Until recently many women would not have considered the traditionally male domain of farriery as a career option. But becoming a farrier is one way of working with horses full-time and earning a reasonable salary, and it is a misconception that you need enormous strength to be any good at it.
James Blurton, 2005 World Champion farrier, explains: “Farriery is all about technique and getting the horse to do the work for you. It is not a wrestling match.”
The salary is attractive compared with other hands-on equine jobs, and it’s a profession that’s open to those without a degree. There are also opportunities to continue learning and progressing within the job.
Mel Pannewitz, 25, from Devon, worked as a groom before she began a farriery apprenticeship. She is now in her third year of the four-year training programme. “I wanted a career with horses that was going somewhere but was still hands-on,” she says. She acknowledges that living on the minimum wage while you’re training isn’t easy, but concedes that most people live with their parents during this period.
According to Miles Williamson-Noble, registrar at the Farriers Registration Council, you can earn £25,000-£30,000 relatively soon after qualification.
Martha Harris, 24, has been qualified for two-and-a-half years and is moving from Norfolk to Derbyshire to go into business with another farrier. She has owned horses since she was 10. “I always used to watch farriers and think I want to do that. I wanted to work with horses in a practical way; I’m a hands-on person.”
Camilla Winter, 26, also qualified two-and-a-half years ago and now shares a forge in Rochdale, Yorkshire with an Approved Training Farrier (ATF), who has two female apprentices. She had her heart set on farriery since she was at school. “I just went from job to job until I could get an apprenticeship. I never wanted to be rich, I just wanted to be a farrier.”
To get onto the apprenticeship course you either need four GCSEs, or you must complete a one-year Farriery Access Course. Then you must find a place with an ATF for your apprenticeship.
Williamson-Noble sees the access course as “a great way for women to prove themselves”. It also helps apprentices to find an ATF to take them on.
There are approximately 350 ATFs in the UK out of a farrier population of approximately 2,500. The majority have a couple of apprentices, some — mainly within racing — will have six or seven.
Although Williamson-Noble says that female farriers may have problems convincing employers that strength will not be a problem, like James Blurton he believes this is not an issue. “Many of the best apprentices are women. With a big horse that wants to be difficult, a man has no advantage over a woman — the horse is stronger.
“We have had an equal opportunities study and are addressing the perceived misconceptions, for example that you must have separate loos for women,” he adds.
Blurton selects his apprentices by keeping in touch with colleges to find out which students are showing good form. He has four apprentices and one on probation.
Neither Martha nor Camilla, who both did the Farriery Access Course, have felt any prejudice against them during the course of their work.
“The older generation might find it a bit strange,” said Martha. “But I’ve had more praise than anything. After I completed the course, I found a place with a farrier close to where I live. Farriers ring the colleges regularly and ask which students are recommended. The college sent me for interview because I did quite well on the course. I was the ATF’s first apprentice.”
Both women agree that farriery is not something you can be half-hearted about. “Even though I really wanted to do it, there were some days when I felt like giving up,” says Camilla.
“The apprenticeship is quite demanding,” agrees Martha. “On my course there were 32 at the start, of whom only 14 finished.”
There are plenty of benefits to the job, though. Apprentice Mel enjoys building relationships with horses she sees regularly and gets a lot of satisfaction out of “just seeing them walk away with a nice set of shoes”.
After 26 years in the business, James Blurton is still enthusiastic. “It’s a fantastic job and the rewards are great, such as seeing improvements in the horses themselves, as well as in their performance. Sometimes your skills will even help to save a horse’s life.”
Becoming a farrier
- The only route into farriery in Great Britain is through the Advanced Modern Apprenticeship (AMA), a four-year course with an approved training farrier (ATF), followed by two-months probation.
Within the four years are 23 weeks of block release at a college, around three weeks in every six months. The approved colleges are Herefordshire College of Technology, Myerscough College, Oatridge Agricultural College (Edinburgh) and Warwickshire College.
- The cost of apprenticeship is £9,800, paid in eight instalments over four years.
- To be accepted on the course you must be at least 16. Entry requirements are four GCSEs (grades A-C to include English Language and Maths) and a forging test or, alternatively, the completion of a year-long Farriery Access Course. All the approved block release colleges provide access courses and there is also one in Chichester and one in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.
- While training you’re paid the minimum wage according to age, based on a 40-hour week. A 16-year-old earns 52% of the minimum wage (£202), £105 a week.
- The advanced apprenticeship includes: an NVQ at Level 3 in Farriery; Key Skills; Business Studies; IT; and the Worshipful Company of Farriers Diploma.
- For more information, contact the Farriery Training Service on (tel: 01733 319770) or visit www.farrier-reg.gov.uk
Join Horse & Hound’s NAGS
Membership of the National Association of Grooms and Students (NAGS) is free to all bona fide grooms and students. NAGS is sponsored by training provider KEITS, which offers Modern Apprenticeships, for those aged 16-25, as well as work-based training in equine, animal care and agricultural businesses.
Benefits of being a NAGS member include: Horse & Hound subscription at £1 per copy, £3 discount voucher on a sack of Blue Chip Dynamic, 10% discount on Splash Equestrian equipment and clothing, no P&P charges from Equestrian Vision mail order and eligibility for NAGS-only competitions and offers.
If you are interested in becoming a member, write to: NAGS, Room 2018, Kings Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS (tel: 020 7261 6993), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to download an application form in PDF format.
And remember, the club is open to all students, not just those studying for an equine qualification.