farrier hands and hoof - make the most of the first trim

In any business, starting a new relationship with a client is an exciting and suspenseful time. This client could be with you for the next few decades and bake cookies for you faithfully every year for the holidays, or they could be “that guy”—the crazy person who’s late, cancels all the time, questions your judgment and badmouths your work all over town, but never fails to have you out every six months for an 18h tall feral stud colt who last had his feet picked up… oh, I don’t know… six months ago?

Add to that that every new horse you meet could leave you refreshed and optimistic or hospital bound, and the pressure’s on. There are things you can do, however, to make sure that your first visit gets the relationship off on the right foot.

First impressions

It goes without saying that when you start a new client relationship, you want to be there on time and you want to look clean and tidy. First impressions actually make a really big impact on how business relationships evolve, so, for example, if you want other people to respect your time you have to show that you respect theirs. If you’re running late for reasons beyond your control (which will happen to all of us at some point), give a quick phone call and explain the situation.

Setting the tone

You’re the professional, so don’t be afraid to take a minute and set out the kind of relationship you want to have, instead of jumping right in with the trim job. If there are things you want done prior to your arrival (feet cleaned, young horses exercised, radiographs, whatever), say so. Don’t wait and see if the owner will intuit them. If you like lots of owner involvement, or vice versa, this is your chance to set out your expectations. If this doesn’t suit the owner’s style, this is their chance to say so and for everybody to part company with little time and energy lost.

Likewise, the first meeting is your chance to explain the services you offer and your general philosophy on shoeing. If discrepancies arise down the road in terms of your fees or your way of doing things, the client won’t be able to say they didn’t know.

Getting to know the horse

Once you’ve set your expectations and explained yourself to the human client, it will be time to do the same thing with the equine one. It’s not unusual for horses to be a little shy of new farriers, so it’s worth the time to say hello and give the horse a little pat or something that immediately associates you with good times, and not with the tools and the fire and the standing still and behaving itself that will follow.

On the other hand, it’s going to be key to establish yourself as one or two rungs up the pecking ladder from the horse. The clearer you are in your requests to the horse, the greater your chances of successfully getting him to comply. And the less stressful you make the experience for him, the more the horse will respond positively the next time you come. You don’t need him to be your best friend, but you do need him to work with you, so if possible, try to end the trim with a little pat, too.

Curb your enthusiasm

Most of the time the trim/shoe job will just be a regular trim/shoe job, but there will be times when you get called out to “fix” something. This will usually be the “fault” of a previous farrier, or a previous owner of a new horse. Sometimes it will clearly and unequivocally be the fault of a previous farrier or owner. There might be a lot of badmouthing going on, but it’s usually better to just not join in. Real professionals are classier than this, especially the first time they trim a horse. If you need to comment, comment on the work and not the person who did it.

If things have gone drastically, horribly wrong for the horse’s feet, don’t feel pressured to try to fix it all in one go. You can only change so much before other anatomical structures start to compensate, usually badly. If you think the correction would be better done a little at a time, every few weeks for the next few months, it is your professional prerogative to recommend that and to work something out with the owner to accommodate the plan. If it’s in the best interests of the horse, people will usually agree to it.

Take the time to do it right

This goes without saying, but especially if you’re a new farrier, the temptation might be to show your new client how efficient you are, especially if you notice near the end of the job that time is getting on. Remember that you haven’t done the horse before, and that you need some extra time to figure out the best way to address any problem areas or unevenness in the foot. Way better to end up with a horse that’s completely level and sound than one you set a land speed record on but that doesn’t go quite as well as it did before. Nobody wants that.

End on a high note

Especially if things haven’t gone exactly according to plan while you’ve been there. You might be crowded out, pushed around, kicked and at the end of your rope with your new least favourite client, but showing a little grace under fire at the very least demonstrates to people that you know how to handle yourself. It might not bring the client back a second time (and you might not want them back), but you’ll know you showed a lot of poise and that you deserve that beer you’re about to go and crack.

Pick up some more tips on How to Shoe the Difficult Horse>>

by Cindy McMann

image: Lily M-C (Creative Commons BY)