What the future holds is anybody’s guess. Today’s most effective farriers are doing what all successful farriers will be doing in the future. Successful farriers in the year 2025 will need to pay as much attention to running their businesses as they do to balancing horses’ feet.
Here are some trends and changes I see developing over the next 25 years in the equine industry.
1 There will be fewer horses by 2025, but the number of serious horse owners will increase. The more people are separated from agriculture by a materialistic and mechanistic economy, the more attractive live animal association becomes. With increased time on their hands and more resources, those who have an unsatisfied craving for horses are more likely to own them.
2 Horses will continue to be attractive to the upscale worker in areas where horse keeping is accepted and encouraged. Horses are often attractive to those in “high-tech, low-touch” jobs. For these people, horses are a “safer” relationship than humans, since horses require less emotional effort.
3 The physical effort necessary to care for and shoe these horses will be even less desirable for many owners to consider doing it themselves. As a result, many owners will expect to pay for
4 Unknowledgeable clientele can be a two-edged sword for horse care providers, such as farriers, as they often have unrealistic expectations for their animals. Their superficial level of knowledge of horsemanship and horseshoeing can also make communication difficult.
5 A client with unrealistic expectations often becomes deeply attached to a marginally sound horse and is unwilling to accept its limitations. However, this challenge can also be a great opportunity. The owner can develop dependence on and trust in the skilled and thoughtful farrier who makes an effort to educate and partner with them.
6 Horses will be kept by one owner longer, usually until death, and treated as members of the family rather than working partners.
7 Farriers will have to build longterm businesses to be successful in the future. Clients will depend more on their farriers to provide knowledge and understanding of horses.
A wise farrier will be a teacher who balances knowledge with skill. A farrier of the future will be skilled in at least seven areas. The first letter of these spells TEACHER: tradition, ethics, athletics, craftsmanship, horsemanship, entrepreneurship and recreation.
The visual and mechanical skills necessary to practice good farriery have changed very little in hundreds of years. However, each generation has standards of acceptability created by the knowledge level of clients and farriers.
The speed of learning new material will continue to accelerate due to the widespread availability of new learning experiences and materials. Learning by trial and error will become almost a thing of the past.
The farrier industry is polarized and will continue to be so. On one hand, we have very skilled farriers who have paid the price. On the other hand, we have charlatan pretenders that con the public. Con artists are only successful when the public is naive and uninformed.
Constant vigilance will be required to prevent government regulation. If I believed that “farrier registration” would improve the standard of performance, I would be for it. I have not seen evidence that this will happen.
None of us are as good as we could be. We all can improve. But improvement comes from pressure created from within and not from outside influences. That’s why legislated regulation of farriers won’t work. We all need to constantly strive to better understand our craft. It is a lifetime quest to master this, “the master craft.”
Future farriers may have less need to practice traditional skills of blacksmithing and shoemaking in front of the client due to the wide availability and selection of every conceivable style of premade shoes. But farriers must practice these skills if they want to climb the skill ladder.
Using high-tech products on feet prepared with low-tech skill and limited understanding will always be a disaster—both now and in the future. More training and practice with a skilled mentor will prove valuable and even necessary for success. Longdistance life coaching as well as skill coaching via the telephone or Internet will become more popular.
Fads have always been a part of the horse industry. The “natural” fad will pass, but it will be replaced by still another fad. Farriers must evaluate each new idea or product on its individual merit. Sensible solutions to soundness problems will stand the test of time.
Clients will expect evaluations of products and techniques from their farriers. The Internet and horse magazines will continue to be a source of misinformation for horse owners that will need to be addressed by knowledgeable farriers. More farriers will also use Web sites to communicate with clients.
A higher level of academic education and a longer period of practical skill training will be required in the future to position farriers favorably among competitors in a geographical area.
The character of the farrier will come under even more scrutiny as emphasis on accountability increases among clients. The best way to build a long-term relationship is to be absolutely honest in all your dealings with clients. Courtesy is paramount.
Policies must be put in place early in your business relationship and followed consistently. Character is formed and judged by our daily actions. It takes years to build a reputation but only seconds to ruin it.
The line between the health care realms of farriers and veterinarians will be more closely monitored. State practice laws will be tested. Lawsuits will be brought against perceived violators. Liability insurance will be a necessity.
Farriers will not only have to be wary of client legal action if something goes awry, but there will be increasing pressure from veterinarians with little formal training in foot care. This will be especially true for those veterinarians who see themselves as competing with farriers for business.
Veterinary education will continue to ignore the importance of the foot due to a lack of curriculum emphasis and faculty expertise in this area. New veterinary school graduates will need to establish relationships with competent farriers to maintain successful practices dealing with equine performance athletes.
Clients will continue to value personality, integrity of appointments and follow-up service over craftsmanship until they are educated to recognize and value good work.
Farriery is hard work and very stressful. Future farriers will recognize the need to treat their bodies like good tools and properly maintain them. Exercise and working out will be recognized as necessary tools to maintain longevity in this business.
Many farriers will choose to own and exercise with horses. Riding is a complementary exercise to the muscular stress of shoeing.
Directed and focused work is much more efficient and easier on the body. Efficiency will be sought out and studied. Farriers will pay more attention to their health, eating habits and nutritional supplements.
Fitness will become a more important part of farrier training. More emphasis will be placed on protecting the body from the harmful effects of this hazardous work.
Future farriers will need to focus more on improving their craftsmanship on the foot rather than in shoes due to the availability of every conceivable type of foot appliance. However, handto-eye coordination and confidence in skill application are best learned by doing forge work.
Shoemaking helps a farrier better understand feet. For this reason, forging is valuable even when machinemade shoes are available.
Once the shoemaking steps are learned and sufficient hammer control is mastered, little effort is required to remain at a high skill level. All farriers must pay the same price to attain the title of master craftsman.
Time and patience along with diligent attention to detail are required. People who have not paid this price aren’t able to come up with the innovative solutions that occur to those who have done so. Those that will pay the price to master their craft will become better craftsmen than we have today.
Job satisfaction will be in direct proportion to the amount of craftsmanship a person puts into his or her work and the level of service he or she provides.
Shoeing competitions are valuable motivators to increase skill level. The discipline of preparation is what is most important. I hope they continue to be popular for they may (as now) be the primary force in improving shoeing skill.
The acceptance of class divisions has encouraged more participation and allowed interested craftsmen to move up through the various shoeing levels. Competitions in the future will be marketed to the public as “theater.”
Horsemanship skills are sorely needed today and will be even more rare in the future. Horse owners will probably be less able to train and handle horses than today.
High-income horse owners will look to professionals to train and maintain horses that can be used for a few hours when they have small windows of time in an otherwise busy world.
While our understanding of horse behavior has increased in recent years, the application of these principles is lacking at most levels. A certain amount of feel or intuitive common sense is needed when working with a horse.
This is the most difficult farrier skill to teach. The best way to gain horsemanship is to patiently put in the time working with and observing horses.
There’s no substitute for practical hands-on knowledge. There will be greater opportunities in the future for farriers who have horse skills since there will be fewer people who have paid the price to possess them.
Since many people won’t put the time into learning the basics of good training, there will be more need for chemical restraint to allow safe shoeing work on less than fully-trained animals.
Farrier-administered discipline will be prohibited and some farriers will leave the business because of this situation.
Farriers will need to position themselves as horse welfare advocates. You will have to spend time teaching less experienced horse owners with big incomes and little horse savvy how to humanely care for their animals.
Animal rights will become more acceptable in the media and society. Farriers can never endorse this position since the animal rights agenda advocates putting an end to horse captivity, horse training and even horseshoeing.
Most changes in farriery’s future will probably come in the form of improved business management ideas. Farriers will have to become computer-savvy and learn to use computer management software that will keep track of clients and effectively manage their business. Effective shoeing businesses will have many long-term clients and few accounts receivable.
Successful farriers will develop systems to handle each part of the job. They will spend more time working on their businesses as well as in them.
We will see more multiple farrier practices allowing shoers to take more time off and enjoy predictable schedules. The level of shoeing service will continue to increase as price and competition increases.
A very important part of a farrier’s service will be client education. This will mostly be provided in one-on-one sessions, but could also take the form of books, charts, specimens, videos or CDs.
Farriers will need training to be comfortable in a teaching environment. Top farriers will partner with companies to promote the latest products that can help keep horses sound or return them to soundness.
Relationship marketing will strengthen the client’s confidence in knowledgeable farriers who understand horse behavior and physiology. Owners will look to the farrier as a partner in their continuing education—not just someone with a strong back.
Marketing will become a bigger part of the farrier business. Value will become more important than the actual shoeing price. The experience of having the farrier come to do the horses will be valued as much as the actual service provided.
Competition among shoers will become keener since more people will want to get into an unregulated business without paying the price of a long apprenticeship or college degree. The expansion of farrier products that remove various aspects of craftsmanship and physical work from the shoeing job will make this even more possible in the future.
Many farriers will market horse care products directly to horse owners from their mobile shops.
Farriers will develop other business - es early in their careers to supplement the farrier business since it is so easy to be “kicked” out of the farrier business. A larger percentage of farriers will begin planning for retirement as they start in this business, instead of doing so near the end of their shoeing careers.
Farriers will be smarter about the use of their time in the future. Physical and mental relaxation will be a key part of each day’s activities. The value of a well-planned schedule will be the cen - tral focus of the farrier’s day.
Time for family and time for your - self will need to be scheduled. Frequent vacations will break up the work sched - ule. Farriers will also retire at a younger age.
Farriers in the future will place greater emphasis on the professional nature of their work. Farriers will do the kinds of things that professionals already do in other fields.
These include: continuing educa - tion, improved scheduling, reminders of appointments, keeping accurate records, hiring competent outside help, using innovative high-tech products and techniques, financial planning and presenting a professional image.
I plan to be involved in these chang - es 25 years from now, even if by then it’s from a wheelchair.
Doug Butler of LaPorte, Colo., is an American Farrier’s Association Certified Journeyman Farrier and a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers. He is the owner of Butler Publishing and Farrier Services (1-800-728-3826) and coaches farriers to the next level. He holds a doctorate in veterinary anatomy and equine nutrition and is the author of the widely used textbook, “The Principles of Horseshoeing II.”