2020 is over!

2020 was a hard year for the vast majority of us, and I believe most of us are hoping 2021 will be better. Many of us, including our company, have been affected by the pandemic directly through a change or loss of work or at least a change in routine. While the new year will not immediately change anything, it is always nice to have a fresh start and review the past year. At our end of the year meeting, we get to sit down and discuss how the year went, if goals were met, and what goals we have for the upcoming year. This past year of course was a bit harder, but even so, there were some bright sides to the year.

Positives:

  • Lots of continuing education from attending both the International Hoof Care Summit and the American Farrier’s Association as well as several online webinars and of course countless hours studying 
  • Kia was able to speak to farriers about marketing through an online conference hosted by the American Farriers Journal 
  • We had 2 articles in the American Farriers Journal this year
  • Business was actually fairly good most of the year as an essential worker
  • We were able to provide about $30,000 worth of discounts to our clients 
  • Neither of us have been sick with COVID-19 yet
  • We were able to make a donation to the Indiana Eventing Association in honor of each of our clients
  • We were able to upgrade our rig 
  • We passed out candy to the community on Halloween
  • Good friends helped get at least some horses done during challenging times
  • Kia began learning to trim horses, and did a great job

Challenges:

  • COVID-19
  • Clinics, competitions, and horse shows cancelled 
  • In the middle of November, I ended up with a laceration on my right hand. What I thought would be a quick 2 weeks of healing turned into a month and a half of not being able to use my hand.

I have to thank everyone for being so patient with the lapse in scheduling during this difficult time. While we always try to stay on schedule and keep horses taken care of, there are unfortunately sometimes things that happen. The good news is that we are now beginning to reschedule as I am able to get back to work in at least some capacity.

Working Wounded

Unfortunately near the end of November I ended up with a laceration on my hand that made it so I couldn’t swing a hammer or use the hand to squeeze at all. Something like this really makes you stop and appreciate how much we take for granted in being able to do daily tasks. Since it was my right hand that got hurt and I am right-handed I had to relearn how to do many things with my left hand (trying to eat with a fork was surprisingly difficult). It’s not just the trying to do things one-handed but also the rescheduling that has to take place as a farrier. There were clinics I wanted to be at which I had to miss, and most appointments had to be rescheduled. With Thanksgiving this time of year the schedule already gets a little tight because of time off for the holiday. Pushing a week and a half of appointments into another already full week is definitely not easy but unfortunately had to be done. I was thankfully able to get some horses done even while injured. There were a few appointments I was able to show up to because of extremely good horses that would stand patiently while I fumbled through trimming one-handed.

I am very thankful for the help that I received throughout the time that I was injured. 

There were appointments where I was able to get my marketing director Kia to come along to at least be able to squeeze the nippers as I guided where they went. Another fun aspect was that one of our local veterinarians, Dr. Mudd from Janssen’s, who is also an accomplished farrier in her own right, volunteered to come with me on her days off and shoe all of the horses for the day. It was great fun getting to discuss the various horses and cases throughout the day, not to mention, how often do we as farriers get to stand around and tell the vet how to shoe horses while they do the work? Other local farriers pitched in as well and got some horses done that I needed taken care of. Dion O’Brien CJF and Danvers Childs CJF both took care of horses for me. Thankfully most clients were quite understanding and patient as I’ve had to reschedule and move them around. 

As with everything in life there are always lessons to be learned from each incident. In this case there are several takeaways that several of us can learn from. First, I probably could have been a little more careful and not gotten hurt in the first place. Second, never assume auto pay is actually turned on for a bill, always check every month. Third, it’s always a good idea for a farrier to have close contacts with other farriers that can help out when there is trouble. Fourth, this is yet another good reason or benefit to have either an apprentice or a multi-farrier practice.

IFA Fall Clinic 2020

While most of our work at DFS is based around traditional trimming and shoeing techniques on sound horses, most especially english sport horses, there are times that we need to work on horses with extra special needs due to some type of pathology. When these needs arise it is imperative that we have the education and skill set required to help these horses. 

During the course of normal trimming and shoeing appointments we are constantly correcting imbalances and distortions but it generally all falls within the scope of normal maintenance for the horse. For most horses with some type of pathology we are able to forge or fabricate a steel shoe that will help solve the issue we are dealing with. Unfortunately there are times when a nail-on shoe simply won’t work for a horse, such as a white line disease case we are currently working on, in this case a glue on shoe may be the best option. 

Since we don’t use glue on shoes on a daily basis it is crucial to pursue continuing education so we can be ready for whatever therapeutic situation we find. Thankfully, we were just able to go to yet another clinic on glue on shoes for therapeutic purposes. The clinician, Dr. Craig Lesser, is both a farrier and veterinarian at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Kentucky. Dr. Lesser specializes in lameness cases and was able to share a lot of great information and techniques.  

The clinic was held over two days. The first day was a mix of lecture and demonstration with the second day being hands on. During the hands on we discussed and worked with both direct and indirect glue on shoes. This will enable us to continue to better serve our clients by having yet another tool available for us to use for keeping horses sound.

Are those extra costs necessary?

“Are you sure you aren’t upset we are pulling shoes off? I can pay extra if I need to.” 

“I’m really grateful you will come out for one horse.” 

“Are you sure I don’t need to pay more since there are less horses now?”

“I hope you are charging enough for the extra time you spent.”

“Are you sure that doesn’t cost more?” 

“I’m so sorry I had to reschedule, I can still pay today if you need me to.”

I’ve received several questions and comments lately on pricing or scheduling that seem to come up due to people’s experience with other farriers in the past. If you have been in the horse world for a significant amount of time, then you have probably at least heard of stories of farriers being upset because of a cancellation or having less work to do at a barn than they used to or adding pads or glue on shoes simply because they cost more. At one time before going to shoeing school myself, I listened to a farrier rant that people were taking food from his children by deciding to pull shoes off for the winter. At DFS we never want to let finances get in the way of the needs of the horse or owner. Based on our core values and mission statement, we have policies in place to take away the stress of daily income numbers.

At DFS, our farriers aren’t paid based on how many horses are done each day. This means there is no incentive to rush and work on too many horses, or have clients spend more money than is necessary. With farriers being paid a monthly salary, it takes away the personal stress of what is done each day. From a business standpoint, we don’t often look at the details of how profitable a particular horse is, but rather we simply run our schedule to make sure we stay within a particular income/expense budget per week and month. By building margin into the business we are able to not worry about a slow day or even week, let alone what is done at each stop. We also try to take away the stress of overwork that is so common among farriers by not overscheduling. While there are some busy days and slow days, overall we strive to only do a certain number of horses each day so that we are physically ok. 

To help stay within our budget for both time and money as well as keep our service for issues like lost shoes reasonable, we maintain a fairly small working radius. By never traveling past 45 minutes from the shop and keeping most clients within 30 minutes, it saves us time and money but also allows us to be close enough to most clients to have a lost shoe on within 24 hours. 

Because of how we budget time and cost, we have also been able to offer a discount program for our loyal clients, it also means there are times we are able to discount much of our specialty work such as pads, studs, bar shoes, time spent with the veterinarian and the like. At the time of this writing we have been able to discount roughly $15,000 of work for our clients. 

With our commitment to care for both you and your horse, you can be rest assured that we will won’t make hoof care decisions based on making more money and there will never be hard feelings about someone choosing to use a different farrier. We want what is best for each horse and client we work with.

Rider Influence on Hoof Shape and Soundness

Of the many factors that influence hoof shape and distortion, one of those is how the horse loads the foot. The hoof is what we refer to as viscoelastic, meaning that it has properties that are both elastic and plastic. When an elastic structure is deformed it will return to its original shape, plastic deformation however does not return to its original shape. The hoof being viscoelastic generally has elastic properties and will deform then return to its original shape during each stride. However the hoof will deform more permanently under constant stress of being unbalanced or bearing weight unevenly. 

While we often talk about the effect of conformation or the work performed by the farrier we should also take into account the effect a rider can have on the stresses placed on a hoof. As riders we greatly influence the way our horses move, for better or worse. Due to the positioning of the saddle on the longissimus dorsi muscle the slightest weight shift by the rider can have a great impact on how the hind legs of the horse move and bear weight. In many disciplines the rider will encourage the horse into self-collection, this places more of the horse’s weight onto the hind limbs while also shifting how that weight is distributed over each foot as the horse compensates. As riders the movements we ask the horse to perform and how they perform them will influence both how the horse moves at that moment as well as how they will move in the future and how each muscle develops. This change in the horse’s musculature and movement will then have a great impact on the shape of the hoof. By ensuring the horse’s muscular development and movements are symmetrical the rider can influence the horse to have a nicer foot. If however the horse is allowed to move improperly or develop one side more than the other the result will be mismatched feet and possibly eventual lameness. 

Choosing a Farrier Rig

This spring we were able to purchase a new trailer from Stonewell Bodies in New York. There are many different variations of farrier rigs to choose from, so what considerations go into choosing what to buy or build? It seems the list of considerations is nearly limitless, with certain basic types of rigs being more popular in different areas. Here in the US, heavy trucks or trailers are popular, while in the UK there are far more small vans, in some areas it is light pickups like a ranger or tacoma. 

Some of the considerations: 

  • Mileage driven per day
  • Fuel economy 
  • Type and condition of roads traveled 
  • Ease of access to properties 
  • Typical weather conditions
  • Amount and type of equipment needed
  • Preference of driver
  • Type of work typically done
  • Supplies needed per day
  • Client expectations
  • Efficiency for work 
  • Convenience 
  • Height of farrier
  • Single or multi farrier practice 
  • Maintenance schedule 

While this new trailer is a shiny custom built model we have used several different rigs over the years that were very efficient. For the first two years out of school I used a Ford Ranger that didn’t even have a cap on it. Just a forge, anvil and some bar stock in the back. Good on fuel mileage but not so much fun in the rain. Next was a Dodge 2500 with a cap on it which went though a couple different configurations. This was much better as everything was out of the rain and permanently mounted along with a swing out anvil for the second configuration. Third was a white two horse trailer that was stripped out and converted. This was by far the most time efficient system and the best in adverse weather since everything stayed in place and you simply had to walk in and start working. This new Stonewell trailer will hopefully be the last for us to buy as it will be a simple matter of replacing tow vehicles as needed from now on. 

For DFS we selected the trailer we did for several reasons. Being able to have the trailer custom built allowed it to be set up efficiently for the type of work we do, as well as the process and order we do it in. The trailer is also small enough and light enough that we will be able to downsize to a more fuel efficient truck in the near future. The ability to use the trailer with a variety of tow vehicles also allows us to perform maintenance on a truck without missing a day of work.

Marketing, Its Not Just For New Farriers

For many farriers when you mention marketing they think of advertising. A little over a decade ago as DFS was being established, it was commonly thought and taught by many of the farriers around this area that as long as you did good work and showed up on time then you would have all the customers you could ever need. Of course for a farrier just starting out, you do have to get your name out there so the phone can ring. Unfortunately, there was and in many cases still is, a general thought that any farrier that utilizes marketing or advertising must not be a very good farrier. 

Ten years ago in this area of northern Indianapolis there were many large barns as well as a seemingly unlimited number of private farms. A nice mix of foxhunters, jumpers, eventers, dressage, and general pleasure horses kept many farriers busy. At the time it seemed like that would never change, but now with the continued expansion of housing many of the older large barns have been sold to developers and the hunt club has closed. There are still plenty of horses in the general area however the location is starting to shift. It is currently hard to say where the largest population of horses/horse owners will end up but it certainly won’t be the same. 

For some of the long established farriers this has presented a problem of losing a lot of work they were used to having in these large barns that are now closed. While a farrier in the past could have a full schedule of barns within a half hour diameter and maybe only need to go to one or two barns a day that is quickly changing. 

So, is marketing just for new farriers? I think it would be helpful first to consider what we mean by marketing. When we talk about marketing we are not just talking about advertising to get new clients. While gaining new clients can be a part of marketing it is not everything. A major part of marketing is guiding the perception of your business that the public has. Of course if the public has a good perception of our company then that can easily be leveraged to gain new clients if needed. For established farriers, many times we only need to maintain a good reputation and keep ourselves foremost in the minds of our clients, however there will always come a time for any long established farrier when there will be turnover in clientele, so we also need to be ready to attract and accept new clients. 

With this different way of thinking about marketing combined with the current equine market in this area, I would suggest that even the most established farrier should be keeping up with at least basic modern business marketing practices such as a company facebook page and possibly a website.

Diamond Hoof Knife Review

Recently we won a Diamond hoof knife in a drawing held by Farrier Product Distribution. Since it is not one that we typically use, we figured it would be a good first product review. The knife that was sent to us was the right hand drop blade hoof knife (DROPR). 

Observations as the knife was unpackaged:

  • The blade is fairly narrow 
  • The hook at the end of the blade is quite long 
  • The fitment of blade to handle is rather poor
  • The handle is comfortable 
  • The blade angle is steep with the rest of the blade being left thick
  • The drop loop is not a graceful curve, but has a bit of an angle at the bottom of the drop
  • The blade is coated in some kind of black anti-rust coating. 

I spent a day using the hoof knife as it came out of the package. While I am not typically a huge fan of a drop loop knife due to the type of feet I generally work on, it didn’t take long to get used to it. The handle was quite comfortable (probably the best part of the knife). It was not however as sharp as I would like right out of the box. It scraped more than cut for the first several horses I used it with. After a day of using the knife straight out of the box, I decided to modify it and try again. I ground the hook of the knife down somewhat and re-profiled and sharpened the blade so that the bevel was a smooth transition into the spine. Trying the modified knife on the second day, it was a much nicer cut and feel.  

In summary, with some modifications this could be a decent knife to use, especially for a cheaper backup knife or for a student or part-time farrier. The narrowness of the blade would lend to it wearing out rather quickly for a full-time farrier that is sharpening a knife everyday and just is not as nice and refined as the handmade hoof knives most full-time farriers generally use. In this case the Diamond hoof knife will stay in a toolbox in one of the trucks just in case a spare is needed.

Low Foot Case Study

Before pictures from a horse with a club foot (not the case study horse)

While it would be nice if every horse had perfect feet, we all know that is not the case. Unfortunately, there are many issues with horses’ hooves and conformation, one of them being upright or club feet. There are times these two terms are used interchangeably; however, they describe very different conditions. We will explore upright and club feet in later blog posts but for this post we want to explore a common issue with both conditions – the opposing limb. 

When a horse has an issue such as a club foot or any unilateral condition that results in chronic low grade pain or discomfort, they will have a tendency to overload the opposing limb. On a few horses this does not become much of a problem; however, for many horses as the opposite limb is overloaded. Over time it will generally result in the horn of the hoof being compressed and crushed at the heel. Eventually the hoof will end up with a negative palmar angle. While most when faced with a club foot or similar issue will almost exclusively focus on that issue, I have found that if managed well, the club foot will not be the issue that makes the horse the most lame, rather it will be the “good” foot that ends up being the largest problem in the long run. 

PLR shoe and rim wedge pad
After the shoe was pulled, the heels not able to touch the ground due to the frog prolapsing below the plane of the foot

The case study presented in this blog was first presented when the horse moved back to Indiana from Texas. It had been treated for a club foot that was due to contraction deep flexor muscle and tendon. The horse had been fitted with wedge pads and aluminium PLR shoes. When first presented the horse was as sound as it had been for some time but was certainly not perfect. Fortunately we were able to shoe at a local vet clinic so that the horse could be examined and before, during, and after radiographs could be taken. The club foot was already being managed well so not many changes were made, though the shoe was replaced with a handmade. 

On the low foot, the vet and I were concerned about the overloading especially as the frog was displacing distally to the point the heels of the foot no longer touched the ground when the horse was barefoot. If the horse was left like it was the foot would continue to displace and become more crushed. With the foot now having a negative palmar angle, it meant it would be more susceptible to tendon, ligament, and navicular problems. We decided that supporting the foot utilizing the frog would be the best solution in this case. A steel heartbar was used; however, due to the prolapsed nature of the frog, a wedge rim pad was used to bring the shoe to the same plane as the frog. 

There are several options to consider using when we need to support a hoof using the frog and/or sole. Typical effective options include but are not limited to: heartbar shoes, pour in pads, impression material, or some combination of the above. In a later blog post we will discuss the different properties of these materials. 

After a couple shoeings in the new package we were able to remove the wedge pads from the heartbar as the frog was back to being on a normal plane with the rest of the foot and the heels were back to being much stronger. While not totally ideal, the foot is in a much better condition and the horse is more comfortable now than before. The goal will be that the foot becomes strong enough to not need quite as much support. 

At this point the horse is more comfortable than it has been in the past. In summary, by not neglecting to support the opposing limb on a horse with a chronic unilateral condition such as clubfoot, we can keep the horse sound for longer and hopefully lessen the chance of catastrophic injury due to a crushed heels/broken back axis. 

Heartbar with rim wedge pad
Foot without a shoe after changing to not needing the wedge


Road to the Journeyman Part 2

After putting off my CJF test for several years, I finally began the test earlier this year. You can find part one of this post about beginning the process here. The past few months of completing my CJF has been a mix of educational, humbling, and confirming. 

Our company has always been committed to education, and this year has been no exception. Along with passing my CJF, by the end of the year I will have logged over 100 hours of continuing education. Learning opportunities this year included hands-on clinics with world champion farriers Jim Quick and Billy Crothers, podcasts and books, a week at the International Hoof-Care Summit, a couple days with Hank Chisholm and Lucas Gilleland at a pre-certification clinic, hours shoeing alongside farrier Dion O’Brien and vet Dr. Lydia Mudd, and trips to certifications. 

Education of course can take many forms, from the intellectual, such as complex theories and memorization of anatomy, to hands on practice for hand eye coordination, to learning the art of exactly where to hit a piece of steel while it is at a particular temperature to turn it into a shoe that fits a foot just right. It can also take the form of changing who we are and how we think/behave. 

The certification process is designed to test a candidate’s knowledge and skills in theory, forging, and trimming/shoeing. When I first took the exam in Kentucky, the written test came first and was easily passed. Soon we were on to the barshoe. 35 minutes to make a ¾ fullered straight bar to fit a pattern is certainly quick work to get the level of quality needed, but not out of the realm of normal work, especially for someone that makes every barshoe they nail on. Unfortunately, I had a couple lessons to learn.

First, in the realm of preparation. I’ve made hundreds of barshoes and fit them to horses so my process was fine, my measurements for how much steel I would need was right on, again from having made many shoes. Lesson one was soon underway, instead of the small two burner forge I use for shoeing everyday I had brought the large 3 burner that I use in the shop when I am building shoes at home. This is the forge that I had made many barshoes in and knew it would work well. I was supremely confident that I would be passing the barshoe portion of the exam as I lit the forge and started heating the steel as the clock started. Shortly into building the shoe the middle of the 3 burners started to sputter and cough. Soon enough the middle burner was completely out and the right burner was not nearly as hot as it should be. What should have been a quick and simple weld ended up taking forever to accomplish due to the forge being colder than it should have been. I should have cleaned the burners before I left the shop. Simple maintenance that takes 5 minutes to complete, but no, I hadn’t thought of it. I eventually did get the shoe welded but did not get time to finish shaping the shoe to the pattern. In the process of getting the shoe punched for nails, I also wrecked every pritchel I had with me, again tool maintenance/preparation. The barshoe failed. 

This was when lesson two began. Most of my life I have struggled between one of two extremes, overwhelming pride and a lack of confidence that I can truly accomplish anything. There is a right balance of humility where we see ourselves and others correctly, knowing truly what we are and are not capable of. Unfortunately, I was not there that day. I had very much swung to the prideful side of things when the written test went well, this whole thing was going to be a breeze and I was going home a CJF, right? When the barshoe failed my pride certainly took a hit, after all this is one of my favorite shoes to make. It was easy to blame the forge for being to cold, the rest of the process had gone fairly well. 

On day 2 of the certification we got started with shoeing horses. I drew a nice little horse that stood well and had nice feet, though a bit of flare on the hinds. Still having not learned lesson two from the day before, I confidently announced to someone else what amount of steel I would be using for each foot before I had even picked up the feet. I don’t always measure feet at home because it isn’t that hard to guess what size they are after having worked on so many, but that is not for a test. Once I got started the fronts went well but as I came to the hinds I second guessed the measurement I had decided on before. Now it was time to add a third lesson. Really a continuation of the second lesson, lesson three was not to doubt what I knew. I should have cut 12 inches and not 11.5 inches for the back of that horse. If I had done what I knew I should have in the first place, it would have been done and most likely would have passed instead of running out of time. Instead, the Lord took the opportunity to teach me to both not be too proud but also not to second guess what I know. Or at least he started teaching those lessons. How awful it would have been if I had passed everything on the first try. 

The next opportunity for a try at the certification was several months later in Ohio. Just a short way from the West Virginia border is a nice stable with a fantastic owner that has been hosting certifications for the past 20 years. This time I had learned lesson one and went with tools and the forge all ready to go. My attitude on the other hand was a mixed bag. Leaving at 5:00 am and arriving a little more than 5 hours later, we quickly set up and I made a run at the barshoe. While it did not go as well as I would have liked I did get done in plenty of time and got it turned in. It took most of the day before the results were back. It had passed. Relieved that the trip had not been wasted I went back to the hotel and got some sleep before coming back to try the horse in the morning. This time I was in the second go, after holding someone else’s horse I took my turn. That dangerous mix of pride and doubt had crept in yet again. This time once again everything started well, with good scores on my trim I went on to building shoes. The feet were much smaller than I normally deal with and I once again second guessed my measurements on the hinds. As I was struggling with making the shoes work, instead of simply cutting new steel in the correct size, I began doubting that I would ever get this done, that mix of pride thinking I should have easily passed the first time, and the doubt in the skills that I have built over the past decade+. As time dwindled I slowed down my pace and basically gave up on finishing in time. As the day went on and we waited to be able to leave, it would have been easy to wallow in disappointment/self-pity and a range of other thoughts and emotions. Instead, realizing that the barshoe was passed and there were lessons to be learned I turned towards home and began prepping for the next opportunity.  

The following weekend from Ohio was a test in Michigan, the last one in the nearby area for the year since the Indiana certification was canceled. Leaving at nearly 4:30 in the morning two of us drove the 3 hours up to the certification in a very out of the way rural area south west of Lansing. Third time’s a charm right? I had adjusted my measurements for building hinds to be sure I would have extra steel instead of having to stretch a shoe and made sure all my tools were tuned up just right. The day was a cold and windy 40 degree high and there was a lot of standing around getting cold before starting. The test went great, I was flying along confident I would finish with plenty of time. Till I handed in the last shoe. In the midst of being in a hurry I hadn’t slowed down enough when I should have and punched a nail hole wrong but didn’t catch it before I turned it into the judge. I was stopped. Once again a lesson learned. 1. Yet again don’t be prideful 2. Haste is only good for catching flies. 

There was a bit of a break before the next time I could try but I did have a clinic coming up with Billy Crothers. During the clinic, I would love to have worked with Billy on concave shoes since that is what he is known for and it’s something I use everyday. Instead, he wanted to work with me on the certification shoes. After building shoes and shoeing a horse with Billy he had some different ways of explaining things that helped with how I thought about building plain stamp shoes which increased my accuracy on nail placement while still being able to move quickly.

The following weekend I was headed for South Carolina. The ten hour drive down went well. After waiting all day Saturday, I was the last one to make a go for the CJF horse. The test started well with the trim and shoe building going smoothly. The only hang up was having to rasp a lot off of my front shoes. While the perfectionistic side of me was not entirely pleased with the end result, it did turn out to be a good passing job. 

In the end the lessons of preparation, not being prideful, not doubting the skill I have worked to develop and staying committed through difficulty that the Lord taught me through all of this were certainly worth it. Now that I have the highest level of certification offered by the American Farriers Association, it feels like I have finally graduated first grade and am ready to begin learning for real. On to the next level, which will be the AWCF from the Worshipful Company of Farriers in England. 

Getting Paid to Learn

While most of our blog posts are geared towards horse owners this one is primarily, though not entirely, meant for my fellow farriers. 

When we hire a professional to do a job, we generally expect them to be an expert in their field. For instance, if I take my truck to the mechanic, I expect that he knows how to work on it, or if I go to the doctor, I expect that they will know more about the anatomy, and how to fix it, than I do. For hoof care horse owners should be able to expect the same thing of course. As a farrier there is always something more to learn, whether it is knowing more anatomy or gaining more skill in trimming or forging shoes. 

Like most small business owners, many farriers struggle with taking time off from work to pursue education, after all there are bills to be paid and we don’t get paid to learn. Or do we? The industry standard for farriers is of course to charge for the work that is done, so much per trim or shoes and the occasional trip charge. Of course there are expenses outside of the direct supplies used to put a shoe on that have to be paid for as we mentioned in a previous post. Now I want to focus in on the expense of education. 

Forms of education for farriers

Here are just some of the ways that farriers can gain continuing education. 

  • Books
  • Webinars
  • Practice
  • Round table discussions 
  • Hammer ins
  • Podcasts 
  • Trade publications 
  • Clinics
  • Working with other farriers
  • Research Journals
  • Certifications
    • CF
    • CJF
    • AWCF
    • FWCF
    • FITS
  • Contests 
  • International Hoof care Summit
  • American Farriers Association Annual Convention  

Cost of education 

Some of the education opportunities above are “free,” meaning that outside of the time involved there is not a direct cost involved such as listening to a podcast while driving between clients. Others are extremely expensive such as obtaining certifications. There are even some forms of education, like working for another farrier for a day, that can actually generate immediate income. While every form of education costs something, time at the very least and typically more in the way of expenses, not being educated costs far more in the long run. The more education we have as farriers and the better our quality of work, the more we can be trusted with keeping horses sound. The better we are at our job the more valuable we are to our clients. The ability to generate income by our services being worth more will far outweigh the cost of a clinic or certification. 

Getting paid to learn 

For those farriers that assume they are not paid to learn there are a few ways to change that. First is simply a mindset shift on how we are paid, as discussed in a previous post about work/life balance, we need to remember that we are actually paid for every aspect of running our business just like everyone else is paid for their whole job. Of course there are some education opportunities that take a considerable amount of time such as going to a week long convention or gaining the next level of certification, but there are others such as using time in the truck between clients to listen to a podcast that are both free and make use of time that is otherwise spent not doing much that is productive. By both leveraging the time that we have as effectively as possible to learn all that we can and shifting our mindset and possibly business structure (such as being paid a salary rather than taking a percentage from each horse) we can begin to take our skill as a farrier to the next level. This will of course enable us to better serve the horses that we work on. After all it is all about taking better care of our clients horses so they are as comfortable as possible to be able to perform at their best. 

Here at Dixie’s Farrier Service, education is one of our top priorities. That is why you will find that we almost always have some kind of learning opportunity going on. For instance, as most of this blog was being written, I was listening to a podcast from the American Farriers Journal, by the time this post is published, I will have also spent a couple days with one of the world’s foremost farriers, Billy Crothers, and be on my way to South Carolina for yet another learning opportunity. All of this is so that I can better care for clients horses on a daily basis. 

Farriers, I encourage you to do all you can to learn as much as you can in this industry, pursue the next level of certification, listen to a podcast on shoeing while you are driving, hang out with another farrier (if you are close to me my shop is open at 6:30 every Thursday for any farrier to come forge), or go to Summit or Convention. Horse owners, ask your farrier what they have been learning and find a way to encourage them to learn more so they can better serve you and your horse.

Shoeing Philosophy – Basics First

“Fundamentals win ball games.” This was a phrase that was drilled into us growing up. It does not just apply to sports however. Too often in many parts of life we lose sight of the basics of what we are doing and start to pursue skills that are more advanced without keeping the basic skills we should. Just as with sports, it is generally basics that make for the best results in most circumstances in farrier work. Over the past decade, I have found that the best way to keep horses performing at their best is generally to simply make sure all the basics are solid, once that is the case then we can start to apply other more advanced techniques on difficult cases. As with anything else, there is always a set of basic principles that should guide us while we look at shoeing horses. The way I look at it, most horses will move the way they will, my goal is to give them the most healthy hoof capsule I can and otherwise stay out of their way. 

The trim

Trimming a hoof is far more complicated than simply removing excess length, however, most horses don’t require special techniques or anything fancy. There are three main parts to trimming that if accomplished will serve most horses quite well. First is establishing the medial/lateral balance so that the bottom of the foot is perpendicular to the cannon bone. Next, making sure the phalanges are aligned so that the foot is not broken back or forward. Lastly shaping/dressing the foot to remove all distortion and reestablish a straight hoof wall. These three steps are of course all interrelated and certainly takes some skill to accomplish, however if we can make them our goal most feet will be vastly improved.

Shoes 

For horses that require shoes we are again most often best rewarded when we stick to good basics. Once we have established a good trim then simply fitting the foot that is there will generally give a good result. There are of course situations that call for various modifications however again for most horses simply fitting the well trimmed foot is all they will need. 

Scheduling 

Keeping horses on a 4-5 week schedule and no longer than 6 weeks will make a vast improvement over keeping them on a longer schedule as well. Simply by shortening the cycle for a lot of these horses will help keep distortions to a minimum which will allow for a much healthier hoof. 

Shoe Type & Selection – Barshoes

In our last post we talked about three main classifications of shoes by looking at open heeled shoes. This month we are looking at the purpose of bar shoes and some of the variations we use. First, any of the barshoes can be made in the same fashion as the open heeled shoes we talked about last time, plain stamp, fullered or concave. In general, barshoes are used to 1) change how the foot loads, 2) stabilize the foot, and 3) alter foot position in relation to the body. Due to the nature of the barshoes and the effect they have on feet, a great amount of skill is required to apply them correctly. 

Straight bar

The straight bar is one of the most common barshoes used. It is a good option for stabilizing the hoof capsule, protecting the heels, and will shift the load placed upon the foot to some degree. Stabilizing the foot, not allowing the sole to drop quite as far, can be beneficial in certain cases where you have a weak foot that is moving too much each time it loads. By using this shoe we can also unload a portion of the wall, such as a heel, and transfer some of that weight to the frog, though not quite as well as with a heartbar. There is some effect of “floating” or “wedging“ the foot due to the ground force reaction as the shoe encounters a deformable surface as well. We will discuss ground force reaction (gfr) more fully in a later blog post.

Eggbar

The egg bar will provide the same stabilizing effect as the straight bar but has a more significant influence upon foot loading and foot position relative to the body. The eggbar may be used when we want a more significant “wedge“ effect than with the straight bar. This shoe will also influence the horse to place the foot more palmar/plantar in relation to the rest of the body. 

Heartbar 

The heartbar stabilizes the hoof capsule but also transfers some of the load from the hoof wall to the frog. It will also provide a significant amount of protection for the foot. While the traditional use of a heartbar was for a laminitic horse, if used correctly the frog plate can provide a significant amount of protection from the terrain. 

Rest shoes

In this category we typically think of the fishtail bar shoe and the patten bar. Both of these significantly affect the loading and placement of the foot in relation to the body. This category of shoes are typically used in a surgical environment such as during a significant injury or possibly during recovery from some surgeries. Due to the radical nature of these shoes they should only be used in conjunction with a veterinarian.

Shoe Type & Selection

When it comes to selecting the appropriate shoe for your horse there are literally hundreds if not thousands of options in different types, styles, and brands when it comes to keg (machine made) shoes. While every brand has several different styles of shoes each with different features, shoes can really be broken into just a few categories. First we can make a division between open heel shoes and bar shoes. In this particular post we will be talking about open heel shoes. 

The vast majority of horses that wear shoes are using some type of open heel shoe. There are many modifications and adaptations that we can make to shoes and we will discuss some of those in a future post, for now however we will sort shoe types into three main categories that we currently use. 

Plain stamp shoes

Plain stamp shoes are the simplest of the three types. What sets them apart is they are a flat shoe that is simply punched for nails without any kind of groove (fullering) for the nails. Plain stamps have the least amount of traction of the three types we are discussing. Plain stamp shoes are a good choice when we need to protect a foot but aren’t concerned with adding traction. A wide version can also be used to reduce traction, such as the sliding plates on a reiner. Plain stamp shoes are also becoming increasingly necessary for sport horses due to how “sticky” the synthetic footing is in many arenas. In order for horses performing on these new synthetic surfaces to not injure themselves, we have to reduce traction as much as possible. Most plain stamps are handmades but there are a few plain stamp keg shoes. 

¾ Fullered (also known as a fullered or creased shoe)

These are probably the most common of the three types, and what most people think of when they think of a horseshoe. The fullered shoe has a grove that allows nails to be pulled individually as well as adds some traction compared to plain stamp shoes. These are a good option for many horses and is the most common style that keg shoes come in. 

Concave

A concave shoe is typically a handmade shoe, though there are some keg shoe options available. Out of the three this shoe has the most traction and is the lightest weight. This is the go to shoe for many different horses as it is extremely versatile and quick to build. 

There are several more types of shoes that we could discuss however these are the three that you will see come off our anvil the most.

Road to The Journeyman Part 1

Last month I finally began the process of getting my CJF. The test for the Journeyman is comprised of three parts, each scored to an exacting standard. A written test, a forging component where I build a fullered barshoe to fit a pattern in 35 minutes, and a shoeing portion in which I will shoe a horse with a full set of handmades in 2 hours or less.

Each candidate for certification comes to the test in a different way and timing. For me, it has been a long time in coming. I had meant to take this test shortly after passing my Certified exam in 2010 however I allowed myself to get busy and not take it. While certifications are not required here in the US, they are a great way of testing knowledge and proving skill. Here at Dixie’s we have been and always will be committed to continuing education and the best quality work we can provide. By getting my CJF, it will be one more way to test my skill but will also be the gateway to higher certifications and more opportunities for learning and teaching.

When I took my Certified exam several years ago I started by taking the written test which meant I then had a two year timeline to complete the other two parts of the test (shoe display and shoeing the front of a horse). This time I decided to start by going to a certification prep clinic in Tennessee so I could see what I needed to work on and to hone my skills. The clinic was two days of hands on learning both at the anvil and under the horse.

I have been building and applying handmade shoes my entire career so that part is nothing new. The larger challenge for me will be refining a few techniques to be more efficient and getting over the issue of being timed. For whatever reason, like many, I struggle with being put on the clock during a test and either end up rushing and making mistakes/breaking tools or my perfectionist side comes out and I spend too much time trying to make everything perfect. While I did pick up some good tricks, the most helpful part of the clinic was found in the instructors helping me to slow down and in giving me the confidence that I can pass the test.

Moving forward I will be continuing to practice timing myself building shoes and hopefully making a couple practice runs on horses. There will also be a fair amount of reading and studying as the written test is fairly comprehensive. I am planning to take at least the written test, if not the whole thing before the end of June with a goal of having my CJF by the end of the year.