Monday, September 16, 2013

So, You Want to be a Show Farrier...

Horse shows are serious business and fun too...well, they can be!

[Bold/ital. is annotated and/or updated from original -- 1988]

From the Archives:
November, 1988
                                                      Somewhere in the long history of horsedom, the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA) decided that show farriers needed to be an integral ingredient for a successful show.  They probably came to that conclusion in the same manner as the Crusaders -- when they discovered that riding from Central Europe to Jerusalem might require a farrier or two.  And, as many of today's classical disciplines evolved from the needs and demands of mounted cavalry, the idea kind of stuck around.  However, much of the American regulatory system (horse show rules), changed in 2001 with the merger of the various sport organizations, including the AHSA under the broader umbrella of the United States Equestrian Federation, (USEF):

"In 2001 the American Horse Shows Association changed its name to USA Equestrian, to better designate the member organization it had become. With more than 80,000 individual members, more than 2,700 member competitions, and 100 affiliate organizations, the Federation oversaw 26 breeds and disciplines of competition.
In 2003 USA Equestrian and the United States Equestrian Team developed a new organization, a single unified family woven together from the many parts of equestrian governance and leadership.

The primary objective remains the same, to uphold the welfare of horses, regardless of value, as a primary consideration in all activities. The United States Equestrian Federation requires that horses be treated with kindness, respect and the compassion they
 deserve; and never be subjected to mistreatment. The United States Equestrian Federation ensures that owners, trainers, and exhibitors or their agents use responsible care in handling, treating and transporting of their horses as well as horses owned and placed in their care for any purpose.
An extensive awards program with an incredibly large and beautiful trophy collection is the pinnacle of excellence many strive to reach. The USEF Rule Book has become the definitive guide to equestrian competition and the Drugs and Medications office, a cornerstone to the Federation’s regulatory process, is copied world wide."  From: USEF Home Page.

Of course, the addition of an on-site farrier to sanctioned shows was sometimes viewed as an added financial burden to management -- one of many unseen costs of running a show.  However, the AHSA (and show management), bowed to the demand for all 'A' rated shows, or shows with 'A' rated divisions.  Much like the racetrack, this rule required that a show have a farrier on the grounds and available during all hours of show operation.  For lesser rated shows, it is considered a 'courtesy only,' one that most managers have come to accept as one of many necessary benefits afforded the competitors; i.e., the paying customers.  In many respects, exhibitors are virtual prisoners of a show until its conclusion, and the possibilities of finding the necessary help in an unfamiliar area may negate the entire purpose of the entry fee -- the ability to show.  Thankfully, that is a rare occurrence today.

Since breeds, disciplines and classes vary greatly, it goes without saying that shows within a specialty should try to obtain a farrier familiar with that discipline.  It is completely counter-productive to employ an Arabian show farrier at a hunter show -- no different really than employing a brain surgeon to operate on a bunion -- NOT because of any perceived level of competence, but because every discipline has its nuances, styles and specific needs.  But regardless of specialization, the top requirement is experience.  Horse show management is often tempted to negotiate the day fees for farriers based on the old adage, "Oh, the exposure will be great for you!"  But will it be so great for that captured audience trying to convert those high entry fees into ribbons or cash?  Not likely.

Retainers, or day-fees should be assessed to management according to the requirements of the individual show.  Hours/days of operation, mileage, food, motel accommodations (if needed), inventory additions and most importantly, the number of entries -- i.e., the number of horses on the grounds.  It is also to critical to outline YOUR needs clearly;  access to electricity, suitable shoeing area, protection from the weather, maybe a psychiatrist on staff.  Since farriers do have the capacity to generate income at shows, these fees are considered 'day money' and can be regulated by past experience at a particular show -- even by simple intuition.  Another factor to determine is how being away at a show may or may not have an impact on your stationary business at home. But to be realistic, these 'day fees' are NOT designed to compensate you for the loss of regular wages -- rather the incidentals associated with the responsibilities demanded.  And today, these mutual needs have evolved considerably along with the sports in general.  More on that later.

However, it is also important to realize that while many horse shows are in a sense underwritten for one charity or another, the show itself is a profit-generating entity and as such, a farrier is not duty-bound to support any cause via their labors.  What they do with those profits is entirely up to them.  That is of course, simply an option and really up to the individual farrier to determine on his/her own.  The rules that apply under the USEF regulations are forced compliance for the show itself -- not for whatever supporting staff the event may require.  But don't smile too wide, you are still on the hook with the Stewards.  We'll get to that.

All official show farriers should receive or request a written contract in advance, outlining clearly each party's responsibilities, fees and acceptable options.  Very often, a farrier may have an apprentice or assistant cover portions of the day or handle the more remedial repairs...lost shoes, stripped caulks, etc., things that must be accommodated according to class schedules.  Major work can be referred to off-show hours.  The main thing is that farrier and management must be on the same page -- and the terms of any contract be honored, whether you shot yourself in the foot or not.  The bottom line is that I have never seen an 'A' level show shut down because the farrier went missing, but formal complaints by competitors CAN result in a show losing its accreditation.  Which means if it is your face that will show up on the milk you might want to look for work in another state. Because you will quickly come to realize just how small the horse world has become for you.

As stated earlier, the census (number of horses on the grounds), will determine the nature and practicality of the arrangement or contract.  Conceivably, a single farrier could handle an indoor show of up to 500 total entries -- an outdoor show (say, jumping), that figure would be reduced.  Footing and traction needs (not to mention the experience level of competitors), could stretch a person pretty thin. [Note: Given the nature and expansion of the high-discipline sports; notably hunters, jumpers and eventers, that figure could easily be 1500-2500 horses on the grounds, as the trend nowadays in these sports is what can best be described as 'stationary circuits.'  Wellington, in Florida would be a prime example of this trend.] 

Since show farriers are an extension of management, behavior, appearance and professionalism should the rule of the day.  Though not a suit and tie undertaking by any means, every effort should be made to project a positive image -- not only for the competitors, but for the general public as well, remembering that you are also representing your trade.  Every show will have its difficult people, impossible scenarios and unrealistic expectations, which means you are going to need an extra bag of patience.  So don't leave it at home.

Have fun...but maybe not this much fun!

NOT horseshow attire!
However, one thing show farriers CAN leave at home is their opinions. Appraising the inequities of other farriers or the shortcomings of an approach to a particular problem is basically unethical, even if requested, coerced or demanded.   And of course this gets a little problematic on a number of fronts.  The  key here is in who is asking the questions?  Just like the racetrack, horse shows demand confidentiality by visiting sub-contractors; which is really your definition -- meaning outside of a particular horse's 'loop.'  Because like racing, every horse on the grounds is potentially for sale and you are now in the realm of 'priveledged information,' which doesn't equate to you having a right to it.  Just like the real world of human medicine (HPPA)...horses (via owners) have an unwritten right to a degree of privacy;  violate that trust and a trainer that personally pull your lungs out through your nose.  Often at shows, the farrier attracts an audience of all types. So in proper racetrack etiquette, every horse is now named Brownie and that is about all you know. Save any discussions for the owner, trainer or consulting veterinarian privately if needed. Never be afraid to assert that conviction, as it is one of the finer points of professionalism.  And beware of those amateurs that every barn seems to enjoy -- the ones that love to go over the trainer's head on a regular basis:

"I just know he is sore somewhere!"
"No ma'am, it is just that you can't ride."

Don't believe horse shows are serious business?
Ask George.
Conservatism should rule in all services performed.  A horse show is a very poor environment in which to test a new theory or overly market your perceived skills.  Stick a horse at 8:05, by 8:10 even the janitor will know about it.  Be willing to leave a little extra foot, use a little lower nail; let caution dictate.  Outside of the racetrack, a horse show is the biggest excuse factory on the planet and the farrier is often the most convenient target for unmet expectations.  If a dispute should arise, request an immediate meeting with the show veterinarian, the steward and the principles involved.  Often that request alone will either diffuse the situation or reveal the real truth in the matter.  Do not merely accept the situation as the opinion of a moron.  Morons have mouths.

Thankfully today, that is a rare occurrence, attributable to a higher degree of professionalism on all sides, and what you could call a standardization of thinking in certain disciplines; really, a matter of style rather any significant differences in approach to the actual shoeing needs.  This has a lot to do with both the increasing quality of horses out there, but the fact that the better advances in style, technique and adaptation tend to travel with the shows.  And for farriers, this is a real-time classroom for seeing how other farriers handle similar shoeing needs and issues.  Want to see the top shoeing?  Then pay attention to the top horses.  They didn't end up there by accident.   

Occasionally, difficult or high-risk procedures come up at shows.  Not the place for them, but accidents and unforeseen circumstances do occur most anywhere.  They too require a cautious approach and in many cases, sufficient history is missing, unknown or undependable. Basically, if the horse is done showing anyway and NOT at imminent risk for aggravating the situation;  or perhaps maybe your comfort level is a little lacking, for whatever reason -- walk away. You are obligated to service the show, not to explain it later to that other kind of judge -- the one in the black robes.  Same with a pre-purchase that may take place at a show.  Pull the shoes, put them back on with the same nail holes. Do not get cute if you are not acquainted with the principles involved.

Since the AHSA (now USEF) publishes rules, know them as they pertain to the particular breed, show or discipline.  DO NOT ASSUME.   And under no circumstances engage in anything illegal, unethical or even close to questionable.  The cemeteries are full of ego-centric dead heroes. Try not to join them. Be aware too, what jurisdiction the show is operating under; particularly in the case of USEF vs. FEI -- the latter becoming more common in the continental United States, the result of an upsurge in international competition. (Dressage, jumping and 3-Day.)  Be aware too of what may contaminate your hands, tools or lying around in your truck.  Cross-contamination can be a problem and since many horse products are not registered or identified (as to contents), these can easily be transferred to the horse.  While this remains fairly rare, the sophistication of today's testing leaves little to chance, particularly under the tighter rules of the FEI.  And leave the syringes at home.  What did you say?  Yes. I also managed a Thoroughbred breeding farm, kept medications, etc. in the truck.  AND ended up having to explain myself to a Steward.  It happens.   

Come prepared.  Bring your imagination and what ever MacGyverish tools are at your disposable.  Also consider the hours involved, the weather conditions and the likely inability to drive down to McDonald's for lunch.  During my show years my shop was a step-van...including refrigerator, microwave, coffee machine, TV and if I could have added a hot tub, I would have considered it.  Also folding chairs and extra clothes.  Half of the people that will show up at your tent will be grooms.  Give them a chair, something cold to drink and a chance to relax for a minute.  They are the hardest working people on the grounds after you, and probably paid a lot less.  So be a gracious host.

Collections are not as difficult as they might seem.  As a general rule, individuals pay at the time of service; barns will generally run a tab and close it at the end of the show.  In all my years around the jumper circuits I have never lost a dime.  Perhaps others have, but these shows/circuits are really a traveling community and as such, we're never strangers on the road.  Be a little flexible, understand that kids sometimes show without parents, purses and wallets are locked in tack trunks or cars...collect personal information if necessary, but always remain professional.  And nowadays, have a credit card reader. Even if you lose a percentage or two...the money is in the bank, not the mail.  It is how people do business nowadays.  And oddly, it attracts tips for timely and good work. 

Lastly, controlling the shoeing environment and the competitors themselves.  If behavior problems arise. whether human or equine, remember that tact is more powerful than force.  Fractious horses should be returned to the barn area for work, or a more competent handler found.  The act of disciplining a horse is compounded tenfold in a horse show environment.  If the situation really calls for a ten-minute meeting of the minds, then suggest it be done discreetly and BY the owner if really needed. But ELSEWHERE.  Admittedly (and thankfully), it is a rare need. Today's show horses are so completely broke to most everything that rarely is it a behavior problem anyway. Just remember that everybody on the grounds has at least one camera phone around their neck.  Remember too, that many of your show clients will be minors.  If no other adult is present, then you have care, custody and control of both horse and child.  That means a great deal of responsibility to keep everybody out of trouble.  If a situation feels uncomfortable, for whatever reason...stop.  Have the person come back with a responsible adult.

And now that you are completely paranoid....try to have fun anyway.  Most riders swear that is why they show horses.  Hmmm.

[Note: This article was originally published in 1988. Much of it is still very pertinent today. What has changed is the nature of the shows and as I mentioned earlier, the degree of professionalism at the top levels of the sport.  Today, many shows are serviced by many farriers, official or otherwise and few problems occur in this model.  Jumper shows (I know little about other disciplines), as I stated earlier have become more and more what I called 'stationary circuits,' in that the management, sponsorship, etc. changes, but the grounds remain the same, as in the Wellington and Palm Springs winter circuits. Summer circuits continue to roam from place to place and many barns are now also competing in Europe as well.  Show barns themselves have more and more become clustered near large urban areas and barn and farrier alike tour with these circuits. It is so common now that many farriers maintain complete rigs in different parts of the country.  So some things change and some remain the same.  And the circus goes on!]


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