A farrier — also known as a blacksmith or shoer — is someone who shoes, and cares for, the feet of horses. Most people think of farriers as the blacksmiths of Western movies and TV shows, but the profession has come along way in the last century.
Today farriers do a lot more than just pound iron and shoe horses. They’re actually a combination of blacksmith and veterinarian, as the health of any horse is directly related to the health of the animal’s feet.
After all, without healthy feet, a horse can’t walk, trot or even stand for extended periods of time. And since horses spend up to 75% of their lives standing up, healthy feet are critical to their survival.
What farriers do
If you’re considering a career as a farrier, it goes without saying you should love being around horses. These equine specialists spend their workdays traveling to stables, ranches and farms and tending to the feet of horses.
The farrier’s work includes balancing and trimming a horse’s hooves, and shoeing them with metal horse shoes as needed.
A competent farrier combines the skills and knowledge of a veterinarian (including knowledge of animal physiology and anatomy, especially of the lower limbs) with the skills of a blacksmith (which involves measuring, adjusting, fabricating and attaching metal shoes).
Some additional tasks that farrier’s perform on a regular basis include:
- The fitting, manufacture and application of metal shoes to a horse’s hooves. This is the traditional blacksmith area of the job, and requires the use of intense heat to bend and shape the steel into shoes. This requires the use of heavy hammers, anvils, files, rasps, nails and other tools.
- Caring for diseased or injured hooves. Horses that have foot problems or injuries may require special shoes, or therapy to return their hooves to good health.
- The trimming of the nail of the hoof. Much like the fingernails and toenails of humans, a horse’s hoof grows continuously, and needs to be trimmed down every six to eight weeks, or sooner depending on the individual horse.
What the job is like on a daily basis
Most farriers work on site, out of a small trailer or pickup truck, and in all kinds of weather. If you’re considering a career as a farrier, and depending on the part of the country where you life, you can expect to spend time working in the rain, the heat, the snow and cold, etc.
So if you’re not comfortable working outside, you might want to consider a different career path. Farriers also spend a lot of time on the road.
Unless they work for a large stable that can keep them busy full-time, most farriers do a lot of traveling each week as they look in on their equine clients.
In many parts of the country, the animals are spread out over a fairly large geographical area, so you can expect to spend much of your time driving from one ranch or stable to the next, and then back home again at the end of the day.
And last but not least, the work of a farrier is physical in nature. It involves a lot of stooping and bending, hammering and lifting, and it requires a considerable amount of physical strength and endurance.
It also goes without saying that this work requires a good amount of experience in handling horses, and there are hazards involved as some horses aren’t that cooperative when it comes to having someone handle and pound on their feet.
About the profession
There are three different organizations that represent farriers in the US: The American Farriers Association, the Guilde of Professional Farriers, and the Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association.
According to some estimates, there are between 50,000 and 100,000 farriers working in the US today. Over 90 percent of them are males. Most of them operate as an independent business, although some are employed by large stables and ranches as well.
Educational requirements for farriers
To become a skilled farrier takes a considerable amount of study and training. It’s essential that you really know what you’re doing before you ever work on a horse’s feet, otherwise great harm could be done to the animal in question.
In order to become certified with the American Farriers Association, you’ll need to pass both a written and hands-on examinations. And in order to pass those exams, you’ll have to complete formal training at a farrier school, or learn on the job as an apprentice for a certified farrier.
The good news is an associates or bachelor’s degree is not required for this career path. In fact most farrier programs can be completed in six weeks or less, and will prepare you to pass the basic AFA Intern Classification which will allow you to begin working on horses while under the supervision of a certified farrier.