A Farrier makes and fits shoes to horses, a trade which was central to daily life before motorised transport. Properly shoeing horses is an important responsibility, as it prevents damage to horses’ hooves when carrying heavy loads across cobbles, paving and other hard road surfaces. Failure to do so correctly will eventually result in the horse going lame.
Therefore the Farrier must have a thorough knowledge of horses. Not just their limbs and feet, but their whole anatomy; so they can assess posture and balance, and fit the right shoes. It also required a certain degree of animal psychology, as the process can make the animals nervous and unpredictable. Such large animals can cause serious harm to a Farrier if handled incorrectly.
Their expert knowledge and experience meant that before Vets, Farriers acted as the horse doctor. Today the two often work together in diagnosing problems, and can fit horses with special shoes for certain conditions.
Historically the village Farrier and Blacksmith were usually one and the same person, but with greater specialisation in metal-working trades the two became considered separate entities. Nonetheless towards the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century an increasing number of blacksmiths took on Farrier work to increase their declining income. Today the term Farrier relates specifically to the craftsmen who specialise in shoeing and caring for horses’ hooves, and since 1976 all Farriers have had to complete four years of training to become qualified in the trade.
The Shoeing Process
A Farrier first removes the old shoe with a large pair of pincers. Then they clean the hoof, and file it level – like we file our nails. This prepares the hoof for the new shoe, which is then heated and adjusted to fit the horse’s hoof. Having ensured the shoe fits correctly nails are then hammered into the hoof to hold the shoe on. Fitting the nails is an extremely skilled operation – one false move and the horse could go lame. Once attached the Farrier uses the claw of the hammer to bend or “clinch” the nails where they’ve gone through the hoof. Finally, they file the hoof again so that it is flush with the new shoe.
The Forge has a fascinating collection of artefact associated with this craft. For more see our online collections, or get in contact.