The local high school called different business owners in the area to see if they would be interested in giving a one-hour talk about their business to a high school business class. I accepted and took my turn the following week.
The first thing on my agenda was to explain to the kids what a farrier does, being there was only one gal in the class that knew. I told them to ask questions. No question is a dumb question if one does not know the answer. I had just finished explaining what a farrier does and what a normal day consisted of when a hand went up.
Question. How much do you make per hour? I was going to get around to that in the end, but I quickly changed my format and answered the question.
“I charge $22 to trim a horse. I can trim 3 horses in an hour which is $66, plus a $12 minimum trip charge, which adds up to $78. Let’s see a show of hands of those who would like to make $78 per hour.”
All hands shot up, and the teacher had her hand the highest. I told them I would also like to make $78 per hour, but there is a big thing called “overhead” we must enter into the picture.
I then went to the blackboard and wrote down the things that make up my overhead:
Vehicle: Cost to buy, depreciation, gas, oil, tires, and estimated repairs.
Insurance: Health, vehicle, liability, disability, and life.
Equipment (hand and power tools): New cost, repairs, and replacements.
Inventory: Several different kinds of bar stock, shoes, nails, pads, acrylics, propane for the forge, etc.
Continued education: Clinics, workshops, and farrier magazines to read.
Office costs: Telephone, cell phone, possibly a pager, stamps, statement pads, and business cards.
One or more employees: Many more expenses then come into the picture. I do not have anyone working for me at this time.
Adding up my overhead, not including the countless hours on the phone, going to clinics and workshops to improve my skills and knowledge, checking on a horse, replacing a shoe at no charge, estimating the number of horses I do in a year, I figure it costs me $12 to trim one horse.
“So, $12 X 3=$36. $78-$36=$42. How many of you would like to make $42 per hour?”
All hands went up, but not as fast and not as high as before. I told them $42 per hour is really good, but just a minute. We have not paid our state, federal, and F.I.C.A. taxes yet. Now we take 30 percent of $42 and we get a total of $12.60 that we must pay in. Let us round that back to $12 for easier figuring, subtract that from our $42, and now we have $30.
“Now, how many of you would like to make $30 per hour?”
Slowly a few hands came up, but only about halfway, not knowing for sure what was coming next. I told them I would too, but just one more thing. I still had to drive to this place and drive home.
“Say for instance a half hour on the road each way, now we have two hours total involved trimming the three horses. $30 divided by 2 gives us $15. In reality, I make approximately $15 per hour I can actually take to the bank. Is $15 per hour bad? Not really, but it’s a long ways from $78 per hour. A farrier basically is selling labour and experience. It’s a very tough and physical job and not just everyone can do it. Besides the strength needed, you must be good with horses, must be good with people to handle all the situations that arise, and you must be a very good craftsman to do the job. Yes, $78 per hour would be great, but it just doesn’t happen in my business.”
I gave this talk several years ago. The numbers have all changed, as expenses always go up not down. To the horse owners out there that watch a competent farrier move around a horse as smooth as your tongue around a DQ cone on a hot day and think he or she is charging too much, I have got a challenge for you. Pick out the nicest horse in your barn, pick up a front leg and straddle it between your legs like a farrier. Hold it for 4 minutes, set it down, pick up a rear leg, and drape it over your hip for 4 minutes like a farrier. Set it down and go to the off side of the horse and do the same there, 4 minutes per leg. Now you do not have to operate any tools, just hold up the leg. That will seem like quite a long time, so here is something to think about while you are doing it to try and get a feel for what a farrier goes through everyday.
Take whatever day job you have, say for instance you spend a lot of time on a computer.Picture yourself sitting there typing with a 20-pound sandbag on your lap to create a little pressure, and the keyboard moves without warning. You pull it back into place, start to type, and it moves again. After the fifth time it moves without warning, you get annoyed and take your morning break. When you come back, you sit down, have a sandbag on your lap, look down, and the keys are all covered with hand lotion a co-worker accidentally spilled (mud and manure in our case). Now you are slipping around and cannot seem to get the lotion off your hands. The keyboard keeps moving without warning and the boss asks you to file some papers. Now this is fun with slippery hands. You finally get back to the computer and the air conditioner quits working. It’s 90 degrees. You set up a fan to move the hot air. A second shift employee threw his leftover lunch in the waste basket the night before. It stinks, and flies are everywhere. You try to concentrate. The person at the computer station to the left could not find a babysitter and brought her two and four-year-old to work. The kids are banging their toys around and making lots of noise. The person at the computer station to the right brought his dog so he could take him to the vet after work. He is a little hyper, is running under and around the desk, and barking. You get up to go to the restroom and trip over the dog, almost wrenching your back. You come back from the restroom. Your computer station has moved six feet and is now crossways. You have to move your personal belongings, chair, and filing cabinet so it is handy to do your job competently. You finally make it through the day.
You are about to leave and the boss walks up and says, “Oh by the way. I forgot to tell you before you started today. The company is a little short on cash and it will be a couple weeks before we can pay you for your work today.”
You leave in disgust. Getting the picture?
Now if you did not cheat and held up the horse’s legs for 16 minutes and thought it was a piece of cake, try doing this same sequence five more times in a row. If you still think the farrier is charging too much, it is a wide open field and we would love to have more people join us. But before you do, remember: There is no time-and-a-half after 40 hours, no paid sick days, holidays, vacation, or insurance. When shoeing is slow in the winter, you do not receive any unemployment checks. When you go to buy something you have to figure out how many horse’s feet you have to do to pay for that item. (For instance, I had to trim 77,786 horse’s hoofs to pay for my present acreage.) And it is not a matter of if you are going to get hurt shoeing, but when and how bad. Does this really sound like a job you would like to wake-up to every morning?
Thanks for taking some time and giving this some thought. I hope you might have a more open mind and have a different viewpoint about what a farrier goes through day after day. We love what we are doing or we would not be doing it. We just ask for a little respect and to get paid when the work is done without a snide comment about our rates or getting The Look. It is one tough job with a good horse and ideal working conditions. It is all up hill from there.
By Ray Legel. Tails of a Horseshoer by Ray Legel may be purchased at the Hoofprints’ Organizers webpage.