School vs. Apprenticeship. This is a great question and one that I have had a lot of experience with during my 30+ years of shoeing horses.
Going to school is the fastest and most comprehensive way to become a competent farrier.
There it is, stated clearly and directly, my opinion on how to enter and succeed in the farrier trade. This is a complex issue that comes up often, so I thought I would write a little blog about it.
A good school is set up to cover all of the theory aspects that you need know to shoe horses well. There will be structured class time combined with a textbook for those that learn from lectures, reading, pictures and classic teaching methods. Competent staff will teach anatomy, conformation, gaits, lameness, dealing with pathologies, as well as a basic business class. Beyond that, the material covered in the classroom will be discussed and reinforced often in the forge and field when live horses are present. In many apprenticeships, this stuff is only touched on lightly if at all. Sometimes it is because the master is trying to make a living as a farrier and not a teacher, but more often because the master doesn’t know this stuff or how to teach it. At Heartland Horseshoeing School, I wrote the 696-page textbook that we use. Teaching is what we do for a living, so talking about this great craft is what we are focused on.
A good school will have a well-equipped forge where students will have forging techniques demonstrated and taught by staff with enough skill to not only do the job, but also explain how and why they are doing it that way. The shop will be open to students so that they can use the forges and anvils as they practice the skills they have been shown. You can see how to make a shoe or weld a heart bar on the internet, but you won’t really learn it until you spend hours behind the anvil with hot steel in your tongs. It takes a lot of dedicated time practicing to master forging skills. Most apprentices forging experience is getting to clean and level shoes that are being reset. Eventually they may get a little more forging taught to them, but it is not very common. At Heartland Horseshoeing School, you will be forging by the second hour of the first day, and the forge is open 24-7 while you are in school. If you are smart and dedicated, you will use a lot of your spare time to hone what we are teaching you.
A good school will have enough horses that students get to see and work on all sorts of feet. There are a lot of different horses out there. Ponies, mules, donkeys, drafts and the normal saddle horse to name a few. All of these horses need hoof care, so only working on one type of foot means that you are leaving out a lot of potential customer base. If you are apprenticing for the master that shoes mainly one discipline or horse type, then that is your experience. At Heartland Horseshoeing School, we do every type and size of horse. You may find out that you love mules, but you won’t find that out if you don’t get to experience them. You also have to get under a lot of horses so that you can build up stamina to do the job. You may get this from an apprenticeship, but you will be under the horses doing the menial part of the job like pulling shoes or clinching. Many apprentices do not get to trim a foot or drive a nail for years. At Heartland Horseshoeing School, you will be trimming feet and driving nails from the very first week. The average student will work on 50 horses in eight weeks in the Heartland.
We get a lot of farrier’s kids at Heartland Horseshoeing School. I was visiting with a dad and he told me this story about why he had sent his son to school instead of teaching him in his own practice. They were at a customer shoeing and the following conversation happened.
“You’re sending your kid to school to learn how to shoe horses?” the customer asked. “You do a great job. Why don’t you just teach him yourself?”
“You’ve got a great point there.” The farrier said. Turning to his son he said, “Why don’t you go ahead and trim that horse there and nail the shoes up.”
The customer said, “Hold on, you aren’t going to let him start there are you? That’s a good horse.”
“Oh,” the farrier said. “You think I should send him to school?”
“I get it.” The customer said. “School sounds like a great idea.”
So now, consider that you are the apprentice. That scenario happens all the time. Even more so if you are not the offspring of the farrier, so the chances of doing the main part of shoeing, (trimming, shaping and nailing) are not common or easy to come by in the apprenticeship situation. The shoeing school situation is just the opposite. The horses are there to be shod by students, so the customer is completely aware of the situation.
For those that wish to be the best farrier that they can become, I strongly suggest that they look at farrier school as if they were looking at college. The perfect scenario that I recommend the most often to perspective farriers is to come to the Farrier Blacksmith Course in February, follow that with the Journeyman Farrier Course from March through September, and finish up their education with the National Certification Course in October. If they then want to do some apprenticeship work, we will help them find just the right master in the right place. We are constantly called by practicing farriers that want our graduates to work for them, so finding a spot is not hard if you are coming from the Heartland.
There is a lot more to say on this subject, but I will leave it here. At the end of the day, you have to do what works best for you. However, if you want to become a well-rounded, competent, knowledgeable and successful farrier, Heartland Horseshoeing School has a track record that proves we can help you get there. If you have any interest in discussing your future in this amazing trade, don’t hesitate to contact me.