It’s rare to find individuals so invested in their careers than farriers to their craft.

Becoming a craftsman doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t come without a balance of sacrifice, humility, pride and confidence. It’s no secret that a farrier’s career will be full of ups and downs, both emotionally and professionally. Learning to process the emotional and professional roller coaster is key to developing a balanced farrier practice.

Getting started

Starting out in your hoof-care practice there will be a combination of excitement and uneasiness. Those feelings transition to a certain level of comfort. However, being too comfortable can easily lead to “oh crap” moments. “Oh crap” moments can be constructive and often lead to reflection and evaluation. Applied correctly, reflection and evaluation lead to understanding, which brings you full circle back to excitement, without as much uneasiness.

My first “oh crap” moment was while I was in my apprenticeship. My mentor Jaimie had been quite impressed with the level of work I was producing right out of school. We were able to work side-by-side at some barns. This was a huge confidence boost! Although, I will never forget the first horse that was sore after I trimmed him. I felt as though I had let Jamie down, and thought, “Am I really cut out for this job?” It was humbling and created an opportunity for growth. Thankfully, I was under the guidance of a gracious mentor and could evaluate and learn from that experience. I wish I could say that was the first and last horse that was sore after a trim, but that would be a lie. We’ll each have our unique “oh crap” moments. Using them to gain understanding and building an “I won’t do that again,” database is key to bringing the excitement back.

Developing skills

Are you interested in competition horseshoeing? How about glue on/composite farriery? Do you live for the day you get a difficult case and you’re able to help it? There are many different avenues in the hoof-care industry, something for everyone. The opportunities to learn about them are only limited by your desire to learn. You may find you are more talented with utilizing a certain material and application than another. Some love working with steel. Some love working with glues and composites. Some are incredibly blessed and good with both. Finding what you enjoy and becoming proficient with it will bring you a sense of accomplishment and pride. However, before proficiency happens, you’ll probably want to throw in the towel more than a time or two before you reach proficiency.

Looking back on my journey toward certification with the American Farrier’s Association, I can say I enjoyed the process. It pushed me to jump in the forge and make mistakes. I pulled hundreds of ugly, non-functional clips, burned up shoes and spent a lot of money on propane. Eventually, I developed a working relationship between my anvil, hammer, forge and myself. I was scared to make mistakes. Scared it would confirm insecurities I had about my skills. But, if you never confront those insecurities, challenge them and overcome them, you’ll miss out on utilizing a valuable tool you could use to help a horse. It’s OK to have preferences about which materials and method you use on a horse. Yet, be open minded and become knowledgeable about all the awesome tools we have as hoof-care providers in this day and age. We are so blessed.

Relational and emotional loss 

If you can maintain clear boundaries between professional and personal relationships, kudos to you. However, I’d bet the majority of us struggle with that. When a long-time client who became a friend, fires you or you fire them, the emotional loss sometimes can be larger than the financial loss. The ability for either party to see a “firing” as strictly a business decision is unlikely. Thus, the emotional/relational loss is likely to be larger than the financial loss.

My longest client happened to know me before I went to farrier school. I was doomed from the beginning of that professional relationship. However, I needed the work and experience after getting out of school. I cut her breaks in my rates. I worked whenever she needed it. I bent over backward to keep her happy. After establishing a thriving farrier practice over the next 10 years, in her mind I was still the newbie struggling to get work and she was “helping” me. She would never see me as the professional I had become. We had developed a personal relationship outside of the professional one. However, when the professional one became strained, so did the personal one. When I finally worked up the courage to establish some boundaries in my business, the relationship had gone too far to simply be a “business decision.” There were hurt feelings and personal matters were brought up.

Do yourself a favor and set up boundaries. Determine how you will interact with friends who become clients. Some decide to never work for friends. Deciding beforehand will protect you from the emotional upheaval that goes along with mixing business with friends. Some people can manage both. I’m not one of them.

Another relational loss can be within your own family and friends. I think of being a hoof-care provider as a lifestyle, not just a job. This lifestyle demands a lot of our time and energy, even after we’re done with the last horse of the day. So, it is a possibility that you will go through emotional struggles within your family unit as you grow in your craft. The late nights in the shop, the conferences and clinics, the long hours on the road and mental focus we give to the horses can be a source of angst between families. Relationships are hard. Maintaining healthy relationships are even harder. It takes a special “breed” of person to be a hoof-care provider. We are independent, strong, opinionated and passionate with huge hearts. But, we can become isolated within our work and it can consume us. Don’t be afraid to reach out when you are feeling isolated and alone. Chances are so is the farrier working at the other end of the barn.

Business growth

Raising your prices and buying your first “dream rig,” are signs of your business growing. These decisions come from a confidence in your abilities, coupled with the confidence that funds will be there to support your decisions.

Choosing to raise your prices and restructure how you run your business will rock the boat with some clients and they’ll leave. With each client who declines to reschedule after the price increase, anxiety creeps in on your excitement for your potential business growth.

Even though I know it’s a good practice to have a yearly price increase, it’s easier to talk about it than actually doing it. My plan to raise my rates was: write a newsletter, attach the new price list and email it out, simple enough. It took me 2 years to actually raise my rates across the board. I was scared I would lose everyone. It brought out thoughts of insecurity — “Am I worth it?”

I recently jumped in the deep end and bought a truck and split body farrier box. This will be a huge boost in my image as a professional farrier. It will stimulate growth for my practice and I’ll love working out of it. I’m incredibly excited to have the new rig. As much as I would have loved to pay cash for the whole rig, I was unable to. There is now pressure each month to make a certain amount to make sure I cover the payments.

Oh wait, I just raised my prices and lost some clients. Ahhh! Take a deep breath. This is normal and it will balance itself out. Maintain your quality of work and professionalism. If you end up with a few days with no clients, think of them as an opportunity to further invest your time in your business. Go spend an afternoon at a veterinarian clinic, jump in a buddy’s truck and help them for the day, or catch up on the dreaded paperwork. Don’t get down in the dumps about the slower seasons, there will be a day when you long for a slow season.

Difficult cases

You reach the point when, all in all, your clients are happy, veterinarians are pleased with the work you do with them and peers are complimentary of your work. That is a huge milestone and one worthy of the praise. Then there’s a horse that blows a quarter crack, you can’t get them past a laminitic episode or your evaluation tells you one thing, but radiographs tell another story. Thoughts of, “I thought I was finally getting this figured out” start to pop into your mind and your confidence takes a plunge. The ego that was being fed by your clients, veterinarians and peers just got stung a little bit.

I was shoeing a dressage horse that recently had an increase of difficulty in training. With the increase in difficulty, the hooves started to show signs of imbalances in a hurry. A medial quarter stress crack started one cycle. Over the next two cycles, a lateral crack formed.  A couple cycles later, a lateral crack on the other front, then a hind.

Thankfully, I had a mentor who I could call to step in and evaluate the cause. To his experienced eye, I was not balancing the hoof in my trim. I couldn’t argue with him, because the proof was in the cracks. I was struggling to see the medial/lateral balance. Without doing anything fancy, we were able to stop the cracks with an open-heeled shoe, but the hoof was balanced and trimmed according to its conformation.

It sounds so simple writing it out, no external methods to stabilize the cracks were used, no bar shoes to float/unload the cracks — just a balanced trim. Somewhere along the way, I had lost sight of “balance” and needed my work evaluated from the trim, not just from the finished product that received compliments.

The beauty of our job/relationship with the horse is, the horse will let us know when we have it right. And when we don’t, they also will tell us if we keep our eyes open and learn to read the hoof/horse. Don’t take it personally though — it’s just a matter of anatomy, physics, mechanics and how they each play their part in the function of the hoof and limb. The horses aren’t plotting their next laminitic episode or the next quarter crack. They’re more concerned getting to the next best patch of grass.

It’s normal to feel defeated, but remember, it’s all part of the growth process. Are you making the most out of the roller coaster of being a farrier? Do you take the descent and use it as momentum to fuel your next ascent?

Don’t be ashamed of your “oh crap” moments, share them, use them and see the value they had in shaping your farrier craft. What a blessing it is to have so many tools at our disposal. Take the time to learn about them, make mistakes and find what works in your hoof-care practice, but stay open minded. Establish boundaries to keep yourself and your business practices safe. Reach out and develop a community of support to help you through the tough times.

Be excited about business growth. Even though it can come with what seems like a loss in the moment, look for the blessing in “working smarter, not harder.” Frustration can set in when you can’t seem to get a handle on a difficult case. Ask for help and use it as an opportunity for growth. They don’t call them “growing pains” for no reason. Growth is not painless, but it’s always worth going through. After all, roller coasters are full of ups and downs, but leave you with an adrenaline rush and wanting more.