So You Want My Job: Farrier

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 12, 2010 · 16 comments

in So You Want My Job

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

Today we hear from Zach Williams who is a professional farrier. The job title may not sound familiar to many modern men, but it’s a profession that’s been around for hundreds of years and involves an uber-manly combination of horses, tools, and blacksmithing. If you like animals, working with your hands, and shooting the breeze with Mr. Ed, this might be the job for you.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? How long have you been doing your job, ect).

I was born and raised in Augusta County, Virginia in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. I just turned 29. I’ve been a farrier for a little over 5 years.

2.Many men have probably never even heard the word “farrier.” What exactly does a farrier do?

A farrier trims horses feet to put them back in correct balance. We also apply horseshoes as needed and some farriers do corrective or therapeutic shoeing.

3. Why did you want to become a farrier?

Because my wife and I (at the time, we owned 3 horses) had a difficult time finding a reliable farrier that would show up when scheduled. I rode along with other farriers just to learn enough of the basics in order to take care of my own horses. By the end of the second day of riding with another farrier, I told my wife, “I can do this and pick up business from those farriers who are not reliable and not properly servicing their clients.” Also, I enjoy working outside, and I love horses and a rural lifestyle. I also get to meet a lot of really nice people.

4. When did you know it was what you wanted to do?

After bull riding didn’t quite work out like I had hoped—I had 3 orthopedic surgeries within 4 years due to broken bones! Though I won the Virginia pro-circuit bullriding championship, the downtime from the injuries was just too much.

5. Being a farrier is a pretty unique job-how did you find your way into the profession?

I grew up in a farming community and was active in 4H, so I was around farm animals, and my wife grew up riding and showing horses. She owned two horses when we got married. After I bought my first horse (while in rehab from a bullriding injury), I really grew to love horses—they’re beautiful animals.

5. How does a man become a farrier? Are there schools that teach you how to be one? Do you apprentice with someone to learn the job?

On the job training (apprenticing), schooling, or a combination of both—which is what I did. Yes, there are a number of good schools in the United States. Going to a good school is one of the best ways to start as you gain a lot of knowledge quickly. Apprenticing is a longer route to gain the same amount of knowledge, though one can also pick the trade up that way. Apprenticing also exposes you to horse people and gives you a unique, hands-on perspective of the trade. Both methods require lots of hours in front of an anvil and forge and lots of hours under many horses. Apprenticing is, in some ways, the most important part of your learning experience.

6. Once you become a farrier, how do you go about finding jobs and getting people to hire you to tend their horses?

The best way is to offer to ride with established farriers to help or to apprentice. By helping them out when they’re busy, you will pick up a client here and there, word of mouth, etc. I went to a lot of horse shows as well. More experienced farriers will often send you horses they don’t want to shoe—the mean ones: the kickers and biters, but like many other trades, you have to start at the bottom. Over time, your reputation grows—assuming you’re good—and you move up the ladder, so to speak.

7. Is it a very competitive business or are good farriers in demand?

That is specific to the location. In my area, the Shenandoah Valley, it is very competitive but there are also a lot of horses too. Oddly enough, competition drives prices higher in the farrier business, which is counterintuitive to what you would think. This is due to the fact that this type of a market draws higher skilled farriers who can demand higher prices for their services.

7. Is being a farrier something you can do as a full-time job? Or do have to do other jobs as well on the side?

It’s all I do, though starting out I did have to supplement my income with other jobs. Within 2 years, I was shoeing full-time. I’m able to fully support my wife and 2 daughters with the income from my farrier business.

8. What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job are the occasions that I get to do therapeutic work on lame horses and the satisfaction that comes from being able to make a lame or injured horse better or, at the very least, more comfortable.

9. What is the worst part of your job?

The frustration that comes from having to deal with some horse owners and their poor horsemanship.

10. What’s the work/family/life balance like?

It can be very challenging because the area I work in has a large population of horses and during the busiest time of the year (March through November), I am constantly getting phone calls—even from those who aren’t my regular clients. You have to learn to say no or you’ll be out to midnight every night. Early on, I determined that unless it was an emergency, I would not work on Sundays. I’m also trying to schedule most Saturdays off to spend time with my family.

11. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

The biggest misconception is that folks think every dime they pay me stays in my pocket. But I have a lot of expenses such as fuel, horseshoes, nails, rasps. Just the raw material cost to shoe one horse (all fours) is about $20.00.

12. Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to share?

To anyone starting out, don’t ever lose focus that it’s all about care for the horse. And don’t neglect to improve your basic horsemanship skills, along with your farrier skills.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nate @ Practical Manliness May 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Thanks for yet another terrific interview!

I have a few more questions, if you have a chance to answer them:
- What is the work/family balance like for the first few years (while you are transitioning to full-time)?
- How much do your activities overlap with those of a vet?
- What is the danger like (from kicking horses, etc.)?

Thanks,
Nate

2 Adventure-Some Matthew May 13, 2010 at 12:01 am

I thoroughly enjoyed this interview, thanks! My dad was a farrier for most of my early life, so I have fond memories of this career. Summers were great because I got to go with Dad on jobs, riding along in the truck, visiting different farms, meeting new people… it was great.

I looked into farriers school, but the cost went up quite a bit. The guy who taught Dad had retired and sold the school.

3 Renee May 13, 2010 at 6:54 am

Wow, this was really fascinating. I love horses, and have never met a farrier. Sounds like a cool job actually.

Thanks for another great article/interview Brett and Kate! I love the so you want my job series. :)

4 Alex May 13, 2010 at 8:12 am

Zach, if you read this, do you still work in augusta county? My gf has horses in Harrisonburg, I’d love to send her your way.

5 Richard Williams May 13, 2010 at 9:26 am

Zach is actually in Montana attending a horse show, so I’ll try to answer these for him until he gets back.

Alex: Yes, Zach still lives in Augusta County. Send me a private email to: stonewallbook@yahoo.com and I’ll send you his phone number.

Nate: See question #10. Vets often refer horses with foot troubles to a good farrier. Zach gets a number of referrals from vets. Working with horses always involves some risk as they are powerful animals. Horses instinctively know if you’re afraid or if you’re in a bad mood and might hurt them. Always approach a horse slowly and cautiously. Zach has been kicked and stepped on a few times, so caution is the watchword.

Richard Williams (Zach’s Dad)

6 Chris Mower May 13, 2010 at 9:43 am

We grew up raising horses and I was always impressed with the farriers who could handle some of the ill-behaved horses. It’s not the job for me, but a good farrier is worth their weight in gold. It’s well worth the time to find a good one! I remember a couple times we’d have a farrier come over and they’d drive a nail into the hoof wrong–thus taking the horse out of commission for a while.

7 Jeremy Keegan May 13, 2010 at 9:53 am

This was a cool article for me because it hits close to home in a number of ways. First, I also live in that area – Rockingham county. Second, I’m 30 years old (same age as Zach pretty much) and I have a horse too. I ended up getting into footcare for the same reason – lack of reliable farriers around. I actually had a good one but he moved to Florida. I haven’t turned it into a career, but I trim my horse’s feet regularly and although it’s hard work, I enjoy it.

I think this is an inspiring example of ways we as men can benefit from rolling up our sleeves and learning how to do something new that will help our families out, save a little money, teach you a new skill, and allow you to do some good ol’ hard work. Good story!

8 J.R. Garcia May 13, 2010 at 10:24 am

This was a great interview! I really enjoyed it. I grew up in a very rural town (Stephenville, TX), but I was never exposed to a “rural” lifestyle. I’ve actually never ridden a horse. Seeing interviews like this really makes me want to ditch the city. Thanks again for another great So You Want My Job!

9 Jody Vannoy May 13, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I am a female, born and raised in Hillsboro, Virginia (Loudon County) which is big time horse country. I showed, pony clubbed, cubbed, hunted, broke steeplechase and flat track race horses. I have lived in Wyoming for many years now. I agree that farriers are worth their weight in gold. And my brother was an equine vet in Palm Beach County, Florida (also big time horse country). In our opinion, a good farrier is just as important as a good equine vet. I know a fellow in Wellington, Florida who is flown all over the country because of his incredible farrier skills. They can make or break any type performance horse. I’m not sure why, but I would have to agree that many here in Wyoming are not reliable. You put up with them, because they are good, but they seem to have no sense of responsibility and show up when they feel like it if at all. Thanks for the article.

10 Johnny J May 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Cool stuff. I looked up more on farriers and found these interviews. Seems like the kind of guys I’d like to have a beer with:
http://www.americanfarriers.com/pages/AFJ-tv-Video-Farrier-Quick-Takes.php

11 Molly July 10, 2010 at 9:48 am

I’ve ridden with our farrier before, and while I liked being an assistant and holding horses, etc, it only took one time of trying to pull a shoe off of a horse to decide that it wasn’t the thing for me. XD (Granted, I AM a girl and it requires a lot of upper-body strength that I simply don’t have, but still.) It’s a highly interesting job, and I’ve learned enough riding around with our farrier to have a pretty basic idea of training and how a horse’s hoof is built (which is very useful for diagnosing my own horses should they have a problem), but simply due to the labor and dealing with difficult people/dangerous horses I’m not sure I’d like that job. XD (It takes a lot of guts to get under a spooky horse–and the mean ones are even worse)

12 Gina Keesling July 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Thanks for a great article. I shared it (including proper credit and links) with our company’s newsletter recipients here: http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs009/1101533203510/archive/1103582945170.html
Keep up the good work. (Except the “10 worst products…” those kind of creeped me out.)

13 Anvil Devil July 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Not to dilute the manliness of this interesting site and Zach Williams’ concise and accurate answers, but farriery is NOT limited to men. I am age 54, five-foot-two, 115 lbs. and have been a professional farrier for 8 years. In my opinion it’s more about horsemanship (as Zach says) and efficient use of the body than brute strength. Most horses are cooperative and trusting when handled respectfully. It is challenging but incredibly rewarding work and I encourage anyone who has a love for the art, craft, and science of farriery to pursue this profession. You must have persistence and drive, and get the best instruction possible to be a success.

14 monique storrey July 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

Iam a 49 year old farrier, in the business for twelve years, it is definitely not about outmuscling a horse ,because you cant. I have been able to do a lot of horses my male counterparts couldn’t just because I don’t hold them as hard , and learn to give to them not against them.

15 Lee Canham December 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I came across your page here by chance and I loved it , connected with it and was well impressed with all I read.. and then I came to the very last..part 12.. and there you got my 11 out of ten.. a tip of the hat too.. the read was a need… a seed needed to be planted in all upcomining “I wanna do what he´s doing in his or her shoeing state of mind“
if that last thought “stay focused and remember the horse comes first“ was part of a farrier exam.. well there would never be a shortage of good caring farriers anywhere.. I am a Welshman working in Finland and wishing you and co and all your clients and their wonderful horses .. A very happy christmas..Thanks for making my day.. Lee

16 courtney post January 17, 2014 at 1:56 am

this was a great read, i have two horses and am starting training with my farrier come next month…he will be advising me while i trim my high strung arab..guess that is one way to learn lol.

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