So if your seriously considering pursuing a career in farriery, what are some of the things you can do to find out if you really have it in you?
I started thinking about that idea after spending a day with Pennsylvania farrier Clint McCandless, and his new apprentice, Devan Carruba. McCandless had been shoeing for about 9 years, spending the first couple of years apprenticing with farrier Jim Houk, who he describes as “the best farrier I’ve ever seen.”
Carruba has some experience as a horseman and is obviously very interested in learning the craft. He describes Clint as “the most patient instructor you can imagine.”
I saw plenty of evidence of that during the day. McCandless is a natural teacher. He watched Carruba at work, offering a rich, basic, curriculum of instruction that included subtle tips, challenging questions and praise and encouragement.
After we dropped Carruba off, we talked a bit about what an apprentice or would be apprentice could do in the way of home schooling. We agreed on a few things.
- Get comfortable around and — more importantly — under horses. Plenty of horse owners are perfectly comfortable around horses. But it can be a completely different story when you’re underneath a horse, balancing its leg on yours. But if you can’t get to a point where you’re at ease in that position, you can’t be a good farrier. Watch farriers at work, and talk to them about how they pick up feet and move in under the horse. Then practice. When you’re picking out the feet, as mentioned earlier, try doing it while in the position farriers spend much of their careers in.
If you have horses, they should have the best-picked feet on the earth. Get your hoof pick out and clean your horses’ feet every day. You’ll learn more about how horses react to having their feet handled. You’ll get more comfortable handling a horse’s feet and working underneath them. Study the feet as you handle then. Not differences and similarities. As a side benefit, your current farrier will love you.
Study anatomy. A thorough understanding of equine anatomy is the key to good farriery. Find a good anatomy textbook, or a good farriery textbook that has a strong anatomy section and learn the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments until you know them. There’s a lot to learn, so getting an early start will help you in the long run.
Be honest with yourself. You won’t become a good farrier overnight, or even over a period of just months. And you’re unlikely to make much of a living for quite some time either. Can you afford that? Are you in a position where you can pay the experience dues that all farriers must?
Understand that you’re an active partner in your own education. It’s important to find a good mentor that you can learn from, but a lot of the learning is going to be on you. You need to make learning the craft a priority. You have to make time to study and practice. While working, think about what you and your mentor are doing. Ask questions.
Work at getting better at tasks apprentices are typically asked to do. One of your early goals should be to become of value to your mentor. Practice pulling shoes, cleaning feet and finishing them. Almost any mentor will be a more willing teacher if you are actually helping them in their work instead of slowing them down.
One of the things I’ve always felt is a common characteristic of good and successful farriers is that they truly enjoy the work. They also always keep learning. If you know someone who is giving some thought to becoming a farrier, advise them to get started on their “home schooling” right away.