Careers with Horsepower: Farrier Dean Sinclair
By Margaret Evans
Many people with a passion for horses dream of one day turning that passion into a career in the horse industry. Today, there are many opportunities to pursue a horse-related occupation, from the more traditional career paths, to jobs that combine equine knowledge with non-horsey skills and experience, to professions in new areas of specialization. Opportunities for the training, education, and experience to prepare for a horse industry career are more accessible than ever before.
For Dean Sinclair of Kelowna, BC, that opportunity came when he was 16 years old…
“The beginning of the day starts in my shop at about 7:00 am, doing some forge work clipping up shoes and sharpening knives for the day’s work,” says Certified Journeyman Farrier Dean Sinclair of Kelowna, BC. “I have a young man who is apprenticing with me and we are under our first horses at 8:00 am. I have a mixed practice of shoeing show horses, endurance horses, and pleasure horses along with a handful of jumpers. Lunch is generally a sandwich on the run and we wind up the day back at the shop by about 5 pm. All of my appointments are pre-booked so I finish the day calling the next day’s appointments with a quick phone message or text to remind clients. We average about four to six shoeings and five or six trims per day depending on the time of year. Being seasonal work, many farriers will work much longer hours and sometimes seven days a week during the busy time of the year to make up for the slow times over the winter months.”
Photo: Dean Sinclair believes that being a farrier is a lifelong journey, and that farriers should continually further their education and skills.
Sinclair offers basic shoeing and trimming as well as therapeutic and corrective shoeing. Generally, basic shoeing makes up the bulk of the day’s work but specialist shoeing offers variety and satisfaction when the horse responds positively.
Although he had little horse experience at age 16 when introduced to farriery, Sinclair enjoyed the work. He graduated from the Olds College Farrier Science Program and built his clientele through advertising and reputation.
Sinclair takes pride in working with his hands and with horses. It’s a genuine feeling of accomplishment to take a lame horse or a horse with poor hoof quality or conformation, and use his forging and shoeing skills to produce a sound horse.
Like everyone who works with horses, the weather can be a real challenge as most of the work is outside. Nervous horses or those that misbehave can make it difficult to do a quality job. It is also a challenge, or perhaps a public relations dilemma, to have to educate clients that the farrier’s job is to shoe or trim the horse – not to teach it to behave.
“You don’t necessarily have to ride horses to be a good farrier, but a solid understanding of how a horse thinks and reacts is essential,” he said. “You need patience working with the horse, as well as patience in developing your farrier skills. Learning to shoe horses is a lifelong journey that needs to be supplemented with going to continuing education workshops in forging and shoeing skills along with pushing yourself to achieve different levels of certification.”
Sinclair stressed the importance of a five-year business plan. It can take time to build up a practice and earn the trust of clientele.
“A lot of young people who are graduating from farrier schools are now choosing to work under an established farrier for several years and slowly build up a clientele until they are ready to go out on their own,” he says.
And it’s not just farrier skills that are important when you think you are ready to branch out alone. Sinclair says communication skills are huge!
From 2000 to 2014, Sinclair held the position of Farrier Science Program Coordinator and Head Instructor at Olds College in Alberta. “During my years of teaching at Olds College we would conduct an interview process to select the applicants for the program (it was a competitive entry program). One of the questions asked of the applicant was: Why do you want to become a farrier? Probably 90 percent of them would answer: I want to be my own boss. The reality is that once you have established a clientele, you will have about 125-plus bosses all with different personalities, so you’d better have the communication and people skills to deal with them.
The last and probably the most important quality to the survival in any business is dependability. If you can’t show up on time or show up at all, your skills as a farrier are worth nothing. The owner’s time is worth just as much as your own. Remember, everyone is replaceable.”
Sinclair said that there are over 65 farrier schools in Canada and the US but he believes the two best are Olds College and Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Both facilities have up-to-date farrier labs that are well equipped to deliver their course loads.
Main photo courtesy of Dean Sinclair