How did you pick your farrier? If your horse is boarded out, there’s an excellent chance that what really recommended the farrier you chose was that they were coming out to do other horses in the barn anyway. Quick, easy, hassle-free.
If your horse is on your own farm, or if your quick, easy, hassle-free first decision turned out to be a train wreck, you’re in a tougher spot, because there are likely 345 horses and 328 people who can trim them in your immediate vicinity alone. People become attached to farriers, so you’ve probably heard great things about all of them. Paradoxically, everything is also always the farrier’s fault, so you’ve probably also heard that all of them are the worst farriers ever.
How to decide? Since word of mouth is often confusing and contradictory, you can research your potential farriers online to try to pick a good one. This can be a bit confusing too, though, because farriers come with a weird array of credentials and acronyms. Like any profession, a name sounds more impressive if there are a lot of letters after it, but does being a CJF, TE, AWCF make you a better farrier than having 40 years of experience?
Alas, in the end, it probably depends on the individual farrier, but knowing what the levels of certification mean could at least help you to make an informed decision about who to hire. So I did a little research for you (you’re welcome!) to figure out what certification actually means. Here’s what I found.
The American Farrier’s Association (AFA) has levels of certification that depend on successfully completing a set exam with both written and practical sections. There are three levels that go from basic to advanced: Certified Farrier (AFA CF), Certified Tradesman Farrier (AFA CTF) and Certified Journeyman Farrier (AFA CJF). The AFA website tells us that there are “also two specialty endorsements offered to Certified Journeyman Farriers: Therapeutic Endorsement (CJF TE) and Educator Endorsement (EE).”
There’s an AFA Farrier (AFA Farrier) classification for entry-level farriers, but AFA Farriers aren’t technically certified. They are required to complete basic testing and create different kinds of horseshoes. Certified Farriers must have at least a year of shoeing experience, demonstrate professional-level hoof care knowledge, and create a range of shoes. Certified Tradesman Farriers must have two or more years of experience, must have completed the CF exam, and must make and fit a given shoe within a set time limit. Certified Journeyman Farriers must have two years experience and CF qualification, need to make and fit a given kind of bar shoe for a specific foot pattern, and must demonstrate a high level of professional performance.
The endorsements are offered to Journeyman Farriers who have continued their education into specialized fields. The CJF TE designation means that a farrier has at least five years experience dealing with therapeutic shoeing, as well as an in-depth theoretical and practical knowledge of hoof pathology. The EE designation is reserved for farriers who teach other farriers, whether in a school or in clinics or small lectures.
The Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association is the other main organization offering certification in North America (In the UK the Worshipful Company of Farriers and the Guild of Professional Farriers are two of the main organizations that offer certification). The BWFA has five levels: BWFA Apprentice I, BWFA Apprentice II, BWFA Journeyman I, BWFA Journeyman II and BWFA Master Farrier.
The BWFA Apprentice I exam is for entry-level farriers, which asks students to cold shape a keg shoe and fit it properly to a horse. The Apprentice II exam tests knowledge of anatomy, basic shoe-making and balanced shoeing. BWFA Journeyman I Certification is offered to farriers with at least a year of shoeing experience and tests their knowledge of anatomy, gaits and basic corrective shoeing. Journeyman II Certification is for farriers with three years of experience. Examinees must demonstrate comprehensive hoof knowledge and the ability to create and fit a given shoe within a specific time limit. BWFA Master Farrier Certification is offered to farriers with at least seven years of experience and Journeyman II or equivalent Certification (or 15 years experience with no certification). This exam is the most advanced, and farriers must demonstrate a high level of skill at shoe making and fitting.
What does this mean for you? For horse owners, the main benefit of certification is the assurance that the farrier has completed a standardized test of their knowledge and workmanship. Certificates of completion are issued to graduates of many farrier schools, but their standards could vary quite a bit. There’s every chance a school might have more rigorous testing than the AFA or BWFA, but there’s also every chance that “successful completion” at one school could look quite a bit like failure at another.
Certification eliminates the hardcore researcher’s need to look up the reputation of their potential farrier’s alma mater. Also, since all certification is voluntary (there’s no mandatory testing for farriers), it could also show that your candidate has some initiative, and was justifiably confident enough in their work to show it to other professionals.
That said, there’s some controversy in the farrier world about the usefulness of certification levels. Examiners and testing conditions can vary widely, and have a big impact on who gets to use the designations. Likewise, there are lots of reasons a farrier might not be certified (lack of testing opportunities, lack of time, lack of interest) but that doesn’t mean that farrier isn’t any good. An exam is no guarantee of competence. A lengthy apprenticeship with a master could teach somebody an awful lot more than studying for an entry-level exam. Like word of mouth and researching a farrier school, certification is one indicator of what a farrier can do, but it’s not the only road to Rome. Watching a farrier work and seeing if you like the job might give you the best indication of all.