Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Career on the Hoof: Does Geography Matter?

If you're considering a career in hoofcare (or know someone who is), this video might be helpful to you. The requirements of the job, according to South African racetrack farrier Andy Rivas, are pretty much the same all over.

This little video does a great job of answering some of the questions that every aspiring farrier or hoof trimmer should ask. The video is provided by Career Space in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Andy's questions and answers are related to the job itself and they make it clear that farriers have to earn the right to wear their aprons with authority. How you acquire the education, apprenticeship, training and/or experience you will need will vary according to where in the world you live, what resources are available there, and what requirements your state or nation may have (or not have) for unions or licenses to comply with legislation and regulation.

Andy's comment about the need for skills--and a sixth sense--when it comes to handling horses is something that can't be stated often enough, or emphasized enough. Many of us would add that riding skills are critical, as well, because of the horse sense that it teaches, and because of the need to understand what riders experience in the saddle of a sound or compromised horse.

One thing that Andy doesn't mention is something you'll see on his resume if you take a look. That is that even if you don't need a license or a union card to work on horses where you live, there is one very important federal document that you should have on hand.

And that's a passport.

Even if you live in a place with lots of education opportunities and active professional organizations, you will find that international travel broadens your horizons not just in terms of geography but in your understanding of horses and the people how work with them.

Until you've been abroad and find yourself in the hot seat to defend or explain the way things are done in your home country, you might not have truly come of age in your field. By the same token, you can go overseas and enhance someone else's way of working on a horse with a simple point of view that you take for granted but that isn't practiced there.

We saw this in North America in the past twenty years when European warmbloods became so popular here for jumping, driving and dressage: We needed to learn how they were shod back home, and eventually we "Americanized" some aspects of sport horse shoeing, while at the same time changing the face of the US farrier industry by importing European horseshoes in unprecedented numbers--to the point where many American breeds and recreational horses are shod with them too.

In the past ten years, Americans have been needed all over the world to help with the growth of western performance sports like reining and cutting.

Horses and hoofcare go hand in hand, and both are global ventures. You can't have one without the other. Education and practice policies may change when you cross borders but the profession has become as international as the horses and horsemen served. No matter where you want to work, you'll have to put in years of study and practice to get to where you want to be, even if that is to stay in your own home town. The horses deserve nothing less and the horse industry should demand it.

Not too long ago, horseshoeing schools were aggressively marketed in the United States. A few weeks' education was a guaranteed ticket to a high-income job. Today the trend is for longer courses, integrated apprenticeships, mentoring, and the rhetoric of those who have been successful, like Andy Rivas, warns of the danger of professional plateauing.

One thing we have learned is that farriery may be one of the oldest and most traditional of professions, but the industry served is not really interested in much that is old or traditional. Slowly but surely farriery is reinventing its approach to doing what farriers have always done: to service the horse's needs.

But now there is more to learn. There is more to do. There is more to question. There is....more. Go for it, wherever and whoever you are.

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