A client who regularly expects you to bring horses in from a paddock or doesn’t have them ready for you to shoe when you arrive doesn’t respect the importance of your time.
You have a busy day ahead which means that keeping on track depends largely on having mannerly horses with clean, dry feet waiting when you arrive. Someone on hand ready to hold each horse for the duration without interruption is a plus, as are aisles clear of debris, dogs locked up and — of course — and payment waiting for you at the end of it all.
While these kind of textbook days are few and far between, by establishing a clear understanding with your clients about what is and what is not acceptable within the parameters of the job, you’ll be greatly increasing your chances of getting through your appointments unscathed as well as improving your efficiency.
But, how do you do that? As much as you might like to back offenders into the corner, wag your finger in their face as you berate them for having held you up while they searched vainly in the “back 40” for the mud-drenched horses or for jeopardizing your well-being by allowing kids on bikes in the barn, you can’t do that and expect to collect their money at the end of it all — not more than once anyway.
Farriers seem to agree on some of the biggest owner infractions, and have come up with their own ways to rectify them equitably. Here’s a look at some of the more common problems.
Owners Who Do Not Respect Your Time
Owners who don’t respect your time frequently:
- Are late getting to the barn.
- Are preoccupied with other things, such as riding the horse that’s supposed to be shod.
- Have to bring in the horse or horses from a distant paddock.
- Present horses with muddy feet.
- Expect you to work on horses wearing dripping rain sheets or turn-out blankets.
- Won’t have sprayed their horses for flies in season and may not even have fly spray available.
- Will be late payers.
Owners Who Don’t Understand Safety
Owners who don’t understand how dangerous shoeing horses can be will often:
- Own unmanageable horses that will not stand, be easy to cross-tie or allow you to pick up their feet.
- Expect you to work in dangerous circumstances, such as in barns where falling snow is known to panic the horses.
- Cause constant disruptions, such as leaving you alone with their unruly horse while they answer the phone or leave the premises for some other reason.
- Expect you to shoe in chaotic situations, such as during construction projects, in cluttered aisles or with dogs and children underfoot, etc.
While there were variations on these themes, they all seem to fall under the “time is money” aspect of the job, or that no job — no matter how lucrative — is worth the risk to your welfare.
The general consensus among the farriers interviewed is that dealing with these issues comes down to maintaining a delicate balance between getting your point across and keeping up good client relations.
Gentle And Not-So-Gentle Hints
Jeff Myrick, whose 17 years of experience has landed him in a variety of situations, says, “Owners either get it or they don’t.”
For those who do, the American Farrier’s Association certified journeyman farrier from Stowe, Vt., has had good results by employing his special brand of humor, “Why don’t I go get a cup of coffee and come back? Maybe I’ll have two since your horses are so far away,” are examples of remarks he might make. He says, for the most part, clients get the point right away and don’t let it happen twice. “But, if it does, I’ll leave before all the horses are finished. It’s a real slap in the face, not to mention that I charge them extra for having to come back,” he says.
If the behavior continues, he’ll either raise his fees or make the decision to bail. He sees such clients as “a waste of time and money.”
Veteran farrier Diane Saunders, of Bristol, Vt., also uses humor when possible. When horses are brought in with soaked rain sheets or turn-out blankets, for instance, she has more than once been inspired to comment, “Your horse is dry, but I won’t be when that blanket starts dripping on me, so if you could take it off, we’ll both be comfortable.”
She also believes in taking a pro-active stance when necessary. When a horse has muddy feet, for example, she’ll suggest that she’ll he happy to hold the lead rope while the client brushes the feet off. “That usually does the trick,” she says, although if it doesn’t, she’s not above being more direct.
“The truth is a powerful tool,” she says. When the situation calls for it, especially when her safety is involved, Saunders’ policy of presenting valid reasons for her rational has served her well over the years.
“Most owners will respect you for explaining why you may need to protect yourself in a given set of circumstances,” she maintains.
She cites an encounter with a disobedient horse that she knew was just testing the waters, but was a potential danger nonetheless. “I explained to the owner that I wasn’t comfortable shoeing him until he learned his manners, and would she mind if I worked with him for a bit.”
After using a few techniques designed to gain his respect — having him lower his head, backing up and disengaging his hindquarters, all the while explaining what she was doing and why — Saunders got the horse under control and then was able to get on with her job without a problem.
“The time it took to bring the horse around was worth it on a few counts: the first was that the horse straightened up, enabling me to keep him on the schedule — I would have had to walk away otherwise — and that the owner not only learned something, but was on board to enforce his new behavior, and was quite grateful besides, further establishing our farrier/client relationship.”
Establishing Rules Up-Front
On the other hand, Mike Givney, of Johnsonville, N.Y., an AFA Certified Farrier, with 20 years of experience uses a different approach. “When a new client calls to schedule an appointment, I give him or her my deal up front; that way everyone knows what to expect.”
The standard set of guidelines Givney puts forth start with his number one priority: all horses must be well behaved. He also asks that they be in the barn and ready for him. “No mud, blood, ice or lice,” as he puts it. He then stresses that there be a dry lighted area for him to work in, that there be someone present to hold the horses, and finally, that payment is due upon receipt.
“I’m always polite, and in the course of the conversation, explain why these things are important. And, whenever possible, I add that we’re in this together, which usually hits home,” he says.
While making your time count and preserving your safety set the precedence for your actions, most clients want to accommodate you. It’s often just an oversight on their part when things go awry, or they simply don’t understand what’s expected of them. That’s where employing a bit of diplomacy, whether through humor or by being tactfully direct comes in. As a professional, customer relations is part of your job, too.