What is it?
As you might guess, farriery – fitting horses with their shoes – is far more complicated than taking your horse to the nearest branch of Clarks. It's a complex skill and potential farriers need to have knowledge of blacksmithing, shoemaking, welding and equine knowledge. "They call it the art and science of horseshoeing," says Steve Lloyd, senior lecturer in farriery at the School of Farriery in Hereford. "It's science because of the anatomy and physiology of the horses that you need to know and it's art because it comes down to your ability to manufacture a shoe to fit a particular foot."
As well as fitting and making the shoe, other tasks include checking the horse's leg and hoof and cutting away excess hoof growth, choosing the most suitable type of shoe for the horse, making and fitting horseshoes and working with vets and equine hospitals to provide corrective shoeing and surgical farriery.
Why do it?
"It's not a job, it's a way of life," says Lloyd. "If someone phones you at night with a problem, perhaps they've come back from an event and the shoe has come half off in the horsebox, you need to go and look at that horse straightaway." He likes the outdoors nature of the job and the challenge – "Every leg of every horse is different so it's not something that is ever the same every day."
How can I study it?
The only route to being a farrier is through a recognised four-year apprenticeship, but only 80 to 100 apprentices are taken on each year. Most apprentices have to be prepared to move away from home in order to find a vacancy with an approved training farrier.
In order to qualify for one of these apprenticeships you need either four GCSEs including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications, and a forging certificate, or to have completed the Farriery Access Course. Six UK colleges currently offer the Farriery Access Course as approved by the Farriery Training Agency. They are Oatridge College in West Lothian, Myerscough College in Lancashire. Warwickshire College, the School of Farriery in Hereford, Enniskillen College in Northern Ireland and Chichester College.
What else do I need?
If Black Beauty or even My Little Pony was one of your first loves as a child, you're on to a winner because you need to have a true passion for horses. You also need to like working outside and have good physical strength, stamina and co-ordination. Farriery is a skilled job which needs concentration and accuracy. You also need to be able to get along with and communicate with horse owners and vets, and as most farriers work for themselves some basic business skills are a bonus.
But can I get a job in it?
The hard part is finding and then completing an apprenticeship. Once you've done this you can become self-employed. Given the high demand there is for this skill, you won't be short of work, despite the fact that there are currently about 2,500 registered farriers in the UK. Clients include farmers, stables, riding schools, mounted police and the army, and sometimes these places have permanent jobs available. Career progression includes going into farriery supplies and becoming qualified to train your own apprentices.
Little known fact
Wild horses don't need shoeing because they travel many miles in an average day and the hoof naturally wears away into a normal shape.