“Practice makes perfect.” That truism could never be more right than when speaking about apprenticing. Where school teaches the necessary foundations for learning a trade, an apprenticeship provides the opportunity to repetitively apply the skills learned at school in a real world work setting until those skills become second nature. It’s this valuable “learning on the job” work experience that makes apprenticeships so valuable, and why it’s highly recommended that farriers take the time to apprentice under a knowledgeable mentor.
Since farriery is regulated in the UK, aspiring farriers in that country must undertake a four year and two month apprenticeship program under the tutelage of an Approved Training Farrier (ATF). To be eligible for apprenticeship, you first need to satisfy the minimum academic requirements (see www.farriertraining.co.uk for details) then contact an ATF who will propose you as a candidate and employ you during your period of apprenticeship. According to Apprenticeships, the farrier industry only accepts about 100 apprentices each year in the UK.
In most of the world, farriery is not government regulated and as such does not require attending school or apprenticing before working as farrier. Farrier apprenticeships range from the informal—asking a friend to show you the trade in his spare time now and then or shadowing them—to more formal arrangements where apprentices work on a regular basis.
Some recommend apprenticing before attending a farrier school so that you already know the basics and will be better able to grasp what you’re learning in school. Generally people attend school first then apprentice before working.
What will I learn?
Who to look for in a mentor
When looking for a mentor, the obvious choice would be a really knowledgeable, seasoned veteran of the trade, but that’s not always the case. The more experienced someone is, chances are the busier they are and the more people they have asking them for favours. Sometimes a far less experienced mentor could be better than the guy who has been doing it his whole life if he’s patient, has time to explain things and is a good teacher. Another thing to consider: even though someone is good at something, it doesn’t mean they’ll make a good teacher.
How to find a mentor
Since there’s a limited number of experienced farriers, finding one to mentor you could prove a challenge. Your school could be a fine resource to connect you, but with a number of students going through their program every year, there’s only so much they can do to help you. As always, the best way to find a mentor is through a personal connection. So tap into your social network and ask your friends and family if they know anyone. If all else fails, cold call. Few people just pick up the phone and ask someone for a favour, so if you’re the one who does and happen to catch someone on a good day, you may get lucky!
Questions to ask a potential mentor
Before committing to an apprenticeship, it’s important to ask a few questions to clarify whether or not apprenticing with this person will work out:
- How much time do they have to spend with you?
- What kind of horses will you be working on? (If you’re practicing on all the difficult horses, you’ll have a much harder time)
- How many horses will you treat? (If you’re sitting around all day, you’ll be wasting your time)
- What kind of work will you be doing / What will you learn?
- Where will you be working?
If the answers to those questions sound good and you have a good rapport with the mentor, go for it. Your farrier career will benefit greatly from this much-needed boost at this early stage in your career!
Here’s a video about the benefits of apprenticing: