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  • Writer's pictureRachel A Nydam

The Pitfalls of Price Shopping

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Clipping coupons, turning down the thermostat (and putting on an extra sweater), purchasing a used (fill in the blank – car, bicycle, saddle, etc.), buying items in bulk when on sale, washing out zip-lock baggies (waving hand – I do!), all are acceptable and useful ways of saving money. We all have different, personal levels of care/don’t care about whatever penny pinching methods we have. I mean, to some point, we HAVE to, life just keeps getting more and more expensive. Are you saving up for a special vacation, or retirement? Maybe you can’t save for either.

Still we should agree that there are places and reasons for which we have to pay set prices. Does your hospital ever run a bargain on blood tests? How about the electric company? Got a coupon for that? No. Me either.

Generally, for professional services, the price is what it is. Among farriers, prices may vary. And some of the clients that contact us are price checking. They will call as many different farriers in the area as they can and choose the one that offers the lowest price, or try to negotiate for a multi-horse discount, or money off for minis or donkeys. Additionally, some clients will insist on waiting to call their farrier until a certain amount of weeks have gone by, knowing that the longer they wait, the less these services will cost them over time. Seems to make sense.

Let’s take a deeper look into what might actually be going on.

The “Bargain” farrier: So you found a farrier that will do a barefoot trim for say, $25.00, o r a full set of shoes for $75. What a deal! Oh, the money you will save. Are you sure?

So far across the US, there are no technical/clinical exams that need to be taken in order to slap a sign on your truck, throw some tools in the back, and hit the road as a full service farrier. That’s not the case in the UK, but we have a really “free” free market economy for this occupation. How do farriers receive their education? Well, maybe you think they don’t really need an education. Anybody should be able to do it. Just not you. Or maybe you could. Joe Smith learned from his grandfather. His grandfather learned from his uncle. It’s a family thing. They’re just good at it.

But one of the problems with Joe S. is that he has to fit 18 horses into his day in order to make a living wage at $25.00 a trim. So he’s quick too, what a bonus! Are we sure that Joe is doing the best job? Well, it might just be the best that he can, with the “education” he got. But I’m not sure your horse is going to think it’s such a good deal, in 10 years when he suddenly becomes lame, and then only pasture sound, plus you have a vet bill for $2,500. You explain your horse’s difficult diagnosis to Joe. He shrugs his shoulders and says, yeah, sometimes that happens. On to the next! Gotta run, got a tight schedule!

There are many different farrier schools across the country. They all vary in price, content, and length of terms. I attended Mission Farrier School in Snohomish, WA, after thorough research and comparison of other schools. I encourage you to look it up and check it out, to get an idea of what I have learned.

The horses’ hoof can be one of the least understood and most difficult parts of the horse to study, even for veterinarians. Many veterinarians graduate from vet school with only a minimal course of study on the hoof. Some for as little as 3 weeks, and much of what they learn is from the vet school farrier!

When you consider that the whole horse, weighing an average of 1,000 lbs, has to stand and move about on four relatively tiny pieces of anatomy, every single day of its life, laying down only minimally compared to the amount of time it has to eat, walk, run, and perform great athletic feats of skill; it’s pretty darn important that we get it right. Variations in balance, growth, and nutritional development demand careful management. Genetics and conformation can dictate what is needed regarding barefoot trims, boots or a variety of shoes. Needs also vary depending on whether Fluffy is a pasture pet or a highly trained athlete. We often like to use the wild horse hoof as a model. The wild horse travels an average of 20 miles a day in search of forage and water. These horses need no professional hoof care, they are self trimming and exfoliating constantly as they move. The hoof grows constantly, and our domestic horses do need professional care to keep each hoof at the appropriate length AND balance.

Rate of growth can vary from season to season, and with the amount of daily movement. The outer hoof wall, the part that we see, is made up of “tubules”, individual spiraling tubes of horn material that grow down from the coronary band (where the hairline starts). As they grow they interlock with each other to form a solid wall. When the toe grows long, it pulls all the other tubules along with it, and the heels grow forward. The direction the horn grows is based on skeletal conformation. Some horses grow forward and flatter than other horses that may grow more upright. There are problems with both types.

The long flat feet will have crushed forward heels, and the tendons will suffer when the directional force of the leg bones push to the rear of the bones in the hoof, particularly putting a major strain on the tendons over the navicular bone. Navicular syndrome doesn’t just happen overnight. There is much that can be done to prevent it. Additionally, long toes put increased pressure on the inner laminae. Laminitis is another seriously debilitating diagnosis. You can check out my post on laminitis for further explanation.

The more upright feet may appear healthier, but the higher the heels grow (rather than forward) the more contracted and pinched inward they tend to get, stretching out the frog and raising it, allowing it to atrophy. A healthy frog is a supportive cushion that helps promote blood flow, and is meant to be in contact with the ground. And contracted heels can begin to remodel the coffin bone and cause it to contract as well.

So the point here is that, my education, or the education of any other “higher” priced farriers, helps us to know just how to balance each foot, and to stay ahead of distortions such as excess length and height. We keep the whole foot feeling healthy, and can save you worrisome vet bills further down the road. Which means your beloved, faithful equine partner will be with you, and you will be enjoying their performance, well into their golden years.

Speaking of time…..maybe you have gone out to see your horse, and look down at his or her feet, and think, well it’s been 8 weeks since the last trim, but hey, they look pretty good to me. I won’t call the farrier for a few more weeks. That should save me some bucks.

So the first thing I would say is take a look at this video, put out by another wonderful farrier. It’s brief and to the point.

Second, all the things I just stated about length and height still apply. Anything excess is going to throw the hoof and therefore the bones and tendons out of alignment, and over time, cause injury!

Third, my work is my calling card. I want people to see my work and say, wow that looks great! If a client waits 15 weeks to have me do their feet, I’d rather not have someone else look at those feet and ask you who your farrier is. So I make it part of my business policy to always schedule the next appointment at the end of each appointment, and my client gets a fresh business card with the next appointment written in.

But still, why should it cost so much?

Not only do we pay the costs of farrier school, we also strive for continuing education. There are quite a few learning opportunities every year that keep us abreast of new research and new ways of helping our equine clients. Ask your farrier what clinics they want to attend this year. A good farrier knows that there is always more to learn.

So far in the past two years, I have attended The International Hoof Care Summit in Cincinnati, a week long conference with over 2,000 farriers from all over the world, the International Lameness Prevention Conference, put on by the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization, a seminar put on by Tufts Veterinary Hospital, and a Mission Farrier School Reunion Clinic in Wickenburg AZ. Coming up I have a clinic put on by Rockely Farm & Nic Barker, and a clinic with Pete Ramey, a world renown barefoot trimmer, and two clinics with Mike Wildenstein put on by local farrier supply stores.

Teamwork: A farrier should be willing to work hand in hand with a vet should the need arise. It sure helps if your farrier knows the vet “lingo” and is happy to do what they prescribe, or is able to have an educated discussion should they think a different approach is needed. It’s terribly difficult to have farrier and vet on opposite sides with you the client in the middle. Not only that, but the farrier is often the first one to notice something amiss with the whole horse. Farriers should take time to watch your horse walk, and can see if something doesn’t seem right.

All farriers have overhead costs that affect our bottom line. Fuel is huge. If we have to drive an hour for one trim or set of shoes, our profit shrinks considerably. Tools need to be maintained. A good set of nippers costs over $100. They need to be re-tooled (sharpened) roughly every couple of years, which is again around $100. Quality hoof knives and rasps are not inexpensive either. Other supplies on our trucks include our favorite hoof care products, which we will often give a free application of, to demonstrate and help the horse. We also keep certain “first aid” products on hand: vet wrap, duct tape, foam pads, gauze, diapers, antiseptic, casting tape, etc.. We need a few hand tools if need arises: angle grinder, jig saw, propane torch, heat gun, glue guns, drill press, hand drill, dremmel. Not to mention a wide variety of types and sizes of shoes, nails, and many types of pads; snow pads, flat pads, leather pads, wedge pads, rim pads, etc.. Glue can be used not to just apply glue on shoes, but to make quick hoof repairs in the case of crumbling hoof walls or cracks. It’s difficult to go to the farrier supply store and come out with a small bill.

And we are self employed. We need to pay our own health insurance (unless a spouse has great benefits), our own taxes, and carry liability insurance. The rigors of the work itself often mean we need to make visits to the doctor, chiropractor, or massage therapist. And if we get hurt in any way (even the nicest horse can have a bad day), we don’t get sick pay or a paid vacation. An injury means we can’t work on anyone’s horses for a while and might even lose clients.

So in summary, when you pay the farrier, you are not just paying for the minutes or hours they have spent working on your horse. You are paying for what they know, what they can do, what they know NOT to do, as well as what they might need to do in the future! Hug your farrier today!

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