LEARNING THE ROPES. Melissa Voigt discovered that she still had a lot to learn about horseshoeing after graduating from a 16-week training program.
By Melissa Voigt
Late in 2003, I began my journey into the exciting world of horseshoeing. The school I chose to attend was a very reputable one, that offered 2-, 12- and 16-week courses. I chose the 16-week course, thinking that would be plenty of time to learn everything there is to know about horseshoeing.
Of course, I would soon find out I was wrong.
The school supplied me with the tools I would need to shoe horses and build shoes. But the tools I received were inexpensive, low-grade tools. At the time, I didn’t recognize the difference that a higher-grade tool would make.
During the 16 weeks at school, my time was split between lectures, shoeing and forging. Classroom lectures focused on understanding how the biomechanics of the horse’s lower leg and foot work. We took a test about every other week and had pop quizzes occasionally.
Struggling At The Horse
I struggled with trimming and shoeing. I would consistently leave too much foot in fear that taking more would cause the horse to be sore. I also struggled shaping shoes. I could never get that nice perimeter fit. It seemed the more I tried, the worse the shoe fit the foot. When the shoe finally fit and it came time to nail, I would become so afraid of pricking the horse that I was distracted from driving the nails properly.
In forging, what gave me the most trouble was learning not to swing “like a girl” and getting used to sore hands and blisters. By the end of 16 weeks, my hands had formed calluses where there were blisters and I was used to the stress of forging.
Early Business Mistakes
After graduating, I realized there was no way I could have learned all I needed to know about horseshoeing in just 16 weeks, but I still thought I knew enough and was good enough to make it on my own. I started spreading the word that I was a new farrier and had openings for clients.
My prices were slightly lower than other farriers in the area. I thought that since I was recently out of school and looking for clients, having a lower price would help me get started.
This thinking priced me right into a trap. With cheap prices, I got cheap clients; the ones who would only stay with me until they found someone whose prices were even lower. I also got the horses no one else would do. A lot of these clients were also the ones that starve you. They trim and shoe their horses maybe two or three times a year. That was my clientele. I think I was at the point where a lot of beginning farriers struggle and give up.
Once I actually started getting horses to work on, I quickly realized there was still so much about horseshoeing that I didn’t know. I figured if I kept at it and went to a few clinics, things would start getting better — at least I thought that way until my horses started losing shoes. And they were losing an unreal number of shoes. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I was doing everything the way I was taught in school.
Looking For Help
I put a few ads up on the Internet, looking for an apprenticeship or at least someone who would let me ride with them once in awhile. I was looking for anyone who could give me some guidance. I had no luck. I then contacted the presidents of local farrier organizations. One of the presidents thought it would be best to see me work in order to guide me in the right direction. After working together a few times, we agreed it would benefit both of us if I continued to work with him.
Progress At Last
I soon began to see tremendous changes, not only in my work, but in the way I managed my shoeing business. I was also able to use my mentor’s tools and learned first-hand how high-quality tools made my work easier to do as well as better looking. I soon invested in all new, higher-quality tools of my own.
The farrier I work with has also helped me gain the confidence not to be afraid of the hoof while I’m trimming and nailing. We work in the shop forging together and — with his help — I’ve lost my “girl swing” by using tools that are appropriate for me.
He’s also given me guidance in how I run my business, especially in pricing. I’ve raised my prices and in doing so, have begun to get clients who are willing to spend more money because that ensures them that their horses are going to get quality work. They are the type of clients who need me on a consistent basis and have good horses to work on. Best of all, just from working with my mentor, my horses hardly ever lose shoes anymore.
Since starting my apprenticeship, I’ve learned the value of the American Farrier’s Association’s certification program. After attending my first certification testing, I also learned the value of working with a certified journeyman farrier who has been through the AFA’s testing process so that I could walk away from the testing feeling positive and successful.
After a couple of months working with my mentor, we are both benefitting. He is able to do more horses in less time and still maintain his level of quality workmanship. I’ve been able to get under more horses, see more abnormalities, deal with a professional clientele and have a journeyman farrier on hand for guidance as I broaden my horizons and knowledge.
I would encourage everyone starting in this business to reach out to someone that they can work with and who will help them become successful. I am new in this business, but I know that no one is born knowing it. Everything — and I do mean everything — is handed down in this profession.
I would encourage every seasoned farrier to be willing to guide and mentor fellow farriers. The road to success for a farrier can be a long one without guidance.
I would also encourage farrier school instructors to recognize that students usually do not have an overabundance of funds available as they start their business. I think you should try to set them up with tools that will complement their work and won’t need to be replaced in order to achieve success once out into the real world of horseshoeing.