What Is a Farrier?
Farriers are highly skilled equine foot-care professionals. While this job is known to be very physically demanding, working in the hoof-care industry offers substantial financial rewards and a flexible schedule.
Farriers use a variety of tools, such as rasps and nippers, to trim and shape a horse’s hooves. They also adjust, reshape and apply horseshoes to the hoof if required. Horses generally require trimming every six to eight weeks to maintain proper balance of the foot and lower limbs.
A wide variety of shoes in different sizes, weights and designs are available for use with minimal reshaping, but some farriers are skilled in iron work and can make custom shoes. Individuals with these iron-working skills are also referred to as blacksmiths. The majority of shoes are of the prefabricated variety; a recent survey by the American Farriers Journal indicated that fewer than 10 percent of shoes were custom orders.
Farriers must carefully evaluate the horse’s conformation, gait and hoof balance when determining what adjustments to make. Some specialize in corrective trimming and shoeing of young, growing horses and use epoxy, resin and glue-on shoes to change the angle of the foot and lower limbs and promote correct growth.
Farriers also are routinely consulted by their horse-owner clients for recommendations on hoof care products, feeding, supplements, fly sprays and equipment.
Physically, farriers must be able to stand for long periods while bending and lifting a horse’s legs. This is a very physically demanding profession and requires a degree of strength and fitness.
Demand for Services
According to the 2011 American Farriers Journal Media Guide, the average full-time farrier works on nearly 270 horses per year and averages 7.1 visits to each horse per year. That adds up to over 1,900 trimmings.
In addition to routine care, there is also frequent demand for “emergency service” when a horse loses a shoe or has a sore foot that needs attention.
Over 90 percent of farriers working today are self-employed. The profession offers a very flexible schedule, and some farriers choose to travel the racing or show circuits, providing their services as horses compete across the country. Some farriers also choose to only work part-time and run horse training, vanning or breeding operations in addition to their shoeing work.
Farriers can work with a variety of breeds in different environments, from the farm to the racetrack. Pleasure horses, racehorses and even zoo animals can require attention from a farrier. They may also consult with veterinarians and construct special shoes or prosthetics to aid horses with severe foot problems.
Education, Training and Certification
There are three major certification groups for farriers in the United States: the American Farriers Association (AFA), the Guild of Professional Farriers (GPF) and the Brotherhood of Working Farriers (BWFA). These associations also offer additional benefits to their members, such as discounts on supply purchases, group insurance plans and continuing-education clinics. Certification is not required for this profession but most farriers belong to at least one professional group.
For those just starting out in the business, there are a number of shoeing schools that teach the basics of equine foot care along with some classes on equine anatomy, physiology, conformation and behavior.
Most farriers work as apprentices for a few years before venturing out on their own. The training helps the apprentice fine tune his skills while getting advice and assistance from a seasoned professional.
A 2011 survey from the American Farriers Journal indicated that experienced full-time farriers pull in an average of $92,600 (an increase from $80,000 in 2008). Part-time and new farriers reported an average of $24,000. While compensation may vary widely based on geographic location and type of work, this field is well known in the equine industry for its very solid earning potential.
The average charge for trimming without shoeing was reported as $40 in the AFJ survey. With four keg shoes, that price was reported as just over $100.
While the gross salary may be substantial, a farrier must also consider the costs of maintaining his business. These considerations include expenses such as insurance, trade association membership fees, truck maintenance, gas and equipment replacement or repair.
The demand for farriers is expected to steadily increase in coming years, and salary is also expected to continue to trend upwards. There are over nine million horses in the United States alone, and each horse requires foot care several times a year. Solid job growth is expected for this field over the next ten years.
According to the American Farrier’s Association, most farriers are male, but women currently comprise 10 percent of the field and that number is increasing.