In your work, you need to give yourself every advantage to help you create your ideal practice. At any stage of your career, you’re likely after the same things: a sane and steady client base, a solid reputation for your skills and general know-how, a strong professional network that you invest in and that helps you out when you need it.
But will becoming certified really help you achieve that?
Ask enough people, and the answer will be a definite maybe. It’s not the concept that has people unsure. The concept is great. We do all want some kind of standard education and some kind of marker that shows that a farrier has had their work assessed by people who know what they’re doing and has been found to also know what they’re doing. This just makes sense if we want sound, healthy and happy horses.
In the practical world, however, the value of the certification process isn’t that simple. In North America, there are two associations in which a farrier can become certified: The American Farrier’s Association (AFA) and the Brotherhood of Working Farriers Association (BWFA). The long and the short of it, though, is that a farrier doesn’t have to be certified. Farrier schools will often prepare students to write a certification exam, but not all of them do, and anyway the student isn’t required to take it. There are a ton of farriers out there who are educated and highly skilled and have never bothered with certificates. It’s not currently a sure distinction between great farriers and farriers who just sort of get by. So let’s look at some of the pros and cons of certification as it stands.
Pro: Farrier schools vary widely in terms of what they teach, how they teach it, and the quality of that teaching. Becoming certified proves that you’ve reached a level of knowledge and skill generally accepted to be of high quality.
Con: As with any exam, extra time to study and practice will be key to success. The testing process is also controversial right now, and the pass rate is controversially low. There are levels of certification in each association. Continued tests will be necessary if you want to move through the system.
Pro: Some horse owners will value certification. These clients will tend to be people who know the horse industry well, or are an integral part of the industry (trainers, breeders, etc.) and might make for steadier sources of income.
Con: More often than not, horse owners won’t ask about your credentials. They’ll rely more on word of mouth and on the results of the work you do for them.
Pro: Advanced certification is a proof of advanced skills, which will let you charge more money for your services. Certification often qualifies you for discounted rates on things like insurance.
Con: There is a cost both to sitting the exams and to belonging to a professional association, a cost that you should be incorporating into your fees. Whether this is a sound investment that pays off in the long run is sort of up in the air.
Pro: Certification with a professional association opens doors to a network of other professionals. Associations will also offer continuing education opportunities that you won’t get if you’re not in the ranks.
Con: Not really seeing a down side, to be honest. In a profession really driven by community, making a number of contacts and learning as much as you can is just logical.
Pro: Focusing on doing well in a highly respected school with its own rigorous completion exams and then apprenticing with a well-established farrier might give you a broader and deeper education than just working towards the test.
Con: In lieu of certification, people’s trust in you could depend on the reputation of the school you went to, which might be good or bad, depending on where you went. Also, reputations can change, so a school that makes you sound great one year might make you sound dodgy in five.
Pro: Many of your potential clients won’t know that there is such a thing as certification, and many more won’t care about it.
Con: Because some horse owners will choose a farrier who’s certified over one who isn’t, you might be limiting your client base if you don’t have the credentials.
Pro: Not spending the money on certification will give you more to invest in the tools and supplies you need to get the job done well. Not having professional dues to pay will let you charge less for your services, which might give you a competitive edge.
Con: Without certification, especially advanced certification, you might end up getting stuck in a lower pay bracket. This could mean having to do more horses at more barns, which might take a toll physically and also in terms of your gas budget.
Pro: Depending on the association, you likely won’t need to be certified to be a member and keep up to speed with professional developments.
Con: Some clinics and conferences might be off-limits to you if you aren’t certified with a specific association.
In the end, the decision to certify probably depends on the kind of practice that looks ideal to you. You might have to give some thought to the kinds of clients you see yourself working with: single horse owners who will be more likely to ask for references than credentials, or competitive professionals who will probably want both. Likewise, the career path you want to set should be a primary factor in your decision to certify or not. Getting to shoe horses at the Olympics will obviously require a different career track than doing local family horses and building a word of mouth business over a lifetime.
Whichever you decide, proper training, good horsepersonship and a firm set of skills will get you farther down the road towards the practice you want in the end.
by Cindy McMann