The old saying of “no hoof, no horse” has been a North Star for many horse people, no matter the discipline you ride in. Your horse is an 800+ pound animal that balances on the equivalent of high-heeled shoes. If they can’t rely on their hooves, they can’t move.
When I recently moved to a new part of the country, I had to find a new farrier. Despite what some people believe, farriers don’t grow on trees (or on Craig’s List). A great farrier is somewhat of a unicorn. Once you find one, you do everything in your power not to lose them.
But when you have no choice, like I did, you have to try a new farrier, and it can be scary. After all, one lousy trim or poor shoeing can cause months of damage and potential injuries for your horse.
With little margin for error, I created a little checklist for myself on finding a good new farrier.
What Makes a Great Farrier
My list began with the qualities of a great farrier. It’s not just about buying the tools and attending a few farrier classes. Being a great farrier requires skills that make them good at their job.
Look out for these signs that make a great farrier:
- Showing up on time
- The right tools
- Attention to detail
- Treating each horse as unique as they are
- Asking questions about how the horse moves
- Measuring angles
- Correct finishing (flares and edges)
- Availability for follow-up
Best Hoof Forward – Where to Find a New Farrier
Okay, so before you use the checklist, you must get a farrier to come and see your horse or book an appointment. There are a few great ways to ensure you miss the real farrier-ogres that have built a bad reputation.
Here’s how you find (potentially) good farriers:
Asking around for referrals is a great way to hear which farriers have bad habits and which are solid and great to work with. Other horse owners are a wealth of information, and if you can look at the horses’ hooves, you’ll get an idea of the farriers’ skill levels.
If you have to move to an area where you don’t yet have a horsey connection network to rely on, you would be well-served to ask your current farrier to give you pointers on what to look at when you bite the bullet with a new farrier and have that first trim.
Each horse has their own unique hoof requirements. When you know what the finished trim should look like, you will also keep a better eye on a new farrier.
Ask the Local Vets
The vets in your area may have experience working with local farriers, and they also talk to other horse owners, which is an excellent source of information to tap into. A local vet may have a recommendation, and if you read body language, you might also notice if they have a preference against a farrier.
Check with Local Breeders and Tack Shops
Farriers often order their equipment online, but you may also find they visit local tack and equipment dealers, who can help you find local farriers.
Likewise, you can call local horse studs or racing yards to find out who they use for farrier work and ask if they can recommend someone.
All great farriers start somewhere, and while an established farrier is unlikely to advertise their services on social media, you may find a new farrier who has talent and is still building their client base on social media.
Try Facebook groups, community notice boards, or listing services like Craig’s List. Consider placing an ad to ask for any recommendations from locals about a farrier who works in the area.
Consult Local and National Associations
Many farriers study their qualifications through reputable associations and become members of them. The American Farrier’s Association (AFA) is a great place to look for a recommendation for qualified farriers in your area.
Of course, not all farriers are certified, so don’t discount those who have learned their trade by following someone skilled and practicing their profession without the benefit of registration. As long as the quality is there, you may find an old-school farm hand who is talented at doing their job.
Characteristics of a Great Farrier (Your Checklist)
Now you know where to look for a farrier, it’s all about what you need to weigh up when considering the farrier’s skills. It’s great to watch them work on a job before having them come out to work on your horse.
One benefit of a public stable yard is that you can quietly watch the farrier at work before subjecting your horse to a potentially harmful trim.
Here’s what to look for:
A great farrier is patient. When a horse shuffles around a bit or paws before settling, they don’t get riled up and aggressive with the horse. Good farriers know that an ounce of patience can prevent an hour of fighting.
Patience is crucial when trimming older, scared, or anxious horses.
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of seeing an inexperienced farrier hit a pregnant mare in the stomach because she struggled to keep her leg up. You should want better for your horse, and it’s your job to protect them from that kind of behavior.
When a farrier speaks in a soft tone and approaches the horse with good horse sense, I know they’ll start the job on the right footing.
The farrier should communicate with you. Farriers are not there to summarily trim a horse without asking questions and discussing the future scheduling of the horse’s trims.
Some horses need to be trimmed as often as every four weeks—like my horse, Sunshine, who breaks her nail very quickly; other horses may only need a trim in 8-12 weeks. Each horse has unique needs, and you need to share these with the farrier.
Unless it’s the horse’s first trim, help the farrier by sharing information about how often they were trimmed in the past, their movement, and what the horse is like.
Any farrier will appreciate being warned if your horse is a kicker or likes to bite.
A rude farrier who is not interested in explaining what’s going on with your horse’s hooves (such as seedy toe, thrush, or separating hoof walls) is not worth using.
One farrier I tried summarily told me that I had to have my horses all trimmed at four weeks. No two horses will necessarily be on the same schedule in hoof growth. I didn’t like that kind of attitude where it was all about what was convenient for the farrier and not about what was best for my horse.
Showing Up On Time
Farriers don’t charge by the hour, but it’s a poor sign of character if they keep you waiting (without a good reason). Likewise, you should never keep your farrier waiting or cancel at the last minute unless you have a valid reason (such as your horse cutting themself or being ill before the farrier comes).
The Right Tools
Tools make the man (or lady—I love lady farriers). Your farrier’s tools are a reflection of their skills and the respect they have for their craft. Nippers, rasps, and hoof knives shouldn’t be covered in rust.
While a hoof stool may have taken a few beatings, it should be safe and functional. I had the horrible experience of a farrier claiming they refuse to use hoof stools as horses kick them, resulting in a poorly executed trim and no balancing applied.
Some farrier equipment is fiendishly expensive, so I don’t blame a farrier for not having the latest or greatest, but the basics should be good quality and do an adequate job. Nippers that are blunt will break horse nails, which can create more problems for you.
A quality farrier will maintain their tools in optimal condition.
Attention to Detail
No farrier is supposed to say, “Oh, that’s good enough; your horse will walk off that extra bit of nail.” Yet, some do!
A good farrier will check each detail on your horse’s hooves. They will ensure they trim according to your horse’s conformation, level of work, sensitivities, and more. Hairline cracks can quickly become big problems if not attended to immediately.
I believe a farrier who cares about their job will address any issues they spot, such as pressure rings from obese horses, bloody soles from horses exposed to concussive force, and thrush or mud fever from horses exposed to swampy conditions.
It’s the job of any professional to keep abreast of the discoveries in their industries. Your farrier should also keep informed of new techniques, methods they may not have considered, and innovations that can help a horse struggling with a hoof issue.
My own farrier showed great ingenuity by making her own set of supports to keep a horse with severely cracked hooves sound while the hoof regrew over a painstaking journey of more than two years.
You want a farrier who knows their job, doesn’t give up when it gets tough, and will always put their knowledge to good use for your horse.
Treating Each Horse as Unique
I have five horses, and each of them has unique hooves. My boys have hardy hooves, which are murder to trim in winter. During summer, their hooves become soft and are more prone to breaking, which is when they need more frequent trimming.
Your farrier needs to treat each horse as an individual in their own needs and hoof requirements.
Asking Questions about how the Horse Moves
My farrier always asked whether my horses had lameness issues, were dragging feet, were stiff on one side, or were showing signs of pain. Even if she’d seen the horse on their previous trim, she’d still check for any feedback.
The trim isn’t just about what you can see. It’s also about what you feel when you ride the horse. A trim should make a horse comfortable. Horses shouldn’t become trippy or unbalanced after a trim or shoeing.
This is also why a farrier should ask about any issues you have picked up. If in doubt, they should ask that you walk the horse up to them, perhaps even trotting, so they can see the load phase of the horse’s stride.
When a farrier trims a horse for the first time, measuring the horse’s angles with a measuring tool is often handy. This helps ensure they work on a horse whose hooves are at an equal angle.
Once they know the horse, they can more comfortably trim it without needing to measure it.
Correct Finishing (Flares and Edges)
Unfortunately, my first call to a farrier near where I stay was a disaster. There are no other farriers in this immediate area, so I didn’t have other options. The farrier was less than professional, and between talking quite a bit of trash, the farrier trimmed my horse without checking for bulges or flares.
The result was that I had to redo the finishing myself, rasping to balance a nasty flare that had started due to the change in terrain. Fortunately, I knew how to fix this. If left untreated, my horse could have stepped on himself, broken a quarter wall, or even tripped while running.
Your farrier should check the hoof wall for flares and bulges, rasping to correct these. The farrier’s stool is convenient to do this and smooth the edges to prevent cutting injuries if your horse kicks another.
Availability for Follow-Up
I chose not to use the farrier that I had tried out. After seeing what she did, I politely canceled future appointments. However, your farrier choice needs to consider the availability of the farrier.
If your horse wears shoes, you need to know that the farrier doesn’t live 400 miles away in case the horse loses a shoe.
How Much Does Farrier Work Cost?
At this point, you’d probably like to have an idea what calling out a farrier will cost. Each farrier has their own business, so what they charge is up to them. Usually, your farrier may charge a travel fee (to and from your barn), as well as their cost for the work done for your horse. Here are a few general rates to consider:
- A barefoot trim will cost between $35-$45 per horse
- A full set of shoes, depending on the type of shoe, costs between $95-$160
Some farriers may fit a half set of shoes, shoeing either the front or back hooves, depending on your horse’s needs. The price on these is not always half of a full set, so discuss this with your farrier.
How to Keep Your New Great Farrier
I decided I had enough skills to trim my own horses since I had no other options. Fortunately, my old farrier is on standby, and I’ve solved a few issues via video calls.
I hope you are fortunate enough to find a good farrier where you stay. Keeping that farrier is equally essential. Farriers can choose their clients, and if your horse is unruly or you don’t pay, you can’t expect them to keep working for you.
Here are a few tips to ensure your new farrier is happy to keep trimming your horse:
- Ensure your horse is clean and dry (shampoo their legs if needed).
- When the farrier arrives, have your horse ready (and not miles away in a huge pasture).
- Create a clear space where they can work with shade, out of the wind and rain.
- If the farrier works in the stable, poo-pick before they start working.
- Apply fly spray so your horse can be more peaceful while trimming or shoeing.
- Hold your horse sensibly to prevent biting and rearing behavior.
- If your horse has vices, such as kicking or barging forward, work with them to reduce this impact.
- Have your farrier’s payment ready (some prefer cash, so find out how to pay them).
- Book your next farrier’s appointment or schedule recurring trims (some farriers use an app for scheduled work).
Can You Trim Your Own Horse?
Horse owners have many expenses, and you’re likely wondering if you can trim your own horse or shoe them yourself to save a few bucks. Firstly, never let anyone except a qualified farrier shoe your horse. The risk of nailing the shoe through live tissue is too great, so just don’t do it yourself.
When it comes to a basic barefoot trim, you can learn a lot from watching a qualified farrier and asking questions. There are also online courses in farrier work to help you understand the basics of trimming a horse’s hooves. However, your first few trims should be performed under supervision of a qualified farrier; otherwise, don’t do it!
Answer: Find a farrier who knows horse anatomy and breed-specific conformation and has the experience to provide quality trim or shoeing services.
Answer: If your horse is tender after being trimmed, it can be because of no longer wearing shoes and their feet being sensitive, their sole could have dropped, and an over-trim could have removed too much nail. Good farriery respects the hoof’s natural shape, conformation, and integrity, so a horse shouldn’t be sore after a trim.
Answer: If a horse has badly overgrown hooves or cracks, they will feel an instant relief when they are correctly trimmed. A good farrier can balance all four hooves, equalizing pressure on the legs and spine of the horse for better comfort and movement.
Last Thoughts on a Great Farrier
I hope you can find a great farrier. Remember that a good farrier isn’t just correctly trained and educated; they are also sensitive enough to trim with insight. It’s up to you to spot whether a farrier is just doing it for the money or if they are actually dedicated to offering good service to your horse.
It’s essential not just to accept the farrier’s job when you have concerns. And if you ask questions about why they trimmed a certain way, and you aren’t happy with their answer, make the right choice for your horse.
For more on better care for your horse, read my guide on horse ownership.