I Want Your Job: Farrier

'I'm a foot doctor - for horses'
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The Independent Online

Farrier Staff Corporal Major Fraser McDonald, 37, is a member of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. He's a farrier at Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge.

What does the job involve?

I'm in the Queen's Life Guard - the soldiers who escort the Queen on state occasions, and take part in the Changing of the Guard every morning, wearing helmets with plumes. We've got almost 300 horses at the barracks, and all of them need their shoeing checked at least twice a week. It's like being a foot doctor for horses - you can correct and prevent health problems by tailoring the shoes to fit their needs.

Horses in the ceremonial parades need heavy shoes to walk on hard tarmac, while horses doing competitions need lighter shoes. We can even solve tendon issues and arthritis in sick or lame horses, with specialist remedial shoes.

What's your working day like?

We shoe 50 horses a week, working from 7am to 4pm. We start by shoeing the horses in the Queen's Life Guard, because they're in the public eye every day. After breakfast, we check other horses that have just come back off exercise - in welfare terms, we act as the eyes and ears of the vet. In the afternoons, we hand-make shoes for the horses that need specialist shoeing.

I'm training seven apprentices, who are under strict supervision. You can't mess up when you're trimming a horse's feet, or you'll make the horse lame by throwing them off-balance.

What's the best thing about the job?

I know almost every one of our horses, and each one has its own character. I get a buzz from fixing things that are wrong - seeing a horse that's been shod well, and can go back out on parade. I really enjoy the fact that as farriers, we're part of the Household Cavalry - we wear the uniform and get to ride out on parade, representing the regiment.

What's tough about it?

The forge is a robust environment, and it can be hard on the body. You're often working under big, heavy horses, so you have to concentrate. The trade training and exams are tough, too. To achieve the level of skill you need, you have to work very hard, studying intensively at evenings and weekends for several years.

What skills do you need to be a farrier?

We have an assessment week when we select people to train as farriers, and the first thing we look for is horse sense. It's being patient and calm, able to read a situation and read a horse, and know if the horse is in a bad mood. It means you're safe when you work around horses. They're like children - they need careful managing and understanding. Trimming the feet is a skill you learn through on-the-job training. Each foot grows differently and they've all got different problems. Shoemaking requires hand and eye dexterity - some people have it naturally, others don't. It's an art and a science.

What would you say to someone who wanted to be a farrier?

If you've never worked with horses, you need to get experience and see how you get on working with them. If you want to be a farrier in the army, you should tell the Army Careers Office and aim to join a mounted regiment like the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, or the Household Cavalry. You'd spend two years doing a normal job with your squadron, then apply to train as a farrier.

If you're out on civvy street, you should speak to the Worshipful Company of Farriers and the Farriers Registration Council, who'll help you find a farrier to take you as an apprentice.

What's the salary and career path like?

In the army, you'd start on the basic wage for a Private, which is £14,323 a year. You're a soldier first, so you're not paid as a tradesman, which means our wages are quite good. It's a four-year apprenticeship, with a lot of exams and stays at the Army School of Farriery in Melton Mowbray. As a civilian apprentice farrier, you might earn about £8,500, while newly qualified farriers could start on £11,000 to around £14,000.

The Household Cavalry Pageant is on 12 June; for tickets visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk or call 0870 4000 848.

For information on careers in the Army, go to www.armyjobs.mod.uk. For information on training as a farrier, visit the Farriers Registration Council, www.farrier-reg.gov.uk, or the Farriery Training Agency website, at www.farrierytraining.co.uk.