© Beth Howe
published in ANVIL Magazine, November 1997
Whenever my husband gets a call from a new client, I find myself chatting with the horse owner about why they've dropped their previous farrier. In surveying these owners, I've found that the following ten issues will often induce them to try another shoer:
"He's unfriendly. Barely mumbles a word to me. Just sticks his head under the horse and gets to work."
"I'm tired of his spitting and cussing."
"If my horse acts up for the slightest reason, he hits it with a rasp or pulloffs. I don't think he actually likes horses."
"His clothes are torn, his T-shirts have lewd slogans on them, and the dirt on him seems ground in. The interior of his rig looks and smells like a pit. His truck could stand a wash, too."
" My place is a mess when he's finished. He leaves nails on the ground."
"He's never on time."
"He seldom returns my calls, or if he does, it's four or more days later. I can never get hold of him."
"My vet suggested a corrective change rolled toes and a different angle - and the farrier refused point blank to make the adjustment."
"He stinks of alcohol when he arrives for an appointment." Or: "He just seems out of it. Looked to me like he was on drugs."
"He doesn't know much about hoof or leg problems; most of my questions leave him stumped."
Have a friendly attitude towards your clients. You are there to offer a service to them as well as the horse. With the average horse owner, his horses are his recreation. They give him pleasure, and no matter how good you are with the horse, if you aren't personable and able to exchange a few pleasantries with the owner, you may lose that customer.
Even if the owner spits and cusses, try to refrain from spitting when on his or her property. Cussing shows a lack of patience - not an image to convey.
Don't be insensitive. Show some interest in the horse before you start the job. Give it a pat or scratch. You may or may not make friends with it, but you'll see the owner positively glow with pleasure and pride because you took an interest in the animal. When frustrated with a difficult horse, NEVER hit it with a rasp or tool. There is a difference between an ill-trained, ill-mannered horse and one that is just nervous. With the neophyte horse, your patience and understanding can really come into play here. Perhaps just trim two feet and come back another day. Or suggest to the owner that he familiarize the horse with having its feet picked up every day, and to call you when it's more calm. With the extremely difficult horse, you can suggest to the owner that he call another farrier, since you do not wish to injure yourself. Or it could be a hock or stifle problem, or the horse could be just plain stiff. There are many reasons they act up.
Always have a clean personal appearance. Some suggestions: During hot weather (or if you get es especially dirty), carry a clean shirt with you - it might make you more comfortable to change into it halfway through the day. Fix or replace your torn clothes. Be sensitive to the type of slogans on your T-shirts. One farrier I know wears T-shirts with risque, albeit amusing, slogans on them. The Camp Coordinator at an extremely conservative Christian camp for pre-teen girls where he used to shoe, found the slogans inappropriate, and prefers to use another farrier now. If you hot shoe, use your water bucket and some Borax powder to wash your hands before moving on to the next job. Or carry an economy-sized tub of Handiwipes.
Horse owners do notice how your rig looks. One owner mentioned that when he hires a cabinet maker for a job, the first thing he checks out is the cleanliness and neatness of his rig. If the rig isn't orderly, he's not hired. Wash your rig at least twice a month. Sweep out the interior fairly often. Even if you can't afford to build or buy fancy racks for your shoes and equipment, presenting a clean and well-organized setup contributes to a more professional image. Maintain clean working habits. Carry a broom. If you're working on mats or a hard surface, sweep up between trims or when the horse makes a mess. If you're working on gravel or grass and the owner's dogs haven't eaten the hoof trimmings, dispose of them before you leave. Be extra careful with nails.
Be on time and call the client if you're running more than 15 minutes late. Schedule your day light enough to take your time to discuss problems and handle the occasional emergency. Schedule the client's next appointment before you leave. That way, your clients won't need to reach you, and the horse will be on a regular schedule. During the busy season, regular clients will already be scheduled, and you won't feel obliged to work overtime to fit them in. You'll also have a better handle on your day.
Return all calls as promptly as you can - even if you don't want the job. Horse owners love to gossip about how they've been inconvenienced - think of your reputation at all times.
Be open to suggestions from the vet and horse owner. Owners need to feel a sense of trust. Most of them use a farrier until he or she messes up. If you're not open to suggestions, they very likely won't tell you when something is wrong, and you won't learn, either.
Don't drink alcohol or take recreational drugs during a work day, even if the horse owner offers.
Read. Read. Read. It increases your confidence and credibility with the horse owner And when you raise your rates, your client won't begrudge you the extra cost.
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