Stuart Craig is accused of using some rather salty language while putting Joseph Hopkins, then 17, through his paces as a farrier’s apprentice.

Hopkins, now 22, testified to the Farriers Registration Council’s (FRC) disciplinary committee that on a daily basis Craig called him vulgar names “a few centimeters away from my face.”

Although the long-time farrier admits that he’s “not a saint,” Craig denies using the words “in anger” or shouting them within “a few inches” of Hopkins’ face.

This profession is no day at the beach. Words are slung around the barn that would make a sailor blush — and those are just from some of the clients.

Most, if not all, farriers have been called every name in the book, and many more that aren’t in it. But, before we create a safe zone for Hopkins to sort out his feelings or lament about the “wussification” of the younger generations, it’s fair to ask a couple questions. Where should the line be drawn? And, what does this behavior say about the profession?

Drawing The Line

Let’s face it, the only reason these accusations against Craig are seeing the light of day in the mainstream media is because he provides a service to royalty. Otherwise, nothing would be listed on the FRC’s website until a decision is made. Even then, it certainly wouldn’t make the papers.

While farriery in the United States is not regulated, English farriers must exercise much more decorum. If they fail to do so, farriers face suspension from their profession. In the 33-page “A Farrier’s Guide To Professional Conduct,” the Farriers Registration Council has drawn the line on a number of infractions —although it’s rather blurry and open to interpretation regarding employees and apprentices.

“Employees, including apprentices, should be treated in a fair and reasonable manner, without discrimination, and in accordance with their contracts of employment,” according to the guide.

It can’t be ignored that there is a certain amount of good-natured name calling in any relationship. Some might not find offense in it, particularly when a relationship has been forged between the individuals. Others might take offense regardless of the intent.

“There are kids who I can ride like that,” says Bob Smith, owner and instructor of Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School in Plymouth, Calif. “‘C’mon, hit it with your purse.’ And they laugh about it. There are other kids who I’d never dare say that to.

“Once you are in the position of teaching people in the profession, you have an obligation to be very attentive to that individual. There are just some who may not be appropriate to be in your truck or your school. Maybe they need to find something else to do.”

As instructor of the Cornell University farrier program, Steve Kraus is in a vastly different environment than a privately owned horseshoeing school.

“I would likely lose my job at Cornell if I regularly used foul, demeaning language,” he says. “Now, we joke around at times and I like to keep a light atmosphere around the shop. I hold my students to high standards and work them hard, but I never call them names. I might refer to the group as knuckleheads in a fun way.”

What about motivating students, though? Is salty language appropriate in hopes of getting more out of a student?

“There’s a big difference between motivating and bullying,” Smith says. “If the student is not responding to what you’re saying, you either need to say it differently or not say it at all. If it’s not working and you continue with it, that’s when you’re the bully.”

When you’re in a teaching position, Kraus says, belittling a student defeats the purpose.

“My students all agree that referring to them in demeaning terms would not provide any useful motivation,” Kraus says. “In fact, it would set up a negative atmosphere. Personally, I have never used or wanted to use derogatory language on my students. I can motivate them very well without that.”

Not only does it defeat the purpose of educating a young farrier, it sends a damaging message to your clients.

“It throws us back into the category of farriers just being a bunch of rough cowboys who don’t really have a business sense or presence,” Smith says. “I think it demeans the professionalism of the entire industry.”

Undermining The Industry

While the FRC’s stance on treatment of employees and apprentices is vague, it’s crystal clear as it relates to speaking or writing about other farriers.

“No farrier should speak or write (including online) disparagingly of a colleague to a third party, since the effect is to undermine public confidence in the profession,” according to the FRC’s guide.

There’s been a lot of public discussion, particularly over the past year, in which farriers proclaim that they should be professional and own their trade. Yet, in the next breath, this loud minority calls another farrier names and belittles the individual over his or her work — often after he or she asked for help to better serve the horse. Many times there’s no effort made to understand what the farrier had to work with from the start. Rather than offer constructive criticism, they launch personal attacks.

Sticks and stones, right? Freedom of speech, huh? Put on your big boy pants, they say.

Sure, but this is your business. More importantly, this is your trade. You want to be valued by clients and veterinarians? Work your craft. Honor and respect it. No matter how you slice it, there’s no honor or respect in tearing down your fellow farriers.