Last week while in Florida, I spent a morning with Ocala farrier Scott Chandler as he shod a few horses headed to the Western Dressage Work Championship Show. He has a diverse footcare practice that will be featured in an upcoming issue of American Farriers Journal. He handles some show barns south in Wellington, and also north near Atlanta, Ga., but for the most part his practice is centralized to Ocala.
With nearly 1,200 horse farms in Ocala’s home county of Marion, the equine industry is big business. According to the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Economic Partnership, the local horse industry generates $2.2 billion annually. These big numbers attract many folks looking for work, including farriers. There are plenty of opportunities, including massive Thoroughbred farms, successful sport horse operations, backyard accounts and Paso Finos.
But ample opportunity doesn’t guarantee success. Chandler finds that the attrition rate among farriers is high. The industry standard for the make-or-break year for new farriers is often by year 3, and Chandler says it is no different in Ocala. And the reasons for failure are no different from those elsewhere.
Of course poor business practices is one of those reasons. Chandler says among these, the most common business mistake farriers make is pricing services too low. In an area with plenty of work to go around, this results in the farrier working with more horses in a day to make up the income needed to match revenue goals. This can result in the negative impacts of fatigue, health problems and lack of attention for all of the horses worked later in the day.
Chandler’s advice counters the notion that more horses equals greater pay: slow down and focus on your work. “You spend enough time with each horse, addressing its particular needs,” he says. “The clients then recognize that you care about the work you do.”
He finds slowing down results in keeping those horses sound, fewer phone calls about problems and loyal clients. Chandler adds that this philosophy works in places like Ocala, which is rich in the number and types of mid- and high-end horses, so there are sufficient clients who appreciate quality work. It is simple advice, and there is a lot more that goes into this, especially the knowledge and ability that keeps those horses sound.
For the farrier who is chasing income through a higher number of horses each day, there is an incredible amount of faith required to adopt Chandler’s advice. The response of the first few clients can support that this was the best option or result in second-guessing. Chandler says you may lose a few clients early on, but stick with it. You’ll replace them with premium clients who learn of your reputation. And some of the previous clients will come back because the money they saved didn’t keep their horses sound.