I am concerned about the high percentage of young farriers who do not continue in the profession after a year. For the most part, the evidence is anecdotal, as there aren’t firm studies on it.

I can tell you from my work with American Farriers Journal that the third year is the make or break time. Still, so many others leave the industry within the first 2 years.

Why is this? There are several reasons that come to mind: the work is difficult, poor horsemanship, injury, lack of commitment to an apprenticeship, too few horses in certain areas and so on. But I wonder how much of this can be cured by the education available to prospective farriers. Could another reason be that graduates need different horseshoeing skills?

I worked as a farrier for more than 40 years and ran a multifarrier practice for 3 decades. My personal experience with people whom I have hired and have been through different farrier schools is that they came to me with very minimal horseshoeing skills that I could use. In discussions with them about their schooling it became clear that they spent more time at school learning to make traditional handmade shoes than they did working on horses with modern machine-made shoes.

Most of the classes are too short to be able to learn anything thoroughly because of so much information being crammed in. Happily this is changing, as many are offering longer and advanced courses for the serious student.

I think the curriculum should be the same as when a master teaches an apprentice. The steps are:

Entry Level

  • Be around horses without getting hurt or getting the horse hurt.
  • Observing how an experienced professional does his work efficiently.
  • Learning anatomy and physiology.
  • Picking out feet and pulling shoes.
  • Putting a finish on shoes, cutting pads, drilling, tapping and welding with a torch and electric welder.
  • Clinching and finishing.

Intermediate Level

  • Finishing nailing on shoes.
  • Trimming feet.
  • Resetting shoes.

Advanced Level

  • Shaping shoes hot and cold.
  • Nailing on shoes, clinching and finishing.

Graduate Level

  • Forging handmade shoes.

I think more of a student’s time should be spent under a horse learning to trim feet, shape keg shoes, nailing, clinching and finishing. This means working on horse after horses until they are proficient with all of these techniques.

These are the skills they will need in the real world and that they have to sell to horse owners. Recent graduates are not going to be asked to shoe complicated cases where handmade shoes may be required. They will be asked to work on low-level horses. If it takes a farrier all day to shoe the front feet, most horses and clients start becoming concerned.

I’m sure that procuring horses is a major problem for schools for students to work on but these folks are paying premium prices and need more time under the horse. Also, if there are difficult horses, these are difficult conditions under which to learn.

Times are a changin’, and I think farrier schools need to change their curriculums to fit the real world that their students will face. Back in the old days before so many good manufactured shoes were available it made sense to have a heavy emphasis on forging because if you needed a specialty shoe your only recourse was to make it.

Today, that is not the case. Just about any shoe is a phone call away and can be in your hands the next day. They need to learn about all the good brands and styles of manufactured shoes and how to use each for a particular case. Today’s educators need to understand that this is what happens in the real world. 

Knowing how to make a handmade shoe is a valuable skill and I’m not downplaying it’s importance. I am just saying that it needs to be learned later on in a young farrier’s career — similar to graduate school. I think today’s schools should look more to becoming horseshoeing schools rather than horseshoe-making schools.