BACKYARD farriers with no qualifications have overrun the Hunter’s horse industry and put the future of qualified farriers at risk.
There are 11 qualified farriers in the Hunter registered with the NSW Master Farriers Association and about 50 between Tamworth and Gosford who have qualifications but are not members of the association.
At least three times more backyard farriers are operating in the region and undercutting the cost of professional services – leaving qualified farriers with limited opportunities to expand their business and a lack of funds to employ apprentices who want to obtain formal qualifications.
Association secretary Jim Middleton said it was not uncommon for an unqualified farrier to have a full-time job and shoe a few horses on weekends for cash.
He said usually charge between $60 and $70 to shoe a horse while a professional farrier charges at least $120 to $140.
“There are 75 registered farriers in NSW [with the association] and there’s about 60,000 to 70,000 horses, so there is a huge demand that the qualified farriers can’t fill,” Mr Middleton said.
“The unregistered guys are taking up the slack but it’s preventing new kids from coming through and learning the trade and being a professional.”
Mr Middleton predicts the industry will continue to decline in the next 15 years unless the state government implements licensing and registration regulations.
The association has proposed that cost of regulation could be paid for through membership and practicing fees and it could take care of that alone, or with another organisation.
It is pushing for a five-year amnesty whereby unqualified farriers would have to upgrade their skills and become registered.
After that shoeing a horse commercially would be illegal as it is in the United Kingdom.
“We don’t want to push people out, we want the people in the industry now to upgrade their skills and get qualified and registered so the consumer knows what they are getting and we know who they are,” Mr Middleton said.
“That way they can bring up their prices to a commercial level which will give them a good income, give the consumer access to quality tradesman and keep our qualified tradesman in a job.
“If the equine industry wants quality people to service their horses this is the only way to go.”
Professional Farriers Association of NSW president Dave Winter said farriers needed to complete an apprenticeship so they could learn about the anatomy of the horse and the mechanics of its legs.
He said the association ran clinics to educate unqualified farriers but they rarely attended.
“Once someone is turning a dollar out they are happy to keep going on that level, but the days of slapping steel on feet should be over because it can be detrimental to the horse’s performance,” Mr Winter said.
“Being a farrier is hard work and I think a lot of the young fellas are off to the coal mines instead because it’s bigger money than what you’d get as an apprentice.”
Professional farrier and part-time TAFE teacher Bob Sim, who is based in Abernethy, said industry regulation would not happen because the NSW Master Farriers Association was not talking to farriers and other associations to gain support.
He said TAFE fees would increase to $6000 for an apprentice and $12,000 for a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) place next year and that was a big threat for people who wanted a Certificate III in Farriery, and enrolments had already declined.
TAFE offers the certificate at its Scone and Richmond campus, but it has been cut from 10 months to 8 months each year and is only delivered on three days each month, Mr Sim said.
There are 15 apprentices at Scone and 26 in Sydney, and Mr Sim said they
struggled to learn the material in the timeframe.
“The fees will wipe out all of those guys who are seeking to become educated farriers and trying to enter the industry,” he said.
“Where do they find that kind of money to go to TAFE for 24 days a year?”
A Hunter TAFE spokeswoman has confirmed rumours that all TAFE programs at Scone were under review to ensure the TAFE could “remain viable under the smart and skilled funding model in a new competitive market”.
This includes the Certificate III in Farriery as well as courses in agriculture, wool handling, horse breeding, and racing stablehand.
The spokeswoman said TAFE was “committed to supporting the Scone community and industry”, but did not say why the farriery course had been changed.
She said the course was on next year’s skills list and apprentices would be eligible for a subsidy that would be capped at $2000 in 2015.
Students who had been studying the course this year under an RPL place would pay a $2000 pro rata fee on the remaining studies required to complete the qualification, she said.
Scone campus head teacher in farriery Stuart Murphy said the course specialised in the thoroughbred breeding industry as well as corrective and therapeutic shoeing, while the course at Richmond was more aligned to race track shoeing.
“It is a 910 hour apprenticeship, 80 hours in duration short of a diploma, and the expectations from industry are unbelievable high,” Mr Murphy said.
“It’s very practically based with underpinning theory – there is a lot to do with the anatomy and physiology of the foot and that’s important because a farrier is often consulting with the vet to counteract a problem with a specific shoeing technique.”
Mr Murphy said he encouraged industry to be involved in the course and speak to him about their training needs for apprentices.
Mr Sim said Australian standards were lower than the rest of the world and the 51 per cent pass mark at TAFE did not help build or educate the industry.
He was also concerned apprentices were allowed to leave the course after three years to work in the field when it was supposed to be a four-year apprenticeship.
He runs workshops and mentors young farriers and said anyone who wanted qualifications would eventually turn to overseas programs to upskill if they could not afford the TAFE course.
The Farrier International Testing System (FITS) exam, which was introduced in Australia last year, has already attracted more than 42 students in NSW and is booked out again next year.
The exam was created to test the farriers’ skills across the world in the certified farrier and advanced skills farrier levels, and it has given led to work opportunities in other countries.
“You’ve got to study and be able to hand make a lot of shoes – everything we did in our apprenticeship – and it’s another way to get educated,” Mr Winter said.
The Farriers Registration Council in England offers a range of qualifications from a diploma to an honours degree, which Australian farriers can undertake.
Mr Sim started his career as unqualified farrier 25 years ago. He completed his apprenticeship, became accredited, and is now an examiner for the FITS exam and has obtained many qualifications including a Diploma of the Worshipful Company of Farriers and a Certificate IV in teaching. He will sit more exams in the coming years because he believes knowledge and education was the key to improving.
“Every farrier is not going to do it because their education is so low, but if we keep trying to upskill everybody, eventually it will be if you’re not upskilled you won’t get work,” he said.
“Slowly people are getting on board and I’m getting phone calls from people asking when the next FITS exam or course will be held. They want the advanced education not offered to them at TAFE.”
ELECTRICIAN turned apprentice farrier Paul Slattery has chosen to obtain formal qualifications to keep up with the demands of the industry.
The Millers Forest horse owner is in his second year of a Certificate III in Farriery at Scone TAFE, and while he said the course structure was a bit “disjointed”, he knew it was worth the effort to become a professional.
He works under qualified farrier and part-time TAFE teacher Bob Sim and his devotion to training over the past 18 months helped him win the title of Runner Up High Point Novice of Australia at the National Farrier and Blacksmiths Championships in Adelaide last week.
“It was my first competition so I was really happy with the result,” he said.
Mr Slattery, 27, competed in three-day event riding for 15 years, and decided to pursue a career as a farrier after a brief stint as an electrician.
He works five or six days a week on horses between Singleton, Newcastle and the Central Coast.
“If you were out on your own you would struggle, you’ve got to get into the industry with someone who’s been in it a long time,” he said.