There is a common bond between the farriers we interviewed for this special 25th anniversary feature story and American Farriers Journal.
We all started in the farrier business in 1975!
While the magazine was struggling to create a reputation in the industry, these farriers were out in the trenches every day, working to establish a name for themselves and build a successful farrier business.
We’ve all come a long way since 1975.
American Farriers Journal is now the leading professional farrier industry magazine, dedicated to the promotion of proper hoof care.
As you’ll see through this question-and-answer session, not only are these veteran farriers successful after 25 years in the profession, but the early days bring back fond memories of how hard it was to build up their business.
Our Panel Of Experts
Earlier this year, we contacted farriers who started their businesses in 1975. We wanted to poll this group to find out just how far the farrier industry has come in 25 years.
Thanks goes out to these veteran farriers for helping us complete our task.
- Steve Wheeler, Forest Hill, Md.
- Jaimie McErlean, Brentwood,Calif.
- Bob Plant, Walworth, N.Y.
- Barry Denton, Skull Valley, Ariz.
- Lee McKinney, Riverton, Wyo.
- Mac Little, Bogalusa, La.
- Lee Hecker, Dickinson, N.D.
Bill Miller, East Olympia, Wash.
(Bill actually started shoeing in 1947, but he provided us with interesting comments about his shoeing business in 1975).
Q: WHAT’S YOUR FONDEST OR MOST VIVID MEMORY FROM THE EARLY DAYS OF YOUR SHOEING BUSINESS?
Plant: “It’s all the horses I used to do that no one else would because I really wanted the business and I was hungry. How foolish. Others wouldn’t do them for a reason! I also remember my first $100 day and driving home feeling really great.”
McKinney: “There are two vivid memories from my early days, although I wouldn’t call them my fondest. One was shoeing the wrong horse at a place when no one was home. “I also remember working through the long Wyoming winters, trimming horses in slushy, muddy conditions with blowing snow and no shed or windbreak. But of course, postponement wasn’t in my vocabulary in those days.”
McErlean: “I see the lack of experience I had then compared to now. I can help horses much better now.”
Wheeler: “Working in a client’s barn while her farrier boyfriend, who didn’t have time for her horses, watched and critiqued.”
Denton: “Getting called out to shoe some of the area’s toughest horses and bringing my secret weapon, my 80-year-old grandfather. All animals loved him and he got me through many rank horses without incident. He could soothe any beast.”
Hecker: “Horses are more gentle now. I used to travel a lot more when I started, but now I have a shop and don’t travel very much.”
Miller: “When I went out on my own, prospects didn’t think I could shoe a horse. They thought you had to have gray hair like the ol’ boys left over from the horse-and-buggy days. It didn’t seem right to them to have a person in his 20’s shoeing. I did prove myself and it didn’t take long to have more business than I could handle.”
Little: “My best memory was the accomplishment of making a crippled horse walk again. I experienced some of that my first year. “I remember the way other horseshoers treated me back then. They weren’t too nice, wouldn’t talk to me or help me. Especially since I’d been to school, they viewed me as a threat to their business.”
Q: HOW WAS YOUR DAY-TO-DAY SHOEING BUSINESS CHANGED OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS?
Wheeler: “I’m shoeing fewer racehorses, almost none. I shoe more show and pleasure horses. I have more clients, but fewer horses at each stop. Today I insist on appointments from one shoeing to the next, instead of waiting for owners or grooms to call.”
Miller: “When I started out, I shod pleasure horses. Later I concentrated on shoeing hunters. I did a lot of polo ponies. Over the years, I’ve shod most breeds and types, but I like shoeing Standardbreds the best.”
Little: “Now I have a lot of horseshoeing friends and we get together and talk about horses, people and shoeing problems we run up against. The money situation is also a lot better.”
McKinney: “Day-to-day I pace myself better, but I do the same number of horses or more each day. Yet I do it in less time and with less energy expended compared to how I worked years ago. I treat shoeing with more professionalism: tracking mileage, clients, income and expenses.”
McErlean: “I went from shoeing backyard horses to shoeing show horses and working more with vets.”
Hecker: “Mainly I just sit here and shoe, I don’t go out very much. I’d say 90 percent of my work is done out of my shop. They ship the horses to me now.”
Plant: “I used to shoe anything I could. Now my clientele is very limited. I won’t work under poor conditions or take on new customers. “I schedule all work 6 weeks ahead and don’t work weekends. I used to work evenings, weekends and holidays. I don’t try and shoe eight horses a day anymore—it’s more like four a day now.”
Denton: “My day-to-day business has changed a great deal since I started. I went from shoeing farm, ranch and backyard horses to champions on the racetrack and show ring.”
Q: WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER THE BIGGEST SHOEING DEVELOPMENT IN THE PAST 25 YEARS?
Little: “It was finding there was an association. When I moved to Louisiana in 1986, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to a Southern Farrier’s Association clinic. I said, ‘Do what?’ “Where I came from all of the other farriers wanted to whip me. We didn’t get together and talk about things. “Well, the two of us went and I met a lot of really good guys. I joined on the spot and have been active ever since. My enlightenment was the affiliation with the association.”
McKinney: “The gas forge and the Mustad combo nail.”
Denton: “The biggest development is Burney Chapman’s heart bar shoe for laminitic horses. I’ve helped several horses over the years with it. “I did a toe resection on a horse in Arizona following Burney’s instructions over the phone. No one in my area had heard of it. By the way, it was a $200,000 broodmare and it saved her life.”
Plant: “Communication among farriers, farriers and vets and available magazine articles. There have been many new types of shoes that have made a difference. Front and hind patterns were a great idea.”
Hecker: “If you go to a library in London and spend enough time, you can’t find a shoe that hasn’t already been made. I’d say plastic shoes and acrylics. They had acrylics then, but they’ve got a lot better ones now.”
McErlean: “The dedication of veterinarians and farriers to the health of the equine foot. The research the universities have conducted has helped too.”
Miller: “The gas forge was a godsend. I still like to work in coal, but gas has made on-the-job forge work so much easier and cleaner. More healthful too.”
Wheeler: “A greater selection of keg shoes. Nutritional hoof supplements that work are also important. I think reconstruction materials, like Equilox, are great.”
Q: WHAT DID YOU CHARGE FOR 4 BASIC SHOES AND A TRIM WHEN YOU STARTED? WHAT ARE YOUR PRICES NOW?
Hecker: “I charged $16 for a shoe job and $6 for a trim. We’re in a pretty low-paying area, so I’m at $18 a trim and $55 for a regular shoeing job.”
McErlean: “I charged $18 for shoes, $8 for a trim. Now it’s $95 to $110 for flat shoeing and $30 for trims.”
Miller: “25 years ago I shod Standardbreds for $32 for four open shoes. Bars were $5 extra. Aluminum shoes, Borium and pads were also extras.”
Wheeler: “Four shoes were $18 to $20. A trim was $3 to $5. I shod Arab ponies in Baltimore for $2.50 a foot, but the owners provided the shoes. Today I charge $80 to $100 for 4 shoes, $15 to $25 for a trim.”
McKinney: “I charged $14 to shoe, but went up to $16 after the first year. Now I charge $45 for a basic shoe job.”
Denton: “I charged $8 for a trim and $24 for shoeing. I now charge $30 for a trim and $85 for shoeing.”
Little: “$5 for a trim and $16 for shoes. Now it’s $22 and $70.”
Plant: “A trim was $8. Four shoes with a trim was $28. Now I charge $26 for a trim. Four shoes with a trim is $94. And I get a farm call charge now.”
Q: WHAT SHOEING TECHNIQUE OR INNOVATIVE TOOL HAS MADE YOU THE MOST MONEY IN THE LAST 25 YEARS?
Denton: “Equilox hoof repair is the best money maker on my truck.”
McErlean: “This is my dilemma. Trying to follow the new shoeing procedures over the years takes more time, so I have to charge more. The innovative shoeing techniques I have picked up from people like Dr. Ric Redden with his Bluegrass Laminitis Symposium have helped me. “Gene Ovnicek and his clinics on ‘New Hope For Soundness,’ along with Bob Marshall’s shoe making. All of these and many more have been the most innovative and have made me much more money.”
Wheeler: “The bar shoe. When I started, bar shoes were considered a hospital shoe and not a shoe to perform in. Today they’re accepted as a performance shoe.”
Hecker: “It’s still the basics, I’ve just gotten smarter. Most of those gizmos and gimmicks don’t work. “We have a lot more knowledge now. The biggest thing is all of the information available. But it’s still the basics like it was 100 years ago.”
McKinney: “Squaring rolled toes on the front feet.” Plant: “Front and hind pattern shoes with clips have been a real money maker.” Little: “Grant Moon. I try to follow his procedures in the barn and use nearly all of his Mustad tools. I hate to give one man all the credit, but he’s had a big influence on me over the last 5 to 10 years.”
Q: WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST PROBLEM YOU’VE FACED IN 25 YEARS OF SHOEING?
McErlean: “Trying to help horses with laminitis. I handle it by working with people who are the best qualified in this work.”
Plant: “Thinking other farriers were my competition and out to get my customers. I solved the problem by helping to start a local farrier association, as we all have the same problems and concerns. Many of us have become friends.”
Hecker: “I’m from North Dakota, so my toughest shoeing job comes in the spring because people around here don’t do nearly enough trimming or shoeing in the winter. Usually, they pull the shoes off at the end of September and I won’t see these horses again until April. My biggest problem is scheduling the rush in the spring when all the feet are horrendous.”
Wheeler: “Vets who don’t agree with the way I shoe. I haven’t found a good solution other than doing the best shoeing work I can. I try not to fall into the trap of bad-mouthing anyone and work hard at developing a solid relationship with the vets who agree with me.”
Denton: “I had a man working with me as an independent contractor on a large account. He was kicked in the face and broke several bones. He needed several surgeries to reconstruct his face and as a result I was sued by his family. “Because I’m a stickler about running my business correctly, the law protected me from being held responsible. It was scary for awhile. Keep your paperwork in order!”
Little: “I haven’t encountered many. I’ve never not been paid, I’ve never gotten into any trouble and all the horses I’ve done are good horses. “I don’t keep bad clients. If they fuss a lot, I’m gone. If there’s too many dogs around the barn, I’m gone. If the horses are bad, I’m gone. If something needs to be done and they don’t want to do it, I’m gone. I’ve been lucky.”
McKinney: “Losing business because I’m a girl. It only happened a few times and I just went on enjoying what I was doing. Now, being female can be an advantage at times.”
Q: HOW DO YOU SEE THE S H O E I N G B U S I N E S S CHANGING OVER THE NEXT 10 YEARS?
Miller: “I doubt there will be many changes. I hope I’ll still be shoeing horses at least another 20 or 30 years. At 95, I may consider retiring.”
Little: “I was shoeing with a friend the other day when we drove by a new house under construction. The builders were using nail guns, circular saws and all this modern machinery. I leaned over and told him, ‘You know, the world is changing a lot with computers and all this. But we’re still working in the fire with iron and nailing it on horses with hammers.’ “We’ve gotten better, but we’re still doing the same thing. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I just hope I can last another 10 years the way I’ve been going.”
Wheeler: “I’d bet we will see more horseshoers, more nail-less techniques and more composite shoes using less steel.”
Plant: “I hope to see more farriers feel and act as professionals and not shy away from learning, but embrace continuing education.”
Denton: “Horseshoeing will continue to improve. I also think continued education by the American Farrier’s Association and horseshoeing contests contribute a great deal. “My only concern is we will lose craftsmen with all the ready-made shoes available. With the horse business growing at a rapid rate, many people will be drawn to the farrier business who are not trained horsemen. “The same thing is happening to trainers. As a farrier, we can’t let ourselves be drawn into poor farriery work by poor horse trainers.”
McKinney: “There will be more awareness by the customer of what a good shoeing job should be. We’ll be working with vets in a closer fashion, too.”
McErlean: “I see the science of the equine hoof changing for the better. Education of the farrier will continue.”
Hecker: “We’re gradually getting owners educated to realize they have to do something in the winter. Sooner or later we’ll catch up with the rest of the country, where we’ll have a steady year-round business instead of a big spring rush.”