The first thing to get straight is that a farrier shoes horses, not a blacksmith. A blacksmith works with metal but according to the Farriers (Registration) Act 1975, "is not permitted to fit shoes to horses".
The second thing to remember is that these days it's not just a job for the lads. Although there aren't any female Approved Training Farriers yet, there are now 32 female Registered Farriers in the UK and the numbers are rising.
Thirdly, although farriery tends to be a family
business, it is possible to become a farrier even if you've never touched a horse in your life: the training is so long and the exams are so tough that by the time you become a Registered Farrier it won't matter whether you grew up on Follyfoot Farm or the sixteenth floor of a New York apartment block.
Of course, competition for apprenticeships is fierce, and some Approved Training Farriers won't consider people without previous experience of horses, but others will and it is up to you to persuade them that you have good potential.
So if you love horses, if you're strong and want to work out of doors, you don't mind breaking your nails, you would like to be self-employed and would enjoy taking a different route to work every day, farriery might be for you.
But don't think you can just buy an anvil and start
hammering: unskilled farriery can cripple horses which is why it is illegal to shoe them unless you are a Registered Farrier.
The first thing to do is get a minimum of 4 GCSE's
at grade C or above, and make sure that one is in English: it's obligatory because apprentice farriers have to study and pass written exams as well as oral and practical ones.
You'll then need to be accepted by an Approved
Training Farrier as an apprentice (lists are available from
the Farriers Registration Council) and you'll need to sort out a grant. If you will be under 25 by the time you finish your apprenticeship, you can get Grant Aid funding from the Chamber of Commerce, Training and Enterprise, Hereford and Worcester and/or European Social Funding. Older apprentices have to arrange their own grants which
can be tricky, but is possible through local Training
and Enterprise Councils, as well as local trusts and
An apprenticeship lasts 4 years and 2 months and
includes 23 weeks at college. You will have to pass
all mandatory college assessments, get a NVQ (National
Vocational Training) Level 3 in Farriery, a Modern
Apprenticeship and finally, at the end of your
apprenticeship, a Diploma of the Worshipful Company of
If all goes well, you may then apply to the
Farriers Registration Council for admission to the
Register of Farriers and at last, probably about five years after you first decided to go in for farriery, you'll be able to start work, although there are complex rules about exactly where and how. You won't for example be able to open shop next door to your old boss and attempt to steal his customers.
Helena Tomsett qualified earlier this year and has set
up her own business near Bedford. "Advertising was
pretty easy," she says. "I put an advert in the local
paper and I went around the local stables with flyers etc,
but now I get most of my work by word of mouth so I
don't really advertise any more."
For her, the most difficult thing was finding an
apprenticeship because so many Approved Training
Farriers wouldn't take on a woman. But she says that
the Farriery Training Service were very supportive and
helped her all the way and that she's never come across
any discrimination since finding her apprenticeship.
"In fact, some people come to me especially
because I'm female. People say that nervous horses... or horses which might have been badly handled in the past will often trust a female farrier more easily than a male one."
Most horses don't mind being shod, but there are
some which are so difficult that they have to be sedated. Of course, this doesn't happen often because most horses can be persuaded to co-operate in the end and once you show them that it's all right, they will learn to stand quietly.
"Teaching a horse not to be afraid of being shod is very satisfying," says Helena. "I've got a few like that on my books now."
And of course, once horse-owners see that not only can she handle horses, but that she turns up on time and does a good job, they get her to come back and they tell other people too. No wonder she doesn't have to advertise any more.
"The worst thing is people who don't turn up when
they've made appointments, and people who wait until
their horse's shoes are falling off before they ring me
up because I might not have time to fit them in at the
last minute and by the time the shoes are lose, it
really is quite urgent.
"And then there's the mud. In the winter, some
people will bring their horses in for shoeing
absolutely plastered up to the knees with mud and you
can't even start to shoe them until you've got all that
And it's hard work. There's no getting round it.
You have to be strong, fit and healthy to be a
successful farrier. This isn't only because hammering
iron takes strength, also because if you deal with
horses all day long they're bound to batter you about
"I used to have my own horses, but these days I
get enough of them during the day. I wouldn't want to
take work home with me even though I do love horses."
So. At the end of the day, is it worth it?
"Absolutely," says Helena. "I wouldn't do anything
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