Understanding whether to choose a blacksmith school or farrier school first requires a clear understanding of the difference between the role of a blacksmith and a farrier. Farriers are often confused for blacksmiths because, years ago, the distinction was not as clear as it is today. In fact the term “farrier” (from the Latin word “ferrarius“) actually means “of iron” or “blacksmith.”
Blacksmith or farrier?
“Today’s farrier is not necessarily your granddaddy’s blacksmith,” says farrier Bryan Farcus, pointing out that the trade has changed considerably over the years. The reasons for the change are in part due to the change in horse owners’ use of their horses. Where horses used to be used primarily for work, now they are being used more for recreation or sport. The other distinction relates to the way farriers work. Years ago shoeing a horse required making tools and shoes from scratch, which necessitated being a metal working specialist, and hence the reason why blacksmiths took on the role of shoeing horses.
As with many occupations nowadays, work is becoming more and more specialized. “These days, the job of a farrier is exclusively focused on the health and routine care of the horse’s feet,” Farcus says. “Readily available prefab shoes and specialty tools have made it possible for modern farriers to specialize in a particular area of shoeing, working only on a single type or breed of horse. Where your granddaddy had to be a jack-of-all-trades just to shoe horses, today’s farrier now has the opportunity to be a master-at-one of his or her choosing.”
What do you learn in a blacksmith school?
Though every school offers different programs, some of which can be tailor-made according to students’ needs, it’s helpful to look at an example of one blacksmith school’s curriculum to be able to compare it to a farrier school. The Turley Forge Blacksmithing School offers a three-week beginner to intermediate intensive program in which students are taught how to use the coal forge, anvil and accessory tools.
“Some essential techniques developed during the course include drawing, upsetting, punching, hot splitting, fullering, twisting, bending, hot rasping, forge welding, forge brazing, striking with sledge and using the trip hammer,” Frank Turley points out in his Q&A interview with The Farrier Guide. “Early class projects include making of fire tools to be used during the course and more advanced projects include fabricating steel tools, tongs, utensils, hinges, door latches and scrollwork.”
Though what is not included in this three-week 105-hour program is any work with horses. Turley says that if someone requests farrier forge work he can accommodate that as a tailor-made program, but it is not part of the standard curriculum. So that’s an example of what you get in a blacksmithing school. Now we’ll look at what you can expect from a farrier school.
What do you learn in a farrier school?
Farrier schools focus on the care of horse’s feet. At Mission Farrier School, students learn the basics of barefoot trimming as well as basic and advanced horseshoeing. They specifically focus on knowledge of horse anatomy, biomechanics of the lower limb, assessing horse health problems, such as how to evaluate lameness, as well as shoeing, trimming, and how to use the forge and anvil. As you can see the smith work is just one part of a larger whole.
It’s important to take the length of program into account when making your decision. Mission’s program is eight weeks long and 320 hours—three times that of the aforementioned blacksmith program—and is about the average length for a program in the U.S., though programs vary greatly, some measured in years rather than weeks. Some farrier programs are quite long, even two, three or four years in length, in which case it’s quite easy for a farrier student to gain more blacksmith knowledge than a blacksmith student taking a short program.