Going professional

Sometimes people who are enjoying trimming their own horses' hooves, ask me for advice about starting a hoof trimming business. I don't have direct experience with a trimming business. However there are things I can suggest about this kind of business, from my experience teaching hoof trimming. Here is what I wrote to someone considering going professional:

You don't need to get certified, yet, in order to go into practice, though there are going to be benefits to certification in the long run. At this point the certification programs are new and there is no legal necessity for it yet.

One of the benefits of certification is that you are more connected with other trimmers and can join with them if the farrier organizations begin to cause legal troubles for barefooters. Farriers tend to fear that barefooting will cut into their business, and there may be a period in the next decade where they try to legislate us out of business. In fact, there will be plenty of business for them if they are willing to learn a correct barefoot trim.

It is the success of the horses you trim -- not advertising, not proselytizing -- that will attract people to your services. Your own horses by now should be able to walk on gravel as if it were grass (depending somewhat on the climate where you live), and they should be striding out with a long stride, heel-first landing, and very free body movement. People want this when they see it!! So when you feel confident about how to trim, go ahead and start trimming for some of your friends and the word will get around.

Sooner or later you'll run across a foundered horse that you'll want to try to rehabilitate. This is another good way to get people interested in barefoot -- after the horse recovers, they do notice that he wasn't put down! You can also help navicular horses quite easily by trimming for early breakover and heel-first landing. I would recommend being in touch with a teacher for your first founder or any difficult one, someone you can call when you get nervous about it. The "Founder" and "Founder Pony" pages on this website will give you some basic trimming information. There can be a lot going on physically with a foundered horse and you should get knowledgeable help before taking it on -- medical, herbal, homeopathic, nutritional, protective boots, and other ways of helping badly foundered feet.

How much to charge: you have to have confidence in yourself (which is based on horses that you've been trimming going better than they used to) and charge what you're worth. Pete Ramey (I believe) charges $60 for a first trim (because it takes longer) and $40 thereafter, and I wouldn't go much lower than that and certainly not as low as a farrier's "pasture trim" costs in your area. Don't expect to do more than three horses per day at first, then build up slowly as you get stronger and better with the tools.

Note for women: I find charging enough can be a problem that women have in general. The feeling of "not being competent" is a feeling women get in our society, where we aren't taken seriously over our entire lifetime. It shows up, in this case, as not being able to charge what we're worth for the trimming work. I encourage you to find either a woman friend (doesn't have to be into horses) or especially a man friend, or both for their different points of view, who will give you lots of encouragement to stand up for yourself and take yourself seriously. Set out the whole situation -- how hard the work is, how far you have to travel daily to get to horses, how skillful you have to be, etc. Ask what they would charge, and ask them to support and encourage you in charging what you're worth. Once you recognize the "feeling of incompetence" as a "women's conditioning thing" it will be easier to invent more appropriate ways to think about yourself.

You will have some customers who won't want to have a trim as often as their horses need it in order to prevent flaring. People are used to shoeing at 6 to 8 weeks or longer. You will have to do some educating about what hooves really need to be healthy. It's OK to refuse or terminate a customer (you can explain why) and you will probably have to do it sometimes, when it's clear the horse isn't getting what it needs to go barefoot successfully.

The other side of this coin is that an owner can sometimes provide boarding conditions for her horse that actually reduce the amount of trimming needed, by increasing the daily movement the horse gets. See Jaime Jackson's book Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding and Google "paddock paradise" for some helpful websites. Even though you are trying to make your living trimming hooves, I hope you will spread the word about the idea of the "turnout track" just because it makes the horses' lives so much better. I hope to see a major change in how horses are boarded as this idea catches on.

Don't work for an owner until she has read my website (or others, and / or Pete's or Jaime's book). The owner should understand clearly that barefoot is not a way to save money, and that there may be a transition period where he/she may not be able to ride for a while, or will need boots for trail riding. It does the horse no good to pull the shoes, give him a first trim, then the owner gets scared when he's "off" for a few days and throws shoes back on him again.

DO fit the horse for boots immediately so he can go to work and get circulation in the hooves. There is an increasing market in used hoof boots, often they are only needed for 3 to 6 months -- but suggest they use them through the first winter if the ground freezes where you live; frozen ground is awful for transitioning hooves.

Don't trim until the owner really WANTS what you're doing, and don't try to talk owners into going barefoot. The horse will not get the support it needs. Let them see the successes, do their homework, and come ask you to do the same for their horse when they are ready in their own mind.

A lot of having a trimming business is "holding the owner's hand," especially in the first few days of the transition period. Occasional horses really have a lot of healing to do in their hooves. It's very helpful to have followed your own horse(s) through transition before trying to trim for others, so you can be realistically optimistic with anxious owners. People are very sensitive about their horse having the slightest pain and you can learn how to be encouraging and explain exactly what's hurting the horse, and that it will get better, and what they can do to help it along (don't go on a 50 mile rocky trail ride the next day; walk the horse on grass if he's sore; use hoof boots; don't ask for a trot till he can ride at the walk comfortably, etc.)

If you are not already using "natural horsemanship," I would strongly suggest learning some of that. It's a whole different point of view on how to get along with horses, and it makes handling them while trimming much easier, as you have a reliable way to show them what you need them to do for you. There are many good people teaching NH by now. If you can't get to someone easily, you can start out with the Parelli home video course (Level One), but do follow up with auditing some live clinics as there is a lot you'll understand better when you see it in action. If you've been using "traditional" horse handling it may take a while for the newer approach to sink in -- it's a totally different mindset -- but don't give up, it will come. I repeat, "natural horsemanship" really does help when you're trimming a lot of horses' feet.

Think safety!! You will be working with horses you don't know, and they don't know you. When you are in a horse-related business, it's not worth trying to work with a horse that's going to put you in the hospital. Tell the owner you'll come back when she has done some groundwork with her horse and he understands humans are not going to eat him for lunch.

Always use gloves -- rasps eat fingers! Any time you're bare-armed, wear a leather arm guard or a child's soccer shin guard (the cheap kind) on your (left or right) arm -- the knife can slip and cut the tendons and nerves to your hand. I know someone who did this. Always wear leather over your thighs.

Find a place to work where you have room to leap or roll out of the way if the horse acts up, and ALWAYS have in your awareness where you can escape. Don't work in a narrow aisle where there are blanket racks and door latches sticking out that can crunch your ribs. Crossties are very dangerous, it's better to work out in the open with the horse on a lead rope. Horses are more relaxed if you work near some other horses, for company and so the horse can feel safe -- he's a herd animal and "a horse off by itself is easy for the wolves to get..."

Horses that have done some "natural horsemanship" can often be trimmed with no headwear, or ground-tied. Clicker trained horses will stand quietly with their nose near a "target" taped to the wall, or with their front feet on a small mat.

Rest as needed. Keep up with food and fluids!! This is part of the job, not an "extra." Accidents happen when you get tired, hungry, and dehydrated -- and forget to notice. Stand up and walk around every little while. Have the owner walk the horse around if he gets fidgety, and especially on a first trim to get the blood circulating in his feet so he can comfortably stand on one to pick up the other for you.

If a horse won't pick up a foot, generally it's because the other foot is too sore to stand on, and you have to respect that. Take him out onto the grass, or give him a flake of hay to stand on, whatever helps him pick up the foot. You can keep in your car a hunk of 2" (5 cm) builder's styrofoam and a roll of duct tape and make a pad for a really sore foot. Or get a 2-foot-square piece of the dense foam that is used for people who have to stand on concrete floors all day; in the US, available at Lowe's stores.

If you tend to get frustrated / angry / irritated with a horse that's having trouble helping you out, I highly recommend you do some ongoing emotional or awareness type of work on yourself -- counseling, any kind of martial arts, meditation, etc. -- whatever helps you learn to focus and stay aware. Horses really pick up on your mental / emotional state and can get too upset to work with you. This is the other side of "natural horsemanship" -- you need to be able to put your own troubles aside and "be there" with them.

There will be times when a foundered horse you've been working on has to be put down, or when an owner chooses to put him down without giving you a chance to help him. When this happens, you will need to have a good cry (later, not with the owner present). Like eating and drinking, this is "part of the job." You have to grieve to keep your heart open for the next lame horse that comes along. If you omit grieving, it will get harder and harder to take on horses that really need your care.

There is no rule that says you have to jump into a trimming business with both feet on a certain date. It's perfectly OK to slide into it gradually so you can figure out how to make it work in your particular life.