrier’s Association has many good programs,” he says. “But the reason their apprentice program and hasn’t worked is because it seems illegal to me. You cannot hire someone in Colorado and not pay them. The employment laws will never allow that.

“The thing that needs to be amended is not only the apprenticeship program but the business structure in the field. The apprenticeship situation not only gives knowledge and experience to the apprentice, but it also gives valuable assistance to the farrier.

“Farriers have to make enough money so they can hire someone to assist them. But because of the price scale, many farriers aren’t charging enough to make hiring someone affordable. Farriers should realize that if you’re hiring someone illegally and that person gets hurt, you’re liable”

With that said, here’s some simple things that Richardson says farriers can do to ensure their business is legitimate, legal and free from the troubles with the Internal Revenue Service:

1. Hire a CPA 

“The first thing to do is hire a certified public accountant (CPA) to help you set up your business legitimately,” he says. “They’ll give you your figures, show where your expenses lie and how much income you need to make per horse.

“A simple tax accounting program cannot help you structure a business,” he says. “Sure, there are software programs out there that can help, but you’d still have to know a lot of the tax laws and other things yourself.

“A CPA can dismantle your business without any emotion and tell you which changes you need to be making and which decisions are working.”

2. Setting Prices

“To decide what to receive as pay, I went back and took all of my business deductions and divided that by the number of horses I shod in that year,” he says. “That’s what it cost me to shoe a horse. Then I started working in the profits.

“I identified services I was not charging for; vehicle miles and farm calls are services you should be paid for. Most farriers don’t charge for these, but they should.

“A lot of farriers don’t like working with vets because it takes more time. The answer is to charge more. It does take more time and requires more skills. Every aspect of this industry needs to be profitable.

“It cost me $47 in 1996 to shoe a horse taking into consideration transportation, clinic fees, insurance, continual education, supplies and equipment,” he says. “Being selfemployed, you can’t live on what’s left over with the national average of $68, even if you’re not using the best equipment and supplies.

“There’s a great many expense items that are invisible. Spending time on the phone is management. E-mailing a message to a client is management. You’ve also got to account for that time, even if you’re not being paid. It’s part of what your salary is consisted of. You can’t bill clients for communication.”

3. Investment Counselors

Once your business is established and you start to make profits, Richardson recommends hiring an investment counselor to invest your profits. “But don’t worry about IRAs and investments until your business is making a profit,” he says.

“Farriers need to pay themselves a salary so they have the dollars to invest in a retirement program. As young farriers, you need to figure on a 20- or 25-year plan, as opposed to a 40-year plan, since your body is going to give out.”

4. Raise Prices

“At this point, start charging more for your shoeing services,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what the comparable pay is. What matters is what it takes to make a living.

“You have to look at how much you need to make to survive and invest in securities and future income, like retirement benefits.”

5. Taxes

“For taxes, my figures show they are 16 percent of my gross income,” he says. “Now that I’m incorporated, I deposit my taxes on the fifteenth of every month. With an employee identification number, the government watches you very closely.”

6. Insurance

“It’s really only a matter of time before there are more lawsuits over a lame horse or an injured person,” Richardson says. “It’s already happened in four cases I know of in Colorado.

“But that’s what insurance is for. It’s another factor in running a business. No business owner would be in business without insurance. You can lose everything.”

Good Advice

With the promotion of continual farrier education, Richardson believes the quality of horseshoeing today is continually improving and being addressed by local, state and national organizations. But he is also deeply concerned about the well-being of fellow farriers.

Most farriers agree communication between farriers in the last quarter century has improved dramatically. Farriers are more willing today to discuss new theories, philosophies, shoeing secrets and now, practical ways to better run your small business.

Who knows, with a little business savvy, farriers won’t be at risk for an IRS audit or an irritating and financially-draining lawsuit. But ultimately, it’s up to you do something, hopefully, before it’s too late.