A Farrier

July 15, 2011 · 16 comments

My husband Henry is a farrier by trade. That’s a fancy way of saying he shoes horses. He completed Linn Benton Community College’s 14-week farrier school (now closed) in the spring of 2004, and has been a more or less full-time working horseshoer ever since.

I should be clear here that I am not a horse person. I don’t dislike horses, but I’ve never owned one, and I’ve never wanted to own one, not even in the third grade when all my girlfriends were galloping around the playground and preening their model morgan horses. Many many people (especially Henry’s clients) assume that I’m a lifelong rider, but he and I met through vegetables not livestock (but that’s a story for another day).

I appreciate a number of things about being married to a farrier, but there are a few aspects I’m not so fond of.

Pros:

The vast majority of his clients are genuinely wonderful.  They trust his judgement, and they truly appreciate the hard work he does for their beloved animals. They also are collectively a huge source of knowledge and experience. Most have been the area for decades or even generations. Henry has clients who are engineers, arborists, bartenders, eye surgeons, physics professors, stay-at-home moms, commercial fishermen, farmers, loggers, wild hippies, conservative Christians, and pretty much everything in between. Each and every one has at least one good story or a bit of interesting advice. And they are so incredibly caring and generous. After each of our kids were born, Henry brought home shopping bags of gifts from clients almost every day for a month.

Speaking of awesome clients, we’ve gotten all of the following for free or trade: new and hand-me-down kid’s toys, kid’s clothes, guns, meat, fish, crab, cookies, soap, fence auger, fencing, tools, beekeeping equipment, old growth redwood, water tanks, cheese, graphic design work, fruit, canning jars, chainsaws, cats, dog, goats, sheep, ducks, trees, seed collection rights, hardware, building materials, fuel, Cat (equipment) work, road engineering, turkeys, horse manure, hay, straw, grass seed, woodstoves, garden gnomes, vegetables, logs, and lots more that I can’t think of at the moment.

Henry tries to only work four days a week shoeing horses. To some extent, he gets to make his own schedule, which allows him to work around large projects he has going on at home or mini vacations with the family.

Levi brings his own toys when he goes to work with his Pa.

Henry has been taking our son Levi (now 3 1/2) to work with him a day or more per week for two years now, and recently he’s started taking our daughter Charlotte (now almost 2) on occasion, too. He tries to bring them on days when the weather is decent, and he’s visiting particularly nice people, so the kids have a great time (or at least they never complain). Sometimes they play with toys in the truck, sometimes they play with toys in people’s yards, and sometimes they go hang out in people’s houses. It gives them great exposure to different kinds of folks and lots of new experiences. I love to get their take on the day’s activities when they come home. Sometimes the highlights are signs of wildlife (“There was bear poop next to their house!”) or heavy equipment sightings (“We saw a Komatsu excavator with a grapple!”), and some days the highlights are Fruit Loops (“They’re kinda like Cheerios, but they come in different colors.”) and real TV (“It’s like your computer, but it plays shows and has pictures of stuff you can buy…”).

Henry works out of his truck and drives around to people’s houses and barns in all corners of three counties. He knows hundreds of miles of backroads and has a mental map of every point of interest along his route. Driving to a remote area to trim a few horses gives him an excuse to explore places that most locals would never see. Occasionally, he’ll only have one or two horses to do, so we’ll schedule a family day trip to a waterfall, the beach, or a friend’s house in the area where he’s working.

Henry never exercises for the sake of exercise, but he stays in great shape. Shoeing horses is an incredible workout, so the guy is built, and he can eat anything his wants to without putting on weight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I tell people that my husband is a horseshoer, people are fascinated and impressed. It gives him some kind of automatic street cred and a license to wear suspenders and be dirty in public.

A smart, hardworking horseshoer can make a decent family wage, but it takes a near-perfect combination of skill sets. He or she needs to be able to work his/her butt off, withstand adverse conditions, keep on a strict schedule, chat with clients, understand large animal anatomy and psychology, budget well, not get lost on remote country roads, return phone calls in a timely manner, and provide a high-quality service. There aren’t that many people who can adequately or exceptionally perform all those tasks. Henry can. We don’t live extravagantly, but we are able to live debt-free and with a sound financial base, even during the time that I was “just” a stay-at-home mom.

Cons:

Henry has sustained both acute and chronic injuries from his work: several concussions, a couple broken ribs, burcitis in both shoulders, and way too many deep bruises, hand cuts, stomped feet, and sore muscles to count. In the back of my head, I worry about the possibility of serious injuries as well as the inevitibility of his premature aging and body breakdown. He does his best to limit his exposure to untrained horses and inexperienced handlers, but all animals can be unpredictable, and the risk will always exist.

While I worry about him getting hurt by a horse, I probably should worry more about him getting into a traffic accident. He has limited his travel area to about a 30 mile radius, but still he puts a lot of miles on his truck each year. Being on the road that much exposes him crazy/distracted/drunk drivers more than I’d like to think about.

Henry talks on the phone a LOT. Not all of it is communication with horse clients, but he does spend many hours a week scheduling and consulting with clients. In general, he isn’t bothered by all this talking (he’s kind of a chatty guy anyway), and I have learned to live with it. There are, however, evenings when I’m trying to give two wild kids a bath and get them into bed while he’s out talking on the phone, and in those moments, I kind of hate that aspect of his job.

Although the vast majority of his clients are sweet, reliable, and have a sound understanding of boundaries and interpersonal communications, there is a small minority that can make life interesting and/or unpleasant. We get occasional phone calls before 6 am and after 11 pm. He’s gotten a fair number of bounced checks, no shows, and people who don’t understand that he can’t pencil them in the day that they call. One time, he even got tangled up in a police investigation. He’s definitely culled many clients who couldn’t offer even the bare minimum of decency, but he still shoes for a number of folks who are nice but fallible.

I dislike the smell of horses. Even more offensive, though, is the smell of hot shoeing. When he walks in reeking of burned hooves (kind of like burned hair), I almost gag and send him straight to the shower. Maybe I should be more tolerant and understanding, but my reaction to that smell is so visceral that I don’t think I’ll ever overcome it. yuck.

Shoeing horses in the winter means standing around in the cold, getting soaked by Oregon rains. Shoeing horses in the summer means getting scorched, dehydrated, and occasionally coming home with heat exhaustion. There’s about a month in the spring and a month in the fall when weather conditions are favorable for the hard work of a farrier. That pleasant month in the spring almost perfectly correlates with horse shedding season, so Henry may get to work in comfortable temperatures, but he still comes home carpeted in horse hair. (Again, this bothers me more than him.)

Since the LBCC farrier school shut down a few years ago, the number of shoers in the area has declined, but the number of horses has not. As someone with a good reputation who’s well established in this area, Henry has more than enough clients to fill up his schedule. He has to turn quite a few people away on a regular basis, which can be awkward and difficult. People don’t seem to understand the concept of having too much work, especially in a down economy, and some have a hard time taking no for an answer. Occasionally, he gets talked into doing extra horses which makes his days (and mine) long and rough.

As the wife of a farrier, I know that Henry truly enjoys his job. For now, it is the best thing for our family, but if he ever got hurt or just needed a change of pace, he does (thankfully) have other skills and employment options.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon Jones July 15, 2011 at 9:32 am

Wow thats a hard working man you got there! Very impressive and thanks for the insight on what its like to be a farrier, and to be married to one for that matter.

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jonni lynch July 15, 2011 at 9:33 am

Yep, definitely jealous. This was a real passion of mine as a little girl, growing up on the backside of a racetrack when my daddy was a jockey. To the contrast of the author, I loved every single stinky wonderful thing about horses. The smell of their sweet, hot breath after eating alfalfa, and even cleaning up steaming dung. I was very sad that my father felt that his lifestyle was too hard–too back breaking, too poor, too “everything” and I eventually became a classically trained ballerina, living in England, NYC and other large cities. Now I’m back to thinking about Farrier school…

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Camille July 16, 2011 at 10:29 am

That would be quite the extreme career change. Good luck!

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Molly Rose July 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Oh man. My best friend’s dad is a farrier, and last year I worked for him for a few months. And it is HARD…I was working at least 5 days a week, 12-14 hour days as an assistant (i.e. I got to fetch and carry and stand around holding horses) from February to April. While I still adore horses (especially their small XD) I learned very quickly that I definitely like my horses better than other people’s…when they slam their foot down or kick out or push you into a wall and generally act misbehaved because they haven’t been trained consistently/at all, I really appreciate that my horses are so well-behaved. :p

And I can empathize with the weather…it was always SO cold, no matter how much we bundled up. Great post! I was nodding the entire time. XD

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abby July 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm

That is quite a job! I have had minimal experience with horses, and it wasn’t the best – starting with the irresponsible choice of an adult putting me, as a small girl, on a horse that was still pretty wild. They are huge animals with massive strength and the potential to be quite unpredictable. I can empathize with your concern for his safety. Though with as firm a handle as he has on these amazing animals, his experience with them is probably more stable. Really interesting to hear about this, for both him and for you, and the pros and cons.

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Dee Lane July 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Great post. Thanks for sharing! :0)

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marni July 16, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Thank you so much for your honesty, Camille. I really can relate to the pros and cons, and it soothed my soul to see them typed down like this! Though my husband has a very different job, I can relate to some of the pros and cons, and it was nice to see that I’m not the only wife out there thinking/feeling those emotions. It is hard to be grateful and understanding of my hardworking husband, especially with little ones underfoot and a small home business (and I have NO WHERE near the amount of homestead care as you, as I’m a city dweller). Keep up the awesome posts, I really love reading.

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Erin of Imagination Kids July 17, 2011 at 6:24 am

Ah a good farrier is worth their weight in gold and well probably even more than that! I remember our farrier from childhood so fondly. He was so calm and knowledgeable. Not only did he teach me so much about horses but he also introduced me to beekeeping. He was such an important part of our farm, I venture to say even more important than the vet because with a good farrier the vet visits for lameness were few and far between!

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Camille July 17, 2011 at 8:56 am

Farrier work is not cheap, but house calls from a vet are really expensive. Often times a a farrier is more helpful or can offer equivalent or better treatment.

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Liz Pike August 5, 2011 at 11:52 am

Both my husband and I are farriers. That’s how we met-I’d recently completed farrier school and was looking for a CJF (Certified Journeyman Farrier) under which to apprentice. I already had my own clients, so we merged our practices and had a blast. It is true that your body will break down early, but being aware of that is half the battle and can be mitigated somewhat by watching body positioning, not handling rowdy horses, not working on too many horses for too many days without adequate rest & muscle-rebuilding time in-between (important to realize shoeing horses is like strength training!), and having that ever important Plan B (and Plan C) in place for when the old body decides there are no more hooves in it! We still do some, not as many as we used to, but it is hands down the best memories of my life!

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Ashley March 15, 2016 at 8:16 pm

I own my own horse and have been around horses for 27 years of my life. I am currently in the medical professional and have been trying so everly hard to figure out what will make me happy. I love being at the barns, the horses, etc. So I was starting to look into farrier jobs. IS it super hard for schooling? Does farrier job pay well? Im a female…any draw backs to getting customers being a girl?

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M February 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Great article. My fiance is a farrier and I can sympathize with ALL of this, except I am a huge horse lover and love his job as well because it allows me to constantly learn more and more about the animals. Thank you for taking the time to write this!

God bless.

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Karinna September 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I loved this post! I got my first horse when I was 14 – just the age to have a crush on the gentle, kind, handsome farrier that “came with the horse”. Over the years I’ve had many horses and many farriers – and although I would only see them every 8 weeks, for an hour or so, each was a real part of my life. And oh, what a romantic idea to be married to a farrier! It was lovely to read your account.

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Abbie September 23, 2012 at 8:14 am

I cannot believe that he could become a farrier after only 14 weeks training, In the UK it takes a 4 year apprenticeship to become a qualified farrier what with learning all about the anatomy, ailments of the foot and corrective shoeing etc.

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JaiDee November 14, 2013 at 7:53 am

I can sympathize with you as my husband is a farrier and when he walks in the door with that hot shoeing smell, I too thought it smelled awful the first time, and he said, “Honey that is the smell of money”. So now I appreciate it. I do have a hard time believing in someone that doesn’t ride horses and has only been through a 14 wk coarse would have enough training and know enough about the way a horse should travel to put shoes on my horse but that’s my opinion. He should also be lucky that he live on west side because the temps are much milder than anywhere else in the state. To that, we live a good life with all that this career offers. I applaud you for sending your children with him, that has been our plan as well. Good luck, and make sure you have a backup plan for those times when he gets hurt and can’t work for months as it gets quite challenging.

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Melinda January 26, 2014 at 10:13 am

I loved your post! Tomorrow I begin day 1 of farrier school. I am a woman in my early 30s. I grew up on a racetrack and at horse shows. I have missed the atmosphere more than I can express. And I’m SO excited to have the opportunity to make a career of something I dearly love. Thanks for a well written post from a view point we don’t normally get- the farriers other half! Well done. Wish me luck! :)

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