Is farriery a craft or a profession? It’s time to make your mind up!


  • Robbie C Richardson RSS WCF qualified as a farrier in 1975 and has been working in the industry ever since. In 1987 he opened Greatcombe Equine Clinic, a facility dedicated to referral hoof care, and since 2008 he has focussed solely on barefoot trimming

    The 1975 (amended 1977) Farrier’s Registration Act has been in force now for nigh on 48 years, the idea of the act being to create a register of farriers, who had passed a qualification satisfying the relevant governing body that the applicant was a right and proper person to pursue the craft of farriery.

    Was it meant to improve the farriery?

    Probably, but the way act is worded, it didn’t have to, it solely exists to create a closed shop for farriers within the UK.

    Has it helped farriers?

    Well yes, in as much as for the past 48 years it has been illegal for anyone other than a registered farrier to permanently attach a shoe to an equine hoof in the UK.

    Has it benefited the horse?

    In my opinion, not in the slightest. Any standards that have improved are because of changing circumstances – in the case of hoof care management, it is the advancement in the quality of the ready-made shoe, the availability of composites for all sorts of ailments, along with education that is external to the colleges and tradition and is studied solely on a voluntary basis of the individual farrier.

    To register as a farrier, you need to pass an exam which was historically set by the Worshipful Company of Farriers, but once you have done so the standard of professionalism is set by the individual farrier, although the Farriers’ Registration Council does require some evidence of continued professional development.

    Does the 1975/77 act work?

    Well, for the farrier it does, even though some registered farriers complain that they must pay for the pleasure of being among the only people allowed to shoe horses in the UK.

    Which organisations are involved?

    To understand the bigger picture, you need to know there are three main bodies involved in running farriery in the UK, with a further organisation set to join early next year. These are:

    The Worshipful Company of Farriers (WCF)

    Whose job it was, until recently, to oversee the education and basic examination of farriers coming into the profession, plus offer further qualifications to obtain so called higher grades leading to the ability to take on apprentices or become a “fellow” of the WCF, thus reaching the top of this organisation. The WCF has recently had to hand over their examinations remit to another body, VetSkill, who is expected to be overseeing exams from 2024.

    The Farriers’ Registration Council (FRC)

    Their job is to enact the registration law. To make sure that each farrier is qualified enough to be put on the register and therefore a fit and proper person to perform the act of farriery, plus the overseeing of disciplinary and admin issues within the registered farriery body.

    The British Farriers and Blacksmith Association (BFBA)

    This association runs events, and in my view, is the facilitator of the profession, encouraging farriers to get together for trade and education reasons, the Farriers Focus industry trade fair being an example.

    Is it time for a change?

    For the benefit of the horse, I believe if the act is to stay in its present form, then yes, some things need to change to embrace the next 50 years of my profession.

    The WCF in its present form is no longer fit for purpose. This is not their fault, the whole concept from the beginning was for the WCF to represent and uphold the tradition of the craft, including the education system.

    The very competent people within the WCF that were put in charge of preserving the craft of farriery and maintaining its history must be commended for their work, but now they have lost their remit to oversee the exams, this could be an opportunity for the organisation to regroup. Either they can continue to focus solely on maintaining farriery as a craft, or they need to re-think their purpose and bring the WCF up to date to support young farriers coming into the profession by exposing them to new methods, materials, and teachings in order to produce well-informed, rounded professionals that will benefit horses and owners and hopefully go on to train more farriers in their wake.

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    Who are considered the best farriers?

    Here lies one of the biggest problems within farriery. Those who win or judge farriery competitions are often deemed by fellow farriers and owners alike to be of a high standard. The standard of shoemaking may be high, but the structure of the competition cannot relate to the needs of a live horse that is being used as a model.

    Farriery is part of the Animal Welfare Act, thus “the wellbeing of the animal is paramount” – not something to be used in a competition, but something to be studied, assessed, and treated with the right materials in a caring and thoughtful way.

    The best farrier practicing at present could be out there gluing on shoes, using fiber wraps, fitting boots, attaching composite shoes, using a barefoot management system – hell, they might not even own an anvil! However, they will not be thought of as a farrier because they are not making, fitting, and nailing on steel open heeled shoes, something that at present is the only way to judge ‘“who is best”.

    Please remember the stone-age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, it was because we found better materials and moved on!

    So, what’s next?

    An up-to-date knowledge of farriery is now needed in our colleges and exams, as is being provided by some external courses that are currently on offer to farriers and students. The farriery educators of the future should be gathered not only from within the profession, but also from its connected skills.

    When dentists formed their registration, they realised that through encouraging organisations and companies on the peripheral of their profession to have an input to their education system, the standard of dentistry improved.

    My education, past and present, has as much to do with the development of composite materials as it has with the depth of knowledge and research done by others into the effects of boot fitting, barefoot management, composite shoes, glue-on shoes, wraps, the effects of nutrition on the hooves, management conditions for healthy hoof structure – in-fact, lots of subjects outside the present farriery education system.

    How do we improve?

    I believe a student should attend a college of excellence for two years before being placed with an approved training farrier (ATF) – this way both the student and the ATF gain, and new products and ideas are tested and approved by the profession.

    For this to happen, farriery would have to do a total re-think about how they deal with the massive problem they are experiencing, namely that of producing farriers who are finding it hard to accept and understand the new innovations that are increasingly demanded of our profession by vets and owners.

    Am I scared for the future of the farriery profession?

    Sort-of, because the present bodies who oversee the future of farriery appear unwilling to embrace the eclectic knowledge that is available, unless issued with the threat of other bodies taking charge. That is not a healthy way for even a craft to proceed.

    If every farrier on the register decided to use any other method but the permanent attachment of a shoe (and it is still not quite clear as to the full legal meaning of this phrase), they could chose to no longer register, and from the chaos that would ensue, horses and owners may well find that like the phoenix, some horses will rise from the ashes with better hoof care providers than they have at present.

    I have had the pleasure of speaking to a great number of farriers, vets, trimmers, boot fitters and owners, and my conclusion is that if things stay the same: a, farriers will be more disheartened and feel they have little or nothing in common with their controlling body; b, vets will be turning to other professionals for help with hoof problems; c, trimmers and boot fitters already say they are picking up work that farriers could, and in some cases, should be doing; and d: owners are worried that they are the ones having to make decisions that are out of their comfort zone, and should be made by a professional.

    I repeat farriers come under the Animal Welfare Act. It’s time to create a modern profession that is up to the task of caring for horses’ welfare. It’s time to look forward to a profession, rather than looking backwards at what is a noble, but dated craft.

    • To learn more about Robbie C Richardson’s work visit Rockfoot.com

    ● Do you agree with Robbie that the farriery profession needs to change? Share your views with us at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your memories published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

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