Friday, June 28, 2013

The Bu$$ine$$ of Horseshoeing -- Part 3.

The Drama Continues... 
The Bu$$ine$$ of Horseshoeing -- Part 3:





[image: Sandra Mesrine]
[Wild disclaimer #3:  Just a reminder that this article was first published in Anvil Magazine, circa 1987.  Some could view it as a White Paper written perhaps out of either frustration or from the depths of a bottle.  Maybe both.  After almost 20 years in the most convoluted business ever dreamed up, it seemed a good time to murder a few sacred cows.  It wasn't a matter of the model simply being broken.  Instead it was a case of an industry-wide chronic form of rampant denial, delusional thinking, culminating in a great deceit -- the lack of light in the room -- that was destroying people's dreams, lives and futures.  But oddly too, it contained love as well.  For a trade, for the horse...a lifestyle far from the common.  But the latter can never be the sole sustenance.  Never has been, never will.  Just three years after publishing this tome, and many others like it, the business bit me in the ass.  And I got a good view of just how deep the wound can be.  More than anything, these articles are about taking care of the quarterback.  Because if you go down, your team goes down with you.  And that is the stark truth wound around that analogy.  Because in spite of all your vast skills, your investment in time and energy; your good will and warranted optimism...the business, the core of this adventure is always five-minutes to midnight...and counting.] 

Associations, etc.:  Organizations need to better embrace the concept that representing their constituency entails a certain degree of responsibility towards its membership -- something beyond dues and lip service.  No more than 10% of available time and resources should be devoted by organizational leadership to what the public may or may not think.  What?  Yes.  Organizations that represent a distinct trade (i. e., a lobby), should only be concerned with the public in a reactionary fashion -- after the fact.  Opening dialogue through a defensive posture will crack the bounds of credibility and lead to the presumption that the organization lacks direction -- which is probably more accurate that we'd care to admit.  Sure, the public relations game, which means control the outside message and deal with the internal issues, because if your members continue to be marginalized in the real world...public reaction or the need for an association become moot issues.  And yes...I know the audience. I'd rather dress in black face and book a performance in South Africa.

Confused?  Well, there is vast difference between internal and external agendas in such groups, as in who pays the dues for the affiliation versus who then pays the actual members.  The blade cuts on both sides.  The issue of a mission statement -- clear and concise -- may have a larger altruistic angle;  say the betterment of Fluffy's life in general.  However, the clear work, where the heavy lifting lives is how you both market an association as a whole, and truly benefit your members in the process, having no illusions about where your loyalties belong.  And in the end, one supports the other.  In a perfect world, which we fail to live in.

Here, the specter of money raises its unattractive head once more.  As an example, access to affordable health or disability insurance -- those mainstream benefits we hear about, but rarely see, are a plague upon the self-employed, perhaps more so in the horse world than elsewhere.  Grooms, exercise riders, muckers, trainers...catch riders and yes, even veterinarians trying to open a new practice, face this continuing challenge for access to affordable health care.  And farriers are not immune to the difficulties here or the dangers of all who work with horses.   And as independent contractors, we collectively fall either below (or $$ above ), all such state or federal programs designed as a parachute for injured or disabled workers, not business proprietors.  Oddly, it is not a lack of effort on the part of some associations.  This was explored at great length during the formation of the AFA and various state associations -- this notion of negotiating access through the power of numbers.  And all such efforts wasted away.  Why?  Because you couldn't even get farriers to maintain their dues, much less support the adjunct benefits being offered.  This too, complicated by the reluctance of many to operate a legal business -- meaning that a line exists between what the IRS considers a hobby and what they consider a viable business.  So the failing, if one exists is ours.  There is no reason that a trade association cannot gain sufficient strength to then join with similar industry groups -- with similar needs -- and negotiate a workable deal.  But first, the internal pissing, moaning and back-biting has to end.  And just maybe, the Pope and all his Bishops sent back to the Vatican where they belong.  You might be the boss (Congratulations!) but in many cases you're also the staff.  And I've got news....the hospital isn't interested in your independent spirit and initiative -- and they hold no shyness about repossessing your house.  This country is often referred to as "the land of opportunity;" and it is -- until you stumble.  Then it will toss you aside like a rabid bat.

Publications:   Trade rags always need to share a common philosophy with both their readers and the organizations that may share their space. They also have a minimal responsibility to commerce with the truth.  [Note: This refers to earlier years when publications like The American Farrier's Journal shared an affiliation -- better yet, a contract with the American Farriers Association in an official capacity.  While necessary in the early years as a 'voice,' this action was precipitated by the difficulties and expenses of a start-up organization attempting this task independently.  However, as could be expected, it quickly became both polarized and politically divisive -- and not really by intent.  Now in case nobody has noticed, advertisers control content nowadays, not the editor.  And by default, the AFA contract became the biggest advertiser in the AFJ.  They represented the paper and ink in the deal.  Not a negative,  except that it exceeded what should have been a simple housekeeping arrangement.  (Oh, "commerce with the truth?"  I think we all can conclude that by 2013 "the truth" has escaped the bounds of all media.)]

[The conflict issues surfaced because like any young organization, the AFA was wearing rose-colored glasses in an effort to gain traction and attract members simultaneously.  The hard issues were ignored in favor of contests, back-slapping.  Any attempt at bringing up the difficult stuff...the meat in the stew, was not only suppressed, but the source openly attacked.  That is where the Anvil Magazine and a few of us malcontents joined forces.  And yes we paid a price for it.  Worse yet, we failed in the message...or really, the farriers failed to hear us.  But then, that is water under an ancient bridge, except that the issues remain like an open sore that won't heal.  And today, the 'safe' road remains the mantra -- the perfect clip, fifteen ways to cure a migrating bog spavin, arguing over the origins of the French hind.  Nero fiddling away a quiet afternoon while Rome continues to smolders.]

To continue...

"No worries, that's just Bob's working
 on a roadster again!"
  Over time, article content has suffered as well.  Horseshoeing has probably been examined to death, in a never-ending search for the Holy Grail of Hoofology:  the mechanics of a physiology that defies both carpenter and mathematician.  As I stated earlier, Newton trying vainly to quantify the existence of God in his time.  This has presented itself in the form of high-tech, abstract and somewhat delusional approaches to farriery, many that involve endless measurements, graphs, charts, invented inverted) language, remedial know, "the dorsal wingnut of the ventricula apparati of the oppositional tricupidal of the orbital circumpedi."  Yeah, that was it.  Maybe.  And no, it is not meant to be critical of research, personal study or the pursuit of knowledge -- or for that matter a common language.  Sure, self-inflating value to the author or clinician, but it rarely trickles down to anything of fundamental value in the field, and by encourages a territorial infringement on the veterinarian's turf.  Which is certainly fine since many farriers consider veterinarians one-step removed from the idiot house anyway...and very often say so publicly.  However, most vets choose to remain gracious in the exchange -- the result of a higher education, which teaches communication, politics, ethics, good well as medicine, allowing them to float above the fray -- to a point.  So, feel free to jump in the pond.  Just make sure your lawyer can swim.

[The key point here is an arrow pointed straight back to the educational process of most farriers, which is, by accepted standards: remedial in nature.  America's obsession with the fast lane, the devaluing of academic standards and pursuits in all facets of education not only affects the current student, but the potential one as well.  Inner-city kids know this equation well:  "Get my GED, go to college...or sell crack cocaine on the corner and drive a Beamer?  Hmm."  So the message is fairly clear.  If you want to play in the pond with those that invested heavily in their education and credentials...then the educational system for farriers must create a suitable format and the student must be willing to invest in the process.]         

At the extreme end of this lies the road of self-selling madness, where the assumption arises that a clinician (or author), spends two-hours evaluating Fluffy, two hours shoeing her and three days answering questions on the Today Show, before stopping off to pick up the Pulitzer.  This form of promotion, when it ricochets into the public spotlight, simply raises client expectations that can't possibly be fulfilled, while lowering productivity at the farrier's personal expense.  At this stage of the game, the average horseshoer cannot afford to look that smart.  He's been priced out of reason by the rolling propaganda machine; one that prefers words over actions.  And throughout this dog and pony show approach to shoeing, the horse is somehow got lost in all the noise.

IRS Form 1040EZ...
for farriers.
How the average business appears to function:  [Please note, 1980's figures and merely vague medians.]  The average horseshoer in the United States earns approximately $5.49 per hour as a wage.  On a yearly scale, the average business will consume $40k to makes $20k, or simply put, out of that $40k, $20k might be profit -- or truck payments.  Always hard to tell in this business.  This is based on an average fee of $45-60 per horse, 6 to 7 a day.  And these figures are not meant to bowl anyone over with accuracy -- the truth is that nobody knows anyway.  No industry surveys, standards or polls have ever been conducted and since the trade is not recognized by the US Department of Labor, or overly familiar with the truth -- who in the hell really knows anyway?  So it is like they spout around the Jersey waterfront:  "If the books ain't cooked, the cook is booked."  Which is nothing new.  If the IRS had any logic left in the building, they would just reduce the taxes on the self-employed by 5 points.  Because we're going to keep it anyway.

Most farriers tend to keep their business ledger in their wallet.  The old system of "six a days is what they pay."  The problem with these creative approaches to accounting is that the number of horses shod per day, or the amount of money that hits the denim cash register at the end of the week is not profit.  This is what is known as "gross" pay.  Some days, "gross" being the operative term.  And no, you don't get to keep this part.

To get an idea of who does to get keep most of it, examine the following yearly expenses broken down into daily rates.  Again, mere averages:  The yearly phone bill may equate to $1.70 per day; wear and tear on rasps at $2.30 per day, probably less if they are used until the teeth are missing; depreciation on power equipment, (drills, grinders, coffee machines), $1.46 a day.  Vehicle expenses, $12.00 per day, dependent on mileage, LESS fuel.  The '73 oil embargo making that prediction more difficult than the odds on roulette. [Noting here the lesson in supply and demand in the marketplace: OPEC.  So, you say the consumer can't bear it?  Uh, huh.]  Something as small as your checking account: $.45 a day.  Add onto that the daily value of office equipment and supplies, health insurance (What's that?), auto insurance, disability considerations, if any; state taxes, materials, dues, publications, clinics, propane, post office fees, federal taxes and of course, your lunch.  And while you are musing over the math, consider that you are in the business of selling a service -- meaning that you may be able to deduct all those supplies you bought last year, but without your labor; your skill, they offer no profit value on their own.  That is known in other circles as the maintenance of capital -- meaning they are dead weight until they hit the horse.   

Do remember to gas the truck every morning and consider those hours spent in the office trying to find all those checks that were supposedly in the mail.  Those checks are best defined as negative cash flow -- not only are they not on the books, but the cash value is depreciating every day that the post office can't seem to locate them. That is money that could be earning interest or converted to rolling stock...the area where depreciation really belongs.  So, subtract all this nonsense from the gross, add in the unexpected (you just blew a head gasket) and the remainder is called profit.  And that is without all the other, myriad demands of life.  What you really have to work with...including the distant tuition for the kids and what is becoming an evasive retirement.  And if you do mange to retire, what will those years of business bring on the open market: air and good faith.  Since you have spent your life personalizing a business, the investment is not recoverable at the end.  So you better pluck the chicken now, not later.

Somewhere in here, stupid must
be covered...

Quite a few farriers miss these rather elementary points in basic accounting, particularly the aspiring farrier who is too madly in love with the amount of chrome on a journeyman's truck.  They see a lifestyle, a progressive skill -- one without management, structure, bosses -- not realizing that you trade one boss for many -- but still making the leap to lucrative seem a short hop. Little like outsmarting a cop's radar trap.  Sure, it is a fine thing for a young Turk on the immutable quest -- five-years later, a pettifogger's  dream.  But even so, some individuals continue to believe that it is cheaper to lose money without
accounting than with it.  As if there is some divine right upheld through fiscal suicide..."the right to bear someone else's burden?" 

So without a substantive effort in accurately accounting a farrier's business, or for that matter, any business, it is totally impossible to ascertain the financial condition, evaluate the adjustments that may be necessary, or pay for dinner.  In a society founded on the assumption that money is both fun and a determinant of real value, relevant figures as a guide are extremely fundamental in whatever future you might envision.

Coming (finally), the Conclusion.






Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Bu$$ine$$ of Horseshoeing...Part 2

The Bu$$ine$$ of Horseshoeing:
Part 2
[Note: As stated in Part 1, this piece was originally published in 1987, thereby reflecting issues of that and the previous time-frame. it within that context...or not.  Oddly, much of it is still relevant today.]
Love is not enough...
Training the Public:  Never mind the horse, it is the client that requires training -- and perhaps afforded a little more respect in the equation.
Plumbers drive Cadillacs because they planned it that way.  It is common knowledge that plumbers are well-compensated.  It is also a fact that homeowners scream loudly over a plumber's bill.  But if the pipes break on Christmas Eve and the presents start to float away, the owner will pay and actually love having his wallet ransacked.  There is no mystery in this equation, merely a calculated decision on the part of the plumbers that they would demand a certain lifestyle in exchange for working on your bad pipes.  Through a form of organized consensus, they merely made a choice -- that pipe work, being somewhat arduous and dirty -- was going to be expensive.  And further, the public was going to have to accept that notion.  That declaration did not come without a great deal of resistance, but when the smoke cleared; the options being thoroughly debated, the plumbers had converted hard work to that Cadillac. There is no reason, other than individual insecurity (or a herd-bound mentality), that farriers cannot afford themselves an equal lifestyle.  The occupation, as outlined earlier, is luxury-oriented, and as such consumes resources from a client's expendable ledger.  This is not Egypt, India...where horses are part of a local commerce and really, an element in merely trying to survive on a sometimes harsh level.  They are the second car, the husband's Harley-Davidson...the pricey tennis lessons.  They are someone else's choice. Not yours.
Gotta love plumbers...
Now, if your client lives in a bigger house than you, drives a nicer car, or affords their child a horse that costs more than you made last year -- a good thing actually -- they can afford to give you a raise.  If all farriers in a given area were afforded the same raise, then the Cadillac dealer is going to have a banner year.  And really, the horse owners would have little choice in the matter. Their hobby simply became a little more expensive undertaking.  If there are those with horses who feel that it is now unaffordable at these newer rates, then it can be suggested that they seek fun elsewhere.  The financial shortcomings of the client are not the farrier's responsibility.
Human nature dictates that respect always has a price tag. It is part of our mercantilist culture...the often sad foundation of our free-market economics and the social schisms it creates.  However, at $16 a pound, a person would not discard leftover lobster, but something as inexpensive as lettuce hits the compost pile with few regrets.  If horseshoeing prices were placed at a far more realistic scale, then the degree of respect could be earned more readily through a greater appreciation of the cost.  Even if the respect was replaced by a little honest outrage, the compensation in real terms could very well make up for the abuse in the longer picture.  At least they would know you were serious.
By adopting this form of affirmative action, it would be possible to create a whole new avenue of professionalism.  Instead of browbeating the need for ethics, better attitudes and professional conduct, it would actually be possible to pursue them.  With a better financial base, one could feel good about answering stupid questions, measuring a toe or maybe even heating up a shoe  occasionally.  Being well-paid would actually force horseshoers back into the civilized world.  Might mean greater social acceptance, organizational prestige (farriers could afford annual dues), allowing memberships to grow exponentially, thereby permitting most conventions to be held in Hawaii -- where it's warm.  Horseshoers could then live in real houses, the divorce rate would plummet, and truck dealerships would be deluged with customers.
However, it never quite works out this way.  Suddenly there is the cry of price-fixing, the vile accusations of unionization, the gargled retort of the independent man...uh, no...not from the client; from the farriers themselves.  Somehow a happy medium between starvation and independent thinking needs to surface.  It is not impossible to master a favorable business environment and get paid at the same time.  Independent thinking is perfectly all right, but independent action will do for horseshoers what an asteroid did to the dinosaurs: freeze your butt. 
"Take me to your farrier."
Ah...but there are more flies in our glass of hemlock.  Farriers, as a rule have demonized, mystified and masked the trade into something resembling a voodoo rodeo.  We are secretive, superstitious and often hide behind wild gibberish or the veil of indignant silence, English being our third or fourth favorite language when it comes to a simple inquiry from a client.  Why?  Fairly simple: our craft has no rules, no structure; no right, wrong or maybe's -- and we decided on the impossibility of ever being wrong because we have no clue over where the right could be hiding.. Even brain surgeons are allowed the occasional, "Oops."  So instead, we present farriery as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma"* and smile smugly while the client determines that you are probably in need of a good psychiatrist -- lost in all this smoke; the reason we got into this business: the mystery and challenge of the horse itself.     

Organizations and publications:  These two entities and the viewpoints they express have an inherent responsibility to reflect and promote the needs, wants and desires of their members/subscribers.  The continuity; the very viability of the two agencies is the granite of this mutual relationship -- an equal contribution to the mission statement; albeit, if one happens to exist.  Otherwise, why bother?  Most organizations, be they national or regional tend to treat the subject of adverse financial conditions and horseshoeing as an arena of denial -- perhaps failing to notice the connection between a reluctance to pay dues and the possible reasons for that:  elementary physics -- cause and effect.  Or just maybe it lacks the appeal of building a roadster in under twenty minutes or hot fitting an unbroke mule.  An argument does exist: that it is not in/of the associations purpose to...what?  Promote the economic well-being of the trade?  Where in the hell do they think those annual dues come from?  Or is it that the hierarchy itself, farriery's self-anointed monarchy of gurus and self-congratulatory saints -- voices that command the greatest audience, no longer have a clue of what horseshoeing is or is not today.  It appears to be a common trend in organizational circles today to allow entirely too much policy control to those individuals who are best classified as school teachers and anvil peddlers.  Is it that preposterous to assume that a lecture on ethics and professionalism in farriery by a school teacher is any more pertinent than Jackie Presser extolling the membership of his union in the need for fiscal austerity from the front porch of his $475,000 home?  Where is the relevancy in this form of patronization?  Yes, an organization needs the old guard, the teachers, the retirees...a cadre of elders who should not be ignored or rebuked, but the perceptions are flawed by the movement of time and the realities of an evolving world.  Sure, they know shoeing, but do they really understand current affairs when they are no longer in the trench with the rest of the slobs?  Doubtful.  So under this type of leadership it is easily understood why the topic of economics is never confronted.  They simply do not experience that particular kind of problem. 

"I buy my pickles for a dollar and sell them for 50 cents.
 But I do sell a lot of pickles!"

[Note:  Much of this issue came out of the early formation and strategy (or lack thereof) of both the AFA and various state associations.  Yes, a great deal of elitism, nepotism...influence, was afforded a board of directors or a governing body that was disconnected from day to day issues in the field.  Why?  Well, for one thing, they were the only people that seemed to have the time to occupy a chair, as well as something fundamental to gain by the activity:  new students, a spot on the lecture circuit...sell a book or a tool.  And actually, they were the only ones that got it.  The 'it' being the power of marketing within the realm of a captured audience of sorts.  By putting all the consumers in the same room, buying became slightly more competitive, a door was opened for innovation and selection, and new technology was nurtured by a potential customer base previously unknown or ignored.  But...the marketing stopped there.  The horseshoer got sold a new fancy apron, but who was selling the horseshoer?  Not the association.]            

But aside from creating a forum for marketeers, what have the various organizations really done to help the average farrier?  Perhaps it is a misconception, but organizations seem to instill the ideal in a progressing farrier's mind that great skills by themselves will indeed float the boat.  And by extension, the assumption that some form of certification will solve all the legitimacy concerns of the average farrier and provide a flag to rally around in the event that the collective liability of the profession exceeds its fiscal worth.  Silly?  Maybe. But in all this self-selling of camaraderie and false patents, the associations failed to market anything to the consumers.  You know...the folks that pay our bills.  And by extension, the real world -- those institutions we are forced to negotiate with in order to marginally make progress in a capitalistic system.  Yeah, whoops. 

LOAN OFFICER:  “Let’s see, you’re self-employed as a...farrier?”
ME:  “Yes, a professional farrier.”
LOAN OFFICER:  Strumming through a pamphlet entitled:  Adjusted Salary Expectations in Isolated Trades.  “Farmer, framer, ferry boat captain,’re not a furrier?  Hmm. Furniture, fraud investigator...well, no farrier.  Just what is a farrier?”
ME:  “A horseshoer.”

 LOAN OFFICER:  “A horseshoer?  So you toss horseshoes?  Is that something people do professionally?”

ME:  “No, actually I nail them on horse’s feet.  I’m a highly skilled professional.”  I felt a few beads of sweat rising on my forehead.

LOAN OFFICER:  “People still do that, I mean the village smithy, sinewy arms, that spreading chestnut tree, all that?  I just didn’t think people did that sort of thing, I mean, not as a business?”

ME:  “You wouldn’t do it for fun.  Trust me.”

LOAN OFFICER:  “Are there that many horses?”
ME:  “About three-million or so.”
LOAN OFFICER:  “Really?  You must stay pretty busy.”

ME:  “Well, actually, I don’t shoe all of...”
LOAN OFFICER:  “I’m going to have to get back to you on this application.  I just don’t know enough about the current business environment for farriery.  How long have you shoed horses?”
ME:  “Shod, the word is shod.  About two years.”

LOAN  OFFICER:  “Listen, I just don’t think we can do this right now.  Perhaps when you can show a track record, a couple of years of good solid tax returns, maybe some part-time employment with a real company, that sort of thing.  Have you tried American Express?”
ME:  “They suggested Visa.”

Which basically reinforces the notion that the handmade shoe you struggled to perfect will not qualify a person for a home loan, gas card or cup of coffee; further, that art work can actually exist in a cow pie is an unproven theory at best.  It is also quite possible that the horse owning public wouldn't know a certificate from a cornflake, and would be further pressed to even care.  That being the result of farriers personalizing the business rather than striving for recognized standards -- impossible without a regulatory apparatus.  Yes, that shakes out in the end as marketing through client disappointment -- something a doctor or dentist can afford more readily than a farrier.

So then it becomes a matter of excessive bluster, or the industry favorite:  competition via deductive complements.  We all know that one, perhaps all too well.  A fellow makes a mistake, some unforeseen circumstances take place...heck, maybe you went on vacation and a client lost a shoe.  Someone else came out to replace it and by the time he/she was done you've been portrayed as the chief butcher at a Chicago packing house.  One of the many reasons why 'vacation' and 'farrier' always translate as an oxymoron.  But even so, owners are entitled to serviceable work and professional courtesy, but at today's prices, just how good can a farrier afford to be?  Better yet, how much does the client really deserve?  It is very well to produce a nice horseshoeing job for a customer, but is highly unproductive if the farrier ends up subsidizing half of it.  The responsibility for an accurate ration between the quality of work performed and the levels of compensation/cooperation/conditions via the owner is a liability the owner should bear -- not the farrier.  And really, in the end, the only one that truly suffers is the horse.  But then that is always the fate of the innocent bystander.  

The certification trap:  There are a number of shortcomings associated with this current trend of prostitution via proxy -- better known as 'the fox certifying the chickens by first tasting one.'  It sort of begs the question as to whether the farrier was incompetent before certification, thereby supporting the conclusion that you were probably overpaid for services before you got the official looking paper.  And two...the logic train of most consumers normally runs off the tracks here.  They are accustomed to people receiving formal education, perhaps a degree, medical license...sometime prior to removing your appendix, not after.  

On the flip side, the non-certified, non-member farriers, who just might be extremely competent themselves, are not only alienated further from affiliation with these associations, but are even further disgusted by the perceived innuendo behind the blanket assumption that such a self-certifying process has even one ounce of credibility.  Yes, they see it as a personal attack on their livelihood -- especially in light of the fact that no one bothered to even invite them to the party to begin with. This form of despotic due-process is not going to rid the world of non-certified farriers, but it will likely split the trade into two distinct camps.  If a suitable compromise cannot or does not wish to be found, then the safe assumption is that organizational influence anywhere beyond the social level is highly unlikely.

Coming: Part 3. Are we having fun yet?     

  *Quote attributed to Winston Churchill, 1939. Apparently he was musing on the intentions of Adolph Hitler.  Shortly thereafter, he found out.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Busine$$ of Horsehoeing...and other Fallacies--Pt. I

Welcome to Our Circus!


[Author's note:  This article was first written in 1987 for Anvil Magazine.  I suppose in many ways it was the culmination of many years struggling with a business model inherited from the previous generation of farriers -- a trend that continues to this day.  And getting rid of it; taking on the role of lone wolf was like kicking heroin with nothing more than a bottle of aspirin.  When this article was published, Rob Edwards and I had never even met in person.  Yes, we discussed it, concluding that it was both necessary and highly inflammatory.  So in a way, the courage in going forward belonged to him.  While I received a good deal of 'enlightened criticism,' -- aka: hate mail, the magazine risked alienating both subscribers and advertisers. That's the trouble with having elephants in the room.  If you don't call them out for what they are...well, you're gonna need a bigger wheelbarrow.  Rob and I went on to publish a number of articles on horseshoeings's  odd, quirky and often contradictory approach to what is basically a service-sector job.  So with minor annotations, here we go.  Oh...take it with a large grain of salt and try to remember the time period of the original article.] 

The Business of Horseshoeing:
A White Paper...Kinda

Part 1 of 2
Money:  Money has always been a tree of many roots.  It creates commerce, Christmas and credit cards.  It pays for good wine, contributes to nasty divorces and dictates the survivability of most businesses.  It is scorned for its value in relation to life itself, yet hoarded and coveted onto death.  In the historic sense, horseshoers have reacted to money in two basic ways:  First, most tend to like it.  Second, few tend to keep it.  Money as just money is easy to like, fairly convenient to carry around, works well in restaurants and gives bankers something to do during the day.  Unfortunately, most horseshoers see money as a clump of green material in their pocket, or small sheets of paper with names, amounts and signatures.  So in many instances, it is a case of having too much familiarity with the small picture and none with the larger.  Meaning that there is far more to money than the number of horses that a farrier can pack with iron on a given day. 
Horseshoers:  Horseshoeing has been called many things by many people.  It is supposed to be a twentieth-century adaptation of a very old skill -- the second oldest after prostitution -- and presumed to be a viable occupation.  It caters to a specific industry needs in a category of activities that should be viewed as a luxury, not a staple.  As such it could be compared to any service-oriented business that caters to income that is both above average and expendable.  Very few welfare recipients own horses today, nor do you find many farmers, teamsters or loggers with a couple of Percheron's on the payroll.  So it is probably a safe assumption that a degree of affluence is associated with owning a horse. And no, we are not going to be discussing horses here that are self-employed, go through life as a potted plant or already have one foot in the meat grinder.  The horses I prefer to are the ones we want to shoe...not those that lead to mental illness or the nearest bartender.  We'll just say industry-average equines.  Has a nice ring to it.
Nope. National defense has moved
 on to nastier things.
By defining a horseshoer as a person occupied/employed in a luxury field, it should be readily apparent that their usefulness could be limited by circumstances not in their immediate control: like the total bankruptcy of the western world.  It is possible under such circumstances that a few farriers could find themselves unemployed.  One a smaller scale, any form of economic regression, be it personal or regional, could effect the marketability of the farriers' craft.  Sadly, the profession really doesn't fit into the 'national need' or for that matter, have a significant influence in life, death or religion.  Nowadays, you could add war and rebellion as well.  The Pope has no horses and the government retired most farriers shortly after World War II.  And of course, nuclear weapons have their own transportation.  My point?  Just trying to interject a small degree of rational intimidation into the discussion and create a more humble atmosphere for debate.  Farriers as a group tend to be a little overly impressed with themselves, and as such, often view the world from horseshoeing on down.  In a matter of global importance, shoeing probably ranks about 823rd -- somewhere below sheep dipping and just above the guy that pumps out your septic tank.  Now this doesn't make it unproductive, unattractive, or unenlightening; just unimportant.  In the event of a nuclear war, the White House is not going recall all farriers.  They are going to hit the basement running while the rest of us are going have a warm beer and a toasty funeral.

So now that we have established that the occupation is insignificant by world standards, it can be examined rationally on a local scale.  At this level it may be possible to replace a degree of our newly gained humility with a cup or two of pride and self-respect -- as long as it doesn't get in the way.  Horseshoeing today is basically a trade that is practiced by a variety of individuals with an assortment of skills, motivations and just possibly a behavior problem or two.  The fact that some farriers are more talented than others is to simply take a binary approach in comparison to any other skilled trade.  The degree of talent or competency of the individual only effects the individual transaction between buyer and seller i.e., the farrier and the client.  Forget the horse. He doesn't speak English and if he has an opinion, you'll become aware of it on the ride to the hospital.

That means on a larger scale, no real reason exists that the occupation cannot be presented to the general public as a viable entity -- hence, to other farriers as a competitive force in the market, and to the financial institutions of the world as a successful enterprise.  It is not only a matter of acquiring wealth, but of having a recognizable financial base, one both appropriate and comparable to any highly skilled trade.  That means it should provide you with a comfortable life-style at whatever level you choose.  With a minimum of physical abuse or mindless conversations justifying the size of your truck.  And standards set by yourself, not the idiot down the street that shoes out of an '78 Pinto.  To be successful, you must establish yourself as the 5% that chooses to be pro-active in your profession, and either pull the other 95% up to par with you, or collectively cast them adrift.  Hell, you might like the guy with the '78 Pinto, but he is not paying your mortgage -- you are.

How much?!!!

However, the problem here is that the above-described idyllic scenario only exists in that 5-10% of all horseshoeing businesses. [Note: I would say that has improved today, but primarily in areas that serve large urban populations -- more on this later.]  The other 90% are caught somewhere between deodorant failure and the next truck payment.  Being caught between what was thought to be a life's work, and the nasty economics of the bottom line is not pleasant.  It hardly reinforces the concept of self-worth and it destroys in a person's mind the standard work ethic of due compensation and fair play.  It becomes nothing more than an economic trap, an unrealistic love affair, a betrayal that lurks just behind the smile you wear. Farriery as a profession, has institutionalized poverty scribbled all over it -- if you let the market define what the market is going to be.

In over viewing the profession, it is not just a matter of current conditions.  It must also be viewed through the long lens of past, mostly poor practices conducted over the previous decades -- periods when economic viability in this trade was a matter of smoke and mirrors.  This history also includes inadequate educational systems (no standardization or recognized credentialing), a badly trained and poorly educated horse-owning population (mostly on purpose), an accepted culpability or guilt by association -- farrier as convenient bad guy -- poor self-esteem masked by inflated egos, disorganized organization, retail buying habits on a scandalous scale, bad bookkeeping, no accounting, rampant liability, poor public relations, tunnel vision of historic proportions, and an overall attitude that only the tooth fairy could find useful on a slow Friday night.  However, it is not hopeless.

A common business model adopted by farriers.

Much of this was created through the process of the blind leading the blind.  Prior to the advent of some rudimentary organization among farriers, there was probably very little reliable data to draw off in formulating better models.  Still isn't. Very few farriers communicated, and if at all it was normally confined to a form of archaic Celtic sign language.  During these medieval times (1970's), it was quite common for every farrier to assume that every other farrier was somehow doing better than you were.  The truth was a little different.  In reality they just had higher monthly trucks payments.  Kind of like the situation where you invest in a fake Rolex to get it.  This led to a lot of distrust, business stagnation and an overall attitude that the life-cycle of a lemming made good sense somehow.  You see, all these immense egos were the veneer sloppily glued on top of a fundamental fear: losing clients over price.  As opposed to...what?  Over skills?  Nobody was even sure what that meant and sure as hell didn't plan on discussing it.  So really, if the guy whose business you coveted wouldn't raise his rates, you couldn't either.  So in this rather demented business climate, the profession probably threw away 50 years worth of pay raises, along with what was left of the prestige. 

Today, in a period of zealous organization the opposite appears to be true.  Horseshoers are overwhelmed with a desire to meet and impress one another.  According to a somewhat impromptu poll (conducted secretly in the men's room), it was established that the average farrier presently shoes twenty-eight horses before noon for an average per-head amount of $213.83 apiece.  And naturally, each person surveyed was, as far as could be ascertained, the world's best.  Which means that the only sophistication brought forth by organization was in the quality of the bullshit.

Emergency Farrier
Communication Device

In order to accurately gauge what you do and how it equates to financial solvency, you are going to have to confess to something.  Farriers are not, as a rule, a preferred customer at the local Mercedes dealership, so either the stories are moderately inflated, or the checks are still in the mail.

Farriery, as a skill, can be considered a viable occupation today, but is rapidly devolving as a business.  In most of the country it is practiced by people who are under thirty-years of age. [Note: this comment in light of the proliferation of farrier schools -- late '70's -- mid '80's.]  Since the horse was invented at sometime prior to the 1950's, it points to a strong erosion of craftsmen from the more experienced portion of the scale.  There is a very ominous meaning to that kind of attrition.  It points to attempts and failures at taking the profession full circle -- meaning: self-sustaining in the long run.
1970's high-tech!

[Note: It is common knowledge that the horse industry (in more or less its current form) only began to develop a recreational niche in the 1960's.  The old-guard then, moving into the 70's and beyond were either trained via the military at the closing of World War II, or those that learned on the nation's racetracks.  Few other opportunities existed to learn the trade and virtually no formal or informal education was readily available.]
Horseshoers could be placed in four somewhat distinct camps.  They are established loosely as the five-year and under bunch; the five to tenner and the ten to fifteen-year veteran.  Twenty and above continues to be extremely rare. You could compare it to the one-child rule in China. A gap in population production (or a lack of younger, well-trained farriers entering the field), will create a   shortage later, particularly if there is a concurrent upsurge in demand, be it labor in China for an overheated economy or like here, a huge increase in both equestrian activities and expendable income.  Even so, each group as outlined above will represent a wholly different perspective on this business.  The five and under has no clue, but lots of ambition. They are the 'rebel without a clue,' busily engaged in identifying the perfect clinch.  The five-to-ten individual has managed to set some unrealistic goals between bouts of the 'Wyatt Earp Syndrome,' which basically revolves around curing the ills on anything with four legs and a tail.  This person thinks he knows what is going on and if the attorneys don't get him, he may actually find out.  The ten-to-fifteen individual is in the most trouble.  At this unhappy juncture, many goals have been met, but most have run head-on into reality.  The business seems good, with decent horses, nice barns and attentive clients.  Financially however, the business is going nowhere; the savings account has not changed in three years, the IRS is still making most of the profit, and every time a truck gets paid off, it's time for a new one.  After ten years, the investment in time, skill inflation and attitude has created a desire, or more accurately, an addiction to go forward with the venture.  But the business itself has not grown in proportion because a single person is automatically limited by the clock, the body and the advancing fatigue of age.  And the creeping fear that comes with kids, a mortgage, insurance...on the horizon: tuition and retirement.  And a new round of Young Turks barking at your heels.

The problems:  Poor history.  Horseshoeing has more flat roads than North Dakota.  Good business practices are rare or non-existent, bookkeeping is ignored, business licenses do not exist, and at the lunatic fringes, most people do not bother with federal taxes, social security deductions and figure an IRA has something to do with the Irish.  Wages are construed as prices -- causing decades of under-scaling, while public expectations have soared.  Why?  The cost of horseflesh and the concurrent maintenance of Fluffy's lifestyle has grown exponentially -- while prices (the end-wage) hover just above a flat line.  Meanwhile, horseshoers continue to bootleg anything and everything, keep idiotic records, and live off the assumption that a two-dollar raise is the road to prosperity.  If horseshoeing rates were twenty years behind twenty-years ago, then where are they now?

Educational systems:  The average horseshoer in the United States acquires the necessary skills to practice the trade through study at a vocational school. [Note: Yes, whether public or private, farrier education is considered a vocation, as opposed to formal education.]  The duration of the teaching period varies greatly with an overall average of 12-weeks.  The common appeal of these schools is invariably the exchange of a certain degree of money for some basic skills in a profession that seems more pleasant in the school's brochure than the reality will dictate -- that part shows up later.  A quick in and out approach to a trade does not attract a quality student, for education is always an unequal exchange between master and student.  You have to really want it to do the heavy lifting required.  And too, the goals of the various schools run the gambit of motivations, altruistic or somewhere less pleasant -- like the necessary bottom line. So the first goal is to fill the classroom with warm and paying bodies, not always the production of farriers for the marketplace.  It is na├»ve to think that the school and the pupil share a common goal.  However, this does not mean that the educational system is corrupt, unethical or irresponsible, it merely indicates that the programs are adhering to sound business practices by making the acquisition of your tuition check a solid priority.  What education the student may receive through this relationship will have to be addressed through the personal motivation and ambition of each individual student.  The major drawbacks to this system is a high failure rate due to poor screening, short-preparedness for the real world and highly unrealistic expectations from the students themselves.  And quite frankly, this extrapolates to an exaggerated attrition rate in the field.

It ain't your father's world anymore...

Horseshoeing schools, for the most part, cannot teach a potential farrier the intricacies of the business world within the time-frame that most programs offer.  It is difficult enough to provide a rudimentary introduction to a multi-level, complex skill; much less the mine-field lurking just below the surface. Under such circumstances, it is not unrealistic to expect a 60% failure rate on that aspect alone. Don't believe that figure?  Consider two points:  1) Schools need to graduate students.  Without high graduation rates, you are admitting failure of the program, not the student.  2) Consider rehab programs for a moment.  They will proudly state that 80% of their inpatients will complete the program.  However, reconciliation with the bottle, bag or pipe after only one year of sobriety:  92% .
Those are the figures that define a program's real value.

Now affix a little human behavior to the equation: a touch of incompetency, a degree of incompatibility for the task, physical limitations, dexterity issues...relating to the horse itself, that figure could rise to 80% -- either by attrition or failure to continue in the business after five years.  Even with the basic skills, some small sense of business acumen -- a touch of flare for it -- the aspiring farrier is going to have to face a whole set of unpractical assumptions, non-workable communal practices, and a set of working guidelines that are ludicrous at best.  Even an experienced farrier will be confronted by a certain degree of vulnerability -- a critical factor in maintaining accounts, while concurrently trying to gain additional, perhaps better ones in the process.  So if he is subject to the whims of a fickle market...what about the new guy on the block?  Can he/she go against the grain or do they merely accept the existing practices and protocols, no matter how unorthodox they appear, just to fit in?  Acceptance has a wide, perhaps overrated appeal in the beginning, and it is this element that promotes and maintains generationally the less than desirable aspects of this business.  The idea that certain practices of the business can be abandoned at a more strategic (safer) time is rarely supported by the facts.  A badly trained client, remains just that...badly trained. 

Part II Coming...
Yes, it gets worse. 

What, me worry?


Monday, June 24, 2013

Something different: The Iconic Western...



Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.


But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.


And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-
"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be-
This land of Eldorado?"


"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied-
"If you seek for Eldorado!"


                        Edgar Allan Poe,