Farriers shoe horses, so what else do they have to learn or need to learn? They learnt their trade once, so isn’t that enough to get them through to retirement? It is a physical and tiring job and they already earn a living, so should they waste precious time and money going to association meetings? But where are all these skilled farriers, and how can horse owners find satisfactory answers to their problems?
In Australia we have two main farrier associations to cover the needs of our population. Some states are not even part of these two associations, and have their own. In America, (with a population 15 times that of Australia) there are also two main associations, and another two or more smaller associations and there has been enormous discord, faction fighting and unrest over the past three years because of it.
And why does Australia need two associations anyway? I assume it is a male thing for the struggle for power, just like war, and the logic for doing so becomes irrelevant, also just like war.
Most farrier associations seem to be preoccupied with blacksmithing, and while the notion of hammering steel is an attractive one, is blacksmithing a major part of farriery today? The horseshoe manufacturers spend millions of dollars in creating shoes that can be fitted to the horse with a minimum of alteration.
If a horse is correctly balanced, if the flares are removed, if the hoof has been correctly maintained so that hoof problems (like Seedy Toe, contracted heels, Navicular Syndrome, brushing, forging, over-reaching) do not arise, then hand made shoes are rarely if ever required.
I believe the real issues and the solution to the problems in the farrier industries lie with the HORSE OWNER. All the horses we farriers trim or shoe belong to a horse owner or trainer, and these people are crying out for information. They are also turning to alternative methods of trimming, most of which are very dubious in their application, but are sold by well meaning, caring horse lovers who themselves have either become disenchanted with the farrier, or have seen a financial window of opportunity (or have paid for one) which has fast become a major hole in the dam for farriers.
IF the horse owners are questioning the farriers, expressing concerns about hoof problems, or commenting on gait problems then they are doing this for a good reason – they are concerned at the well-being or performance of the horse. And I believe they have every right to express their concerns.
But why is it that farriers generally won’t accept instructions, criticism of their work, or listen to new methods or ideas? I have a large website which welcomes queries from horse owners, and I have accumulated nine folders of queries over the past four years. Each folder holds one ream of paper; each ream is 550 sheets so that’s around 5000 queries. The queries range from the very straightforward to the extremely unusual. But about 90% of queries express a concern about the attitude and/or ability of the farrier.
This is more than enough to make me sit up and think that we as farriers HAVE to listen to the horse owner, that we HAVE to ask ourselves if we can do better, and we HAVE to ask how we can improve the relationship between ourselves and the horse owner.
I believe that a good start would be for all farriers associations to initiate workshops where owners can bring a horse with hoof issues along to the workshop, and a group of farriers will discuss the problems and work towards a resolution. In the mind of some, this is called sticking your head up to get shot at. But if farriers all know everything there is to know about hoof problems, then they won’t have any problem in identifying these problems, and the farriers who don’t know it all will benefit from seeing these problems identified. And hopefully it will be building a small bridge to start better communication with the horse owner.