So, you’re interested in learning farriery and how to shoe horses.  I think that is a fantastic goal and a great thing for your future.  Hopefully a great thing for the future of the horses that you will end up working on.

In this current day and age, there are many ways to learn anything.  We have the traditional way of going to school of getting an apprenticeship.  Those are time tested since the beginning of man, and will end up getting you to where you want to go if you find the right apprenticeship or school.  Of course you will have to do a lot of work as well. However, there is also another way that has become the most popular way of learning things in the world.  That is through the internet, primarily with YouTube.

What Level Of Farrier Do You Want To Be?

My advice is to begin your quest with a very simple question.  That question is: What level of farrier do I want to be? Once you answer that question you can set out a plan to get to your desired level.  I recently started learning the guitar. I began with that very question (substitute guitar player for farrier), and my answer was: good enough to play some simple songs for my granddaughters.  To get to that level will not take a lot of travel, taking lessons from masters and working with music greats, buying an expensive guitar, or a host of other things that would lead to guitar greatness.  So, I am spending time with YouTube and fumbling (very much fumbling) through the process of pounding out a few chords. Having a teacher would be faster and probably save me from some of the mistakes that I am currently making, but it is not necessary to reach my particular goal.

There is a very big difference between learning to play the guitar and learning farriery and how to shoe horses though.  That difference is that if I play badly, no one and no animal is hurt. My granddaughters may have to suffer through some bad playing, but that kind of suffering will lead to laughter and memories, not permanent damage.  With farriery, if you do it wrong, there is actually the possibility of ruining a horse forever. That changes the way you have to approach your goal tremendously.

Farrier School Or Equine Apprenticeship

I have been running farrier schools since 1992, and started Heartland Horseshoeing School in April of 1995.  With teaching farriery as a career, I have taught a lot of people to shoe horses.  So often, someone will call and say that they want to learn to be good enough to shoe their own horses.  This can mean a lot of things, but to me, I want the very best for my horse. If I need to learn enough to shoe my horses, then I need to learn an awful lot to provide the very best.  To some it might mean that their horses are not as valuable as others, or maybe not worthy of the very best. I don’t know for sure, but it is a statement to consider.

With these things in mind, I would suggest making a list of pros and cons for each method of learning as it applies to you.  In my book, Gregory’s Textbook of Farriery, learning the art of the farrier is in the beginning of the first chapter.  I have the pros and cons of school vs. apprenticeship covered as follows:

Going to Farrier School:

  • Pros:
    • Set up for you to work on all aspects of shoeing on live horses.
    • Staff will be used to dealing with beginners.
    • Curriculum designed to teach farriery theory, forging, horsemanship, practical shoeing.
    • You may get to work on and learn to do unruly horses.
    • Fellow students may become great future contacts.
  • Cons:
    • Some schools may not have enough live horses.
    • Student teacher ratio can be an issue.
    • Many of the horses may be unruly.
    • There is expense involved.
    • You will have to travel away from home.

Taking an Apprenticeship:

  • Pros:
    • A lot of one-on-one education.
    • May get to work on high-end horses.
    • The right master can lead to you developing high degree of skill.
    • Most apprentices get to see all parts of the business from scheduling, to customer relations, to dealing with horses.
  • Cons:
    • Can take a lot of time.
    • Customers don’t want the apprentice working on their animals, so often times, the  apprentice will pull, finish, catch horses, sweep, set up the rig, grind shoes, and do everything but the actual shoeing for years.
    • Many masters don’t teach the theory and anatomy of farriery.
    • You can end up with a bad master very easily.
    • Can be treated poorly.
    • Takes a lot of time.

Learning Farriery Online

At the time I wrote the book, the internet was not what it is now.  I would have to do a list of the pros and cons for learning farriery through YouTube if I were to do it now, and I think the list would look like this:

Learning on the Internet:

  • Pros:
    • Can learn things when it is convenient, such as early in the morning or weekends when traditional teaching might not be available.
    • Able to get input from a lot of different sources.
    • Get to see techniques from many different places.
  • Cons:
    • Requires internet access and viewing device.
    • Potential of learning bad stuff or techniques without realizing it.
    • There is no one to watch what I actually do.
    • Can spend countless hours without getting stuff that leads to my end goal.
    • There is no one to ask questions of as I try to apply the technique.
    • Access to so many sources may lead to more confusion than good learning.

As I try to imagine learning this trade from the internet alone and then applying it to the horse, I have difficulty in imagining how that might work for me.  I believe that a lot of people try to get some knowledge from the internet and find out that this is just not the sort of skill set that can be mastered without another human being right there with you while you learn it.  This list was hard to come up with. Of course, you will have to figure out what is the best for you and your situation, but I think that the internet is probably best for someone that already has learned the skills traditionally and is only wanting to improve on their current skill set.

With all this being said, I would like to let you know that there is a lot of work available for a skilled farrier in the world.  Since so few people want to sweat and work hard anymore, those that are willing to do so get paid well for doing it. I would like to welcome you to this fantastic trade that I love.  If you were meant to be a farrier, you will find that there is nothing in the world as satisfying as doing a great job on a great horse and getting paid well for doing it. Define your goal and achieve your dream.

Contributed by: Chris Gregory, CJF, FWCF, ASF

Heartland Horseshoeing School