Rural Heritage Village Smith

Choosing a Farrier School
by Chris Gregory

The three worst reasons for selecting a farrier school are location, price, and schedule. That's like buying a horse for its color. No matter that he's lame, blind, and untrainable, “He sure is a flashy black-and-white spotted draft.”

Education costs a lot of money, but how often have you sat in a class and wished the teacher would dismiss early or (be honest, now) how often have you skipped a class because it was such a nice day? It's hard to maintain interest in a subject that does not hold your undivided attention and desire.

This, then, is the first thing a prospective student must determine: “Am I interested enough in horseshoeing to make it work?” If you are interested in working outdoors with horses, being your own boss, making a good living, and providing a necessary and beneficial service to the equine, then the answer is probably, “yes.”

The next question to ask yourself: "How much time and money can I spend to learn the art of farriery?" A number of courses are available, as well as possibilities of apprenticeships that last as long as you can afford them.

An apprenticeship has a lot to offer. Individual attention is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of apprenticeships. If this is your path, watch for the pitfalls. At the beginning of any apprenticeship, the intern costs the boss money. Training new people is not easy, especially in this trade. The apprentice often gets to do only the unskilled portion of the job, things like shoe pulling, rig set-up, and clinching. The customer is paying for the experience of the master, and most customers will not readily accept an apprentice trimming and shaping their horses' hooves or nailing on shoes.

Another pitfall is that apprenticeships often leave out the book work and theory. This aspect may make you happy, but it also means you are getting ripped off in your education. You don't want your horse shod by someone who settled for second best, so don't become that someone.

Anatomy, corrective shoeing theory, pathology, and all the rest are taught for a reason. Without it you will be incomplete as a farrier. Chances are you will be a good mechanic at manipulating metal and feet, but will you really be the best farrier you can be? The next horse might be the one you hurt because you didn't know exactly how the deep flexor tendon is affected by the angle you create on a foot.

Horseshoeing schools are set up to teach people about the trade. Most schools do their best to see that all students get out of the course what they are willing to put into it. You may not be riding from barn to barn in a pickup cab with the instructor, as you would in an apprenticeship, but on the other hand many seasoned shoers would require you to complete a farrier course before accepting you as an apprentice.

The final question to ask yourself: “Who do I want to teach me?” Notice I said “who?”—not “where?” Location is an important factor only as far as it concerns the number of horses available to work on. Anvils in Texas are made of metal just like anvils in Florida, and a forge will get a shoe hot in any state in the union. The real difference between schools is the teachers.

In every trade are craftsmen of unsurpassed ability who are unable to teach. Maybe it's due to personality traits, lack of desire, or lack of teaching ability. Other individuals may not be the best at their chosen craft but are good at producing the craftsmen of tomorrow. You need to find a craftsman with top-notch mechanical ability, who is also a gifted teacher. It matters not whether that person is running a school from a hut on a remote island with lots of horses, or operates in the world's largest college.

Seek out and interview your prospective instructor with all the care you would use in hiring a surgeon. Ask for references, not only from past students but also from horse owners who have used the school for shoeing. You would not be out of line to ask for the instructor's resume. He is, after all, your prospective employee.

Some farrier associations offer voluntary certification testing to their members. In selecting a farrier instructor, check the level of certification the instructor has acquired. I suggest that you seek instructors who are American Farrier's Association certified journeyman farriers. By no means does it guarantee that an instructor is qualified, because a lot of good farriers are not certified at any level. Certification also does not tell you anything about the instructor's teaching ability, but it does give you some idea of the level of competence.

Once you have determined that the instructors are certified, at what level, and with which association, ask the following questions of any school you are considering:

How many years has the instructor been teaching?
How many years has the instructor been a farrier?
Are students hired as instructors right after they graduate?
What is the student-teacher ratio?
What is the maximum class size?
What is the classroom-to-shop ratio?
How much forge work is taught?
Is the shop available to students after hours and on weekends?
How many horses will the average student shoe?
Are references available?
Is housing provided?
What is the cost of the course on a per-hour basis?
Is financial aid available?

Obtain information from as many schools as you can, but don't pass judgment on a school solely from its brochure. Although a school's literature gives you an idea of what the school has to offer, don't finalize you decision without a visit. During your visit talk to the students and stay long enough to see their work.

If you're still undecided, get your personal farrier involved. Most shoers are so snowed under with work that they are eager to help young up-and-coming farriers make a wise decision about where to enroll.

Education at any level requires sacrifices. You will lose time, money, and a good deal of sweat and blood before you complete your farrier training. In the long run all that hard training will mean more to you, because anything worth having is worth working for. The pay-off comes when you finally get out on your own, under a horse. All the decisions about how to accomplish the job will be your responsibility. The harder you've worked at learning, the brighter you will shine as a farrier.


Chris Gregory is the owner/operator of Heartland Horseshoeing School and the Virtual Blacksmith online to answer your hoof care and forging questions. This article appeared in The Evener 2000 edition of Rural Heritage.

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6 August 2015 last revision