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History Shows a Need of the Farrier Trade to Return to the Basics

The trade was brought into existence back at the developmental stage that is referred to as the Iron Age. Before that time, about 1350 B.C. there was the first evidence of blacksmithing was accomplished and was credited to the ability of a Hittite craftsman. The Hittites are also credited with the creation of the ability to both temper and forge metals. This was such a significant development at the time that it was felt to be of great enough value to keep within a select few individuals. This was accomplished until the overthrow of their empire in about 1200 B.C. and then the few select craftsman that were capable of this process were scattered throughout the areas of what is now Europe and the Middle East. The knowledge was first transferred to Greece and then progressed into the area of the Balkans. The Early Iron Age was from 800 B.C. to 500 B.C. and it was during this time that the most notable progression did occur, for it was during this time that the knowledge was allowed to cover massive amounts of land that next included most of the area of western Europe and into the British Isles. By the completion of that developmental cycle mankind had advanced into the late Iron Age.

It was another step forward by civilization that showed the general population that by creating items that used both wood and iron that had been combined into one item it was easier for them to clear the land and make their life somewhat easier. This also paved the way for better and stronger items to be used in the hunting of food and allowing them to provide for their families in a more secure environment. It was at this point in time that the craftsman accomplishing these tasks for them became one of the more elevated members of the community.

The next progression was at the time that is referred to as Biblical Times, it was at this point in the development of the trade that the process of adding forced air into the fire which allowed it to become much more hotter and opened numerous additional doors to the craftsman of the trade. The introduction of this one additional factor has put the trade into the state that it is today. Little has been added to the forging and tempering of metals since that time in history. It has been discovered through the study of that particular time frame that both the metal working crafts and the wood working crafts were somewhat intertwined and that both trades had more than just a working knowledge of the other.

To most people there has been confusion as to the calling of all people who work metal as blacksmiths. There are many different type and categories within the trade of blacksmithing. Up to the time of the Middle Ages a smith was a person that worked iron in a fire, they were called smiths since most of the people doing this craft were named “Smith”. It was with the dawning of the Industrial Revolution that the craft started to be more of a specialized divisional trade, no longer was the smith required to know all aspects of the total trade.

This then brings us to the trade specialty of the farrier. The actual trade designation of farrier is an individual that puts shoes on horses’ feet. This is such a specialty trade that it makes the learning of the proper and correct methods and techniques necessary a life-long task in itself. Even this specialty area was at first broken down into sub-divisions at first, such as the “Nailsmith” whose only function was to make nails to be used to put the shoes on the horse’s feet with. The nailsmith was, in many cases, a woman since not a great deal of strength was required and there was a definite need of precision to be accomplished quickly.

To better expand upon the history of the farrier trade and how it developed I must say that it has been accomplished for many hundreds of years and there is no real documentation as to its origin. It is believed to have begun around the time of when Hannibal crossed the Alps in his conquest of his enemies. It is thought that before that time that in order to preserve the condition and soundness of horses’ feet that they were covered with cloths. It was during the time of Hannibal that the process of adding metal to the bottom of horse’s feet by nailing was first devised. If this is true the process was developed in a manner that has had little change since that point in time. There have been techniques and processes that have been developed and promoted over time that have had little to no effect on the trade and most of these items ended up being thrown away since they did more harm than good. The tools that are at the disposal of the modern-day farrier are being used to prove that most of the basic techniques that were developed in the early stages of the trade were the most correct for the horse’s well-being. Radiographs (X-Rays) are being used to look inside of the foot to verify that the methods of balancing a foot are correct for both motion and comfort. Physics is used to project and correct movement and contain momentum. Medical science is used to substantiate and verify that it is blood flow that aids in the growth patterns of foot growth.

This brings us to the present time and the fact that the trade is at a crossroads and the members of it must choose the road that they are to follow. The members of the trade that are compassionate and have the true interest of the horse as their main concern will chose the road that leads to a dedicated knowledgeable professional that has a quest and a burning desire to learn all they can that will aid in the comfort and correct working of the horse. Then there are others within the trade that will appear to put the interest of the horse foremost, but in actually have only themselves and their personal gratification as their goal. The information contained within this book will give you the knowledge to be able to evaluate the work that is being done on a horse, be you the owner having the work done or the farrier that is accomplishing the work.

The Education Process and its Development

The educational process that is presently followed within the trade has changed from a totally apprenticeship based program to one that is mostly academically based. When and how this happened started in the early 1970’s as it became more difficult to obtain persons that were willing to take on the responsibility of an apprenticeship program that would allow young people to learn the trade correctly.

As it became more difficult for these people to learn the necessary basics of the trade and then to be able to properly practice these same basics until they do become second nature for them to perform, a new format of a classroom structure was devised. The persons and institutions that were the first to develop and promote this style of instruction were agriculture type colleges that based the educational format on what they felt were the most notable topics and methods that were necessary to the young farrier so that they might be able to go out and then be more experienced and more employable within the trade itself. This type of program was devised to help the trade and give the newly entering members of the trade a basis that would make them a more sot after individual that would be less likely to make initial mistakes. It was not devised to take the place of the tried and true apprenticeship training that is so necessary to learn any complex trade. As the employability of these trained individuals became the norm within the industry more and more schools did appear to be established and many did not follow the standards that the university setting had initially set down. Consequently the quality of the individuals that were being sent out into the working work was not there.

Do not misunderstand what I am trying to get across here, not all of the individuals coming out of schools are bad farriers. They are not farriers ~ they are trainees, they are members of the trade that have had very basic training about the trade and what is necessary to accomplish the end product of being an accomplished farrier. What is not available to them is the structured learning environment that is necessary for their talent to start to bloom and then to come to full blossom once that they have been cared for and nurtured along to show them what is truly necessary to become an accomplished farrier. The schools are a building block, and that is what they do very well. They start or reinforce the structured educational process that is necessary to teach a more advanced method of helping the young “trainee” farrier to move along in their knowledge and to give a solid base for continued expansion through experience.

The established schools have accepted their responsibility of getting the necessary new persons interested in the trade to meet the demands it does create on the economy. The schools also understand that they are somewhat limited in their ability to instill the basics within these new entry-level persons. They are also conscience of the fact that they have these same people for only so long and have a great task to have their students learn a great amount of information in a short and limited time frame. The school has to teach basic structure of the lower leg and its operation, and then teach the mechanics of the operation of the lower leg and the foot. Then the task of trimming the foot correctly as to not take too much of the foot off and making the horse unable to walk. Next is the process of teaching the fine art of shoe fitting and adjustment to be able to match the shape of the foot that the student is working on. Another area that a lot of schools do add is the making of horseshoes from scratch, that is to take a straight piece of steel, shape it into a semi-circle so it resembles a horse’s foot, punch in the nail holes and finish the shoe by cutting off the excess to fit the specific foot that the shoe is designed to fit. All or part of this is accomplished in predetermined times ranging from four weeks to three months. Of course the shorter the course the less that the student is required to learn. At the end of the longer length courses there is also the task of getting the students ready for an exam that establishes them as apprentices and ready to leave the school.

The biggest problem that has been created is that most people who do go through the farrier school process leave them feeling that they are ready to start to work on their own. Even though the new graduate of such a program will attend many additional field based seminars to gain additional knowledge, they receive very little personal input from a highly experienced master of the trade allowing input so that they can make their own decisions and thus form their “trade personality”.

Most of this confusion was created when the expansion of structured educational system was developing. It was also at this time that trade organizations were established and then promoted to aid people within the trade. These same organizations started to create ways for the new farrier school graduates to sharpen and hone their farrier skills. This gave rise to the farrier competitions and in these competitions young farriers were given a set of guidelines to follow in order they would be able to win the competition. The guidelines called for certain methods and techniques to be established that were more “blacksmithing” in nature and less in the true light of the farrier trade. The winner of the competition were asked to make the finished product very aesthetic in nature and less functional, it became more of an artistic competition rather than a competition based on the basics and the functionality of the finished product. The next problem that occurred was that in order to be prepared for these competitions that did happen throughout the year the young farriers had to start to trim and shoe their client’s horses in the same manner that was required to be able to compete within those same competitions. What they were doing was the shoeing of horses without the proper guidance that would show them that their actions were setting the basis for many problems that would become evident on down the road as time passed.

As time passed the trade organizations were able to come to an agreement on the testing of their membership to create a standard for the organization to follow as well as set standards for future farriers to follow. The guidelines that were set down as the standards for the testing of the membership to be recognized as qualified were the same standards that were followed for the competitive world. Again it had to look pretty rather than be properly functional for the animal that was being worked on. These standards started to create members that were very adept at the working of steel in the forge and could put on a very entertaining show for the clients to see. It also made for more emphases to be placed on the aesthetics of the ironwork that was being done rather the comfort of the horse. All of this concentration of importance in the wrong area started the process that lead to the cutting of necessary corners to allow the farrier to be able to shoe more horses in a day and have a larger number of horses to be in their shoeing cycle. With the cutting of corners here and there, the horse and its well-being were starting to be over looked.

The Need to Return to Basics

As it has been shown the trade did take some twists and turns as it progressed and developed into what it is today, there have been a few individuals that have preserved and became the guardians of the necessary knowledge that was in the best interest of the horse. These people were few in number but have continued to grow over the years. In fact, as time as gone on there have been larger numbers of recent farrier school graduates that have come forward saying that they are looking for more than they had received out of their structured classroom teachings. They have understood the proper process of the standards of the education process and how it is to properly effect them and their chosen trade.

There is becoming more and more interest in what has come to be known as “balanced shoeing” Balanced shoeing is nothing more than correct shoeing. These are the tried and true methods that have been around and used by the farriers that have taken the time to learn the trade through the apprenticeship method rather than learning it on their own. These are the people who the new members of the trade are turning to in desperation to learn the finer points that are so necessary to the correct operation and movement of the total horse.

Just as in other industries and professions it is the knowledge of the basics that allows people within that chosen aspect of life to expand and grow in both their knowledge and ability. People look to highly trained tradesman in every aspect of life, such as contractors, mechanics, doctors and other such detailed oriented services that they come into contact on a very regular basis. Horse owners have not realized that there is so much involved in the care of their horse’s feet or in some cases have not been able to understand that they need to be aware of this information. The farrier trade is the same as any other trade, it has highly qualified trades people and then there are some that are not so qualified, the highly qualified ones are the ones that learned the basics and never felt the need to deviate from that direction.


My work with horses and owners is dedicated to the thousands of horses that I have had the distinct pleasure to meet, learn from and allowed into their lives. That acceptance has given me the insight that is necessary for the understanding of their world and how I had to alter my thoughts and actions to become the same as theirs. These horses started out as my clients, became my friends, then my teachers and finally my mentors. For that I am forever grateful. Learn more about Bob and subscribe to his blog at http://www.BobBurdekin.com.