The Great Farrier. I have written on this subject before, but it certainly deserves another visit. After spending the last weekend at the contest in El Reno with the super folks from the Oklahoma Farrier’s Association, I thought this was a great time to put some of these thoughts back into print.
To be a Great Farrier, I feel that you have to be able to reach mastery in five main areas. First is knowledge. Point blank – You have to know your anatomy, corrective theory, conformation, gaits, pathological shoes and applications, etc. You can never know enough in this trade, no matter how much you know. That being said, the demand for farriers is so great that a lot of people make a great living as farriers without knowing the difference between the lateral extensor tendon and the superficial sesamoidian ligament. They may be great at mechanically shoeing a horse and other aspects of farriery, but if they do not possess the academic knowledge, they can’t be considered a Great Farrier. The need for this knowledge was accentuated by the OFA making a theory exam one part of the contest, and equivalent to a forging class. If you read this and make a request, I will share my test paper in its entirety on the website. You have to ask though.
The next thing you have to have to be a Great Farrier is trimming skills. Dexterity with nippers, knife and rasp to mold and shape a foot to its ideal shape. You can learn to do this well without knowing the anatomy, but you can learn to do it better, and know why you are doing it, if you have the anatomy to back you up.
Item three on my list of what it takes to be a Great Farrier is forging skill. Yes, you can shoe horses without ever lighting a forge. And do it well; but not great – In my opinion. I have been so blessed in my career to have shod horses on six continents with the best farriers that all these countries have to offer. In every instance, the best of the best have forge skills. The better a horseshoer is in the fire, the better chance that the modifications needed to do the best job for the horse will be done.
Item four is horsemanship. This one develops over time in almost every farrier from exposure. For those that work with only vet-hospital situations or with well-trained horses, the horsemanship may not be as important. However, most of the farriers in those situations got there through years of paying their dues, and had to have horsemanship to get there.
Finally is the category of business skills. I have seen several successful farrier businesses that were owned and run by folks with great business skills and only mediocre manual skills. Although they had great businesses, they were not Great Farriers. From a financial point of view, this may be the most important area to master. From the horses’ point of view, it doesn’t matter at all.
You can have a successful farrier practice with only mastering a couple of these. Maybe in the rare case, even just one. Mastering all of them will put you in an elite group of highly competent, successful and in-demand farriers with a bright future in this most amazing trade.
I had so much fun at the Oklahoma contest, being tested and competing in more than just the physical side of shoeing a horse. I would love to see our industry change towards more contests having a theory class. It might not be the most popular view, but it sure would help a lot of farriers get better at helping a lot of horses.
I did not win the contest. I placed a 5th in the aluminum class, 3rd with the lateral extension bar shoes, 1st in the theory class, and 3rd in the shoeing. Great friend and competitor, Dusty Franklin, won the Open High Point. It was an amazing time.
The written paper was five questions. When you look at the exam that I am posting, bear in mind that it is one hour. My handwriting isn't the best at the best of times, and suffers more at speed. Here it is, and hope you enjoy it.