A few years ago, my bad back ended my ability to get under horses. I still help other farriers shoe horses, but I don’t get under them anymore. My back was not injured from horses. It was ruined by crawling in and out of trucks to get what I needed — from having an inefficient rig. I hurt myself more by lifting anvils than I ever did picking up a horse’s foot. When you’re short as I am, you have to get it way above belt level to get it back into the truck.
Although my bad back caught up to me, I still had a long career shoeing horses. Through my experience as a horseshoer over the decades, there are a few things I can share about prolonging your career and preparing for when it is over.
Don’t Overdo It
First, don’t overbook. You’re not going to shoe every horse in the world. Don’t get upset when you see another shoer in the barn that you’re working in. You have to recognize your limits. I tried to never shoe more than six horses a day. I once did 12 in a day — I paid for that dearly. I never did it again. If you work alone, shoeing six horses is a full day. Of course, you have to make sure that you charge enough for what you did that day.
Think about what you charge. I’d rather be known as the best than the cheapest. If I lost customers because of price, so be it. That’s something that never bothered me, but then again, money never bothered me. I was doing what I loved. I was lucky enough to make money out of it.
As farriers, we need to take time off and get away. However, there is a funny thing about taking off too much time. A long time ago, Bruce Daniels told us, “Don’t ever take more than 3 days off in town or you will get hurt. You’ll get away with it when you’re young, but you’re not going to get away with it when you get up in age.” He was so right. Don’t take too much time off, especially the older you get if you take off more than 3 days, come back on Monday and get under a horse, you’re going to have to work out the kinks. Plan your time off and stay active. Stay moving.
Prepare For The Future
No matter what you do, it can all come to an end quickly. Circumstances change. My circumstances included injury, infection and cancer. So you need to have a plan for life after shoeing. The first thing you should do before retirement sneaks up on you is to take a realistic view of your expenses. What’s it costing you to live, after rent, food and everything else? That is the baseline.
Next, where do you want to be during those years? Once you set your goal, think about how you are going to prepare to get there with your work. You start setting your book to get you there. You have to give yourself a raise every year, but do it in increments that won’t run your customers off. Save a portion of your income because you must have a rainy day fund.
I’ve known so many famous horseshoers who followed the show circuit and then died as paupers. They made the big bucks while shoeing the A-level shows. But they had no plans for life after they retired. They didn’t save anything. When they died, people had to pool their money together to bury them. That’s sad.
You cannot live the lifestyle of some of these upper level clients. Sure, I know some horseshoers that are wealthy. But they’re wealthy because they were also frugal with their money. They didn’t waste it.
But you know what? I’m not a pauper. I’m not going to lose my house. I’m not going to lose my truck. Why? Because I planned ahead.
I love this occupation. Hell, it isn’t even an occupation. It’s a lifestyle. Where else can you be exposed to the people that we’re exposed to? We shod for all social strata and everything else and have met with some really great people. It’s really wonderful. I love it.