Farrier’s Job Full Of Risk; Balanced By Brotherhood, Emotional Rewards

“It isn’t whether or not you’re going to get hurt; it’s when, and how bad.”

Any individual who works with horses understands that concept. In the case of a farrier, however, that risk is magnified by working directly underneath the flight animal, while bent over at the waist and asking that animal to balance all its weight on three legs.

“Perhaps the most common question I get asked is, ‘Isn’t this hard on your back?’” relayed Louisville-area farrier Aaron Edelson. “It really isn’t. It’s not nearly as hard on your back as one thinks, especially if one maintains the proper form. I think each one of us learns how to hold our bodies to make it as comfortable as possible.”

The biggest challenge for Edelson isn’t his back, he said. At the end of a long day, his legs are usually the sorest part of his body.

“It’s definitely physically hard on your body, and guys have issues with their backs, hips, their knees,” agreed Mitch Taylor, longtime director of education at the Kentucky Horseshoeing School. “If you make it and have a career as a farrier, the cumulative toll shows up in your elbow, wrist, or hand, since we’re constantly using our hands and squeezing our tools; it just takes its toll on our arms.”

To offset those chronic issues, physical fitness is a major necessity for the farrier. He needs a strong core, strong legs, and strong arms, as well as to get enough rest and provide himself with proper nutrition. Stretching at the beginning of the day is also of particular importance, most said.

Still, those everyday aches and pains are not the farrier’s primary concern. Instead, it’s that unspoken capacity for acute injuries that binds farriers together into brotherhood.

“Case in point, we’ve got a 1,200-pound animal where we average from 180 to 220 pounds, and even the smallest horses are stronger than we are,” Edelson explained. “When they decide to jerk, if you’ve got part of your body in the wrong position, it can cause a severe injury in the blink of an eye.”

Torn muscles and broken bones are almost inevitable in the farriery profession, but a court case in 2009 established that a horse owner is not at fault when an equine professional is injured by their horse, since the farrier is considered an expert in control of the situation.

So how do farriers cope?

Fortunately, Taylor explained, few insurance companies really understand what it is that farriers actually do, so health and life insurance are generally not more expensive than for any other profession. 

Individually, farriers learn over time to reduce their risk by refusing to work on dangerous horses or in uncontrolled situations. 

“That’s not always possible, especially when you’re just starting out and you have to take clients where you can get them,” said Southwest-area farrier Dick Beren. “On the racetrack, especially, there’s always something going on the backside and the increased potential for a high-level athlete to be spooked and jerk out from under you.”

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There’s also a unique brotherhood to the farriery profession that provides support when one of their own gets injured and can’t work.

Edelson, for example, suffered a fractured ankle this year when a horse flipped over and landed on his leg. He required surgery to repair the fractures and missed nearly two months of client appointments. Luckily, he’s a member of the Derby City Horseshoers Association.

Over the course of those two months, other local farriers stepped up to cover his client’s horses. Instead of paying the farrier performing the work, the clients were asked to pay Edelson his standard amount.

“It has been truly the most humbling experience in my 47 years on this earth,” Edelson said. “Every guy that I’ve talked to, I said, ‘You’re gonna let me pay you something when all of this is over.’ They’d say, ‘No you’re not. You don’t think there’s gonna come a time when I need the same favor from you?’ 

“It is a whole lot more of a brotherhood than a lot of people realize.”

Taylor echoed the feeling of brotherhood, especially in recent years.

“I’ve thought for some time that farriers are rather like jockeys in that they have a very physical job without any real safety net, and I’m not sure how many people think about that,” he said. “When I first moved to Kentucky in 1985, and I was injured in 1989, there was a small backside/jockey fund for people who got hurt, but it was difficult and it wasn’t any help to me.

“Nowadays some farriers have gotten together, and they cover for each other. We all know how hard it is, how potentially dangerous; that’s the brotherhood of our profession. Something catastrophic could happen at any time.”

Modern farrier’s associations will host semi-annual events like the “Forge” in which farriers get together to share new skills and to learn from one another, as well as informal events on a more regular basis just to check in with each other. When a member of the group is injured, some groups have a designated fund for those cases, others might “pass the hat” among members in order to help out, or the group will perhaps plan a fundraising event where they auction off unique, handmade items.

With those types of safeguards in place, Edelson explained that physical concerns are not what makes the farrier’s job most difficult. 

“The job is hard on us physically, on our bodies day in and day out because the most important tool we have is our body, but the other muscle that it’s hard on is our mind,” he said. “Yes the horses are hard, and the injuries are tough, but it’s the day in and day out of dealing with the mental demands of the industry as a whole, from difficult clients to constantly thinking about how to get a horse comfortable, even once you’ve gone home for the night.”

The physical and mental strain of the farrier’s job would seem off-putting to many, but Taylor argued that just ensures no one continues in the profession unless they love it.

“We love to be able to take horses and balance them all up, get them comfortable and moving good,” Taylor said. “For the most part, these guys will tell you they never work a day in their lives! It’s just such a great job.

“I started when I was 17 years old, and I’m 64 now. I’ll stand up from doing a good job, and it’s the most satisfying part of the day, even after all of that time.”

The post Farrier’s Job Full Of Risk; Balanced By Brotherhood, Emotional Rewards appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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