Choosing a farrier college is just as important to a farrier’s career as this decision is for any doctor, accountant or business person. Part of the trouble in deciding where to go is that not every farrier program is created equal and there are many different kinds of schools out there.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably ruled out taking a weekend horseshoeing course and setting up shop as a farrier. That was a good career decision. But there are still lots of options: you could enroll in a college diploma program with a farrier component to it, specialized college farrier program, farrier school or a blacksmithing school that teaches farrier basics. The kind of school you choose will shape the kind of farrier you become, so it’s worthwhile asking some questions of yourself and any school you have your eye on, to help you figure out where you want to be and which path will get you there.
What kind of farrier do you want to be?
Like any field, there are part-timers, small business owners and superstars in the horseshoeing world. Part-time shoers can get away with a short specialized course, but running any sized business well means you need a good, reputable program to get you started. If you want to be the on-call farrier at a World Championship, or compete yourself, you’re going to need a top-ranked school, an apprenticeship with another superstar and some hustle. Think about what “being successful” would look like to you.
What kind of farriers do colleges/private farrier schools produce?
There’s more of a difference between individual programs than there is between colleges and farrier schools generally. Any program should be able to tell you roughly what their success rate is when their students apply for AFA certification and any school should keep tabs on their notable graduates. Private programs will often have some way for you to contact former students to ask about their experiences during and after school. You can also ask farriers whose work you like what school they went to (or do a web search on farriers you admire to see where they went). Even a small handful of people whose company you want to be in might give you an idea of the place or kind of place you’d need to graduate from.
What do you want to learn?
Think about the subject matter, obviously, but also think about the kind of learner you are. Some people are fascinated by knowledge, and want every detail about the craft. Some people are big thinkers who want to discover how other parts of equine management tie into the work a farrier does. And some people would rather do it than sit around and talk about it. Figuring out what you want to know to get yourself started and what extra learning opportunities you’d like to have will help you narrow down what type of education you’re after.
What do college and private farrier programs teach?
It’s a mistake to think that all colleges focus on theory and all farrier schools focus on hands-on practice. Any farrier worth their salt understands anatomy as well as they understand forge work, so lectures form a big part of most programs, college or private. Same goes for hands-on training. The basics of horseshoeing will be roughly the same across the board.
The difference between college programs and farrier schools will come from additional learning opportunities. A farrier school will keep their classes limited to what’s most relevant to the trade. This could mean the chance to learn a couple of skills in a really in-depth way. A college with an equine science program has a wider range of courses and instructors, so you could find yourself with the option to learn about things like nutrition, herd health, or pasture management. You might even need to take classes other than horseshoeing to fill out requirements.
What are you able to invest in your education, practically speaking?
The questions above are well and good in theory, but like it or not, time, location and money are going to be a factor in your decision. Be completely realistic about what you can afford and what you’re willing to invest in your education. Get a sense of what it will take to make your investment pay off, if you can, by asking other farriers in your area about their own businesses.
What are the practical differences between college programs and specialty farrier schools?
College programs will be longer than private ones and will have less chance of being flexible. Tuition money will come out as a big chunk for a private program, but be amortized over the length of a college program. Unless it’s close, going to a college will also mean finding accommodation. Some private programs have free or reasonable dorm living, although you can’t move your family in. If you decide to take out a loan for your education, the bank might ultimately decide on the kind of program you can take.
Last but not least, you’ll need to think about:
Who’s teaching? What’s their reputation?
Really consider this, because a school’s reputation will become your reputation. You’re more marketable if you were taught by Debbie Smith (I made that name up), longtime farrier for the U.S. show jumping team, than One-Eyed Joe of the “Nobody’s Heard of It” Farrier School. If someone’s heard bad things about a program, even if the program went downhill after you left, they’ll associate that with you. Both colleges and farrier schools have an obvious interest in maintaining their reputations. In a college, faculty might change but the program won’t—if a quality instructor leaves, the program might suffer, but the school’s name might still carry some weight. Private programs are often run by or identified with one person, so good or bad, people’s impressions of them will color their impressions of you.
by Cindy McMann