Business Relationships

American Farrier's Journal | 2009

A successful farrier builds and maintains strong and healthy relationships with Veterinarians, trainers and other farriers.

Farriers have a tendency to live and work in a cave. "The going-it-alone" mentality may cause you to forget the veterinarians, trainers, and other farriers who help keep your business running smoothly. Not only should you make it a point to strengthen these critical relationships, you should make it a top priority.

Here's the bottom line: no matter how determined, hardworking, and talented you may be, you simply can't be a successful farrier all by yourself. Never forgetting that fact is critical to your success.

Here are some common mistakes that virtually guarantee you won't develop healthy business relationship.

  1. Talking only about you. Do not dominate the conversations with stories and comments about you and what you have done in life or in the farrier profession. Avoid conversations about conflicts you have had with other veterinarians, trainers or farriers.
  2. Revealing too much. Avoid personal stories or comments. No one really wants to hear about your ex or your health troubles. These types of personal problems do no enhance the business relationship. Stay positive and upbeat, it's contagious. Other professionals gravitate toward positive and happy people.
  3. Not listening. If you are dominating the conversation then you are not listening. This is particularly important if the veterinarian or trainer is attempting to discuss a problem or treatment options for a particular horse. Resist the desire to jump into the middle of a sentence with a quick fix or an acknowledgment of the problem before the other professional finishes. Let the other person finish speaking before you begin your comments.
  4. Working through a conversation. Everyone is busy and running a little behind. But force yourself to stop whatever you are doing, make eye contact and let the other person know that you are interested in them and their opinions. Nothing says, "I don't care what you are saying" more than turning your back on them and begin setting up or dropping your head to continue the trim or shoeing.
  5. Not looking the best you can. Shoeing horses means that you are never clean. As the saying goes, "You know you are a horseshoer when you wash your hands before going to the bathroom." But that does not give you an excuse to wear that favorite ball cap until it rots off your head. Nor does it give you and excuse to wear wrinkled or torn clothes that say you don't care about yourself so you probably don't care about others. Have a change of clothes (or at least a clean shirt) in your truck, you'll be surprise how often they come in handy.
  6. Trying to be cool or aloof. This kind of behavior screams insecurity. Just be you, with small modifications as the situation dictates. Remember how you felt when another professional dismissed you and your opinions and make sure that you don't present that image to others.
  7. Be the other person. If you admire the veterinarian, trainer or farrier and want them to be part of your professional circle then you must be proud to be associated with them. Make sure that they are proud to be associated with you as well.
  8. Communication. Always return every email, phone call and/or correspondence as soon as humanly possible, even if you can't always provide him or her with what they want. This means evenings and days off. Once they know that you care about them, their business and their problems you are on the way to establishing that professional relationship.
  9. Value-add. If you borrow a friend's car or truck it should be returned cleaned with a full tank of gas, regardless of how dirty it was or how empty the gas tank was when you borrowed it. Now the friend benefits from the favor as well as you. Make sure that your relationships with other farriers, veterinarians and trainers is not one sided. Make sure they are getting as much out of the relationship as you are. A strong business network is based on respect, trust and value-add. Unfortunately, too many people forget this last step.

Gaining other's confidence and trust in you and your shoeing is key to developing good business relationships. Confidence and trust comes for more that just doing a good job mechanically on the horse's foot. You must develop deeper relationships that tell the farrier, vet or trainer that you are the person they can go to. These relationships always translate into a higher income.

Farrier /Farrier Relationships.

Mentors. Arguably, the greatest educational resource in our industry is other farriers. Every farrier, regardless of his or her success, knows other farriers who have obtained a higher status in some aspect of the horseshoeing world. It may be in their shoeing for a specific discipline, their financial success, their morality and ethics, their forge work and so on, with an inexhaustible list. A successful farrier establishes relationships with many mentors in an out of the horseshoeing world.

  • Take charge of your own mentoring: seek out mentors, they won't seek you.
  • Beware of choosing mentors only for the power they wield. It's better to spend time with an individual contributor who possesses a great deal of wisdom than a big name who does not have time to truly work with you.
  • Make sure that the mentor is looking to improve you and your skills and not just looking for a subordinate that "worship" them or free labor.
  • Build you own mentoring network. When you attend clinics, seminars or The International Hoof Care Summit do not spend all your time visiting and talking with those farriers you know well. For instance, The Summit is an opportunity to meet, literally, hundreds of farriers from around the world. Introduce yourself, hand out business cards and get as many business cards as you can. Write on the back of card the farrier's "specialty", or other
  • information, so you can recall facts later.
  • Treat your mentor relationship with care; don't abuse it by asking for inappropriate favors or information, and don't take your mentor for granted. Do not forget the occasional "thank you" or acknowledgement of the assistance they are providing.

Associates. This is a relationship between two or more people in which each one of you has an equal status and independence but there is also an implicit or informal obligation to each other. Respect is at the heart of building this type of relationships.

  • Respect the right to differ. Avoid an attitude of "my way is the right way, so therefore, all other ways are wrong". When differences occur and they are viewed this way, a power struggle ensues. A good business relationship can turn bad, quickly.
  • Differing Values. This concept can be a little difficult. While other people's values need to be respected, conflicting values can be so different as to prevent this type of relationship from forming without major conflicts. It is important that you identify your values, and know what is acceptable in others before entering into this business relationship.
  • These relationships develop into deep personal relationships over the years, so nurture them by maintaining contact.

Competition. This is a relationship that can get negative and non- productive if not handled in a professional manner.

  • Respect. Anyone that is making a living shoeing horses deserves your respect. Do not talk down your competition to other farriers, customers, vets, trainers or anyone. There is room enough out there for lots of different shoeing styles.
  • Refuse to evaluate your competition's work. When customers ask you to evaluate another farrier's shoeing or trim just tell them that you don't evaluate competitor's work. If you would like you to shoe or trim their horse then they can evaluate the differences.
  • You can make a competitor an associate by going that extra mile and make them a friend. Reach your hand out, smile and be polite every time you see them and you can thaw an icy relationship.

Farrier/Trainer Relationships

The horse trainer is responsible for training and conditioning the horse, the equipment used, the stabling environment, feeding and turnout. The trainer can also act as an agent and interact with other professionals who work with the horse.

Working with trainers requires a professional farrier with communication skills. The trainers see and work with the horse, and sometimes the horse owner, on a daily basis. We, the farrier, see the horse every six to eight weeks. A good farrier will rely upon the trainer to give detailed history about movement or lameness issues that can benefit the farrier in decided how to set up the foot and type of shoeing.

  • Communicate. Make the effort to check in with the trainer in your barns and ask if there is anything that you need to be aware of for the shoeing and/or trimming of he horses you are scheduled to work on that day. Be sure to stop by at the end of the day with any information about any horse under the trainers care. I prefer to write a note on half page stationary with my name and contact information.
  • Listen to the trainer. Let the trainer air any issues they may have about the horses you are going to be working on without interrupting, becoming defensive or argumentative. Everyone should be working in the interest of the horse and owner.
  • Be proactive. Discuss shoeing changes and recommendations to the trainer before there is a problem. Include them in the decision making so they can deal with the owner over the long term.
  • Acknowledgement. Be sure to acknowledge the accomplishments of the horse while it is under the trainer. Everyone likes to know that others think they are doing a good job. Bring a nice bottle of wine or something to say thank-you to the trainer for working with you and being the liaison between you and the owner, particularly with a difficult owner.

In spite of your best efforts conflicts between farriers and trainers are common and very quickly boil down to a power struggle, with the horse owner caught in the middle. It is up to us, the farriers, to make this relationship work. If everything fails then it is best to leave the account before your reputation takes a hit.

My experiences have been that aggressive trainers are either insecure and/or have an abrasive personality. There are some things that you should do when dealing with this type of trainer.

  • First and foremost don't take their behavior personally. Most of them behave in a difficult manner habitually and their attitude is not directed specifically towards you alone, they treat everyone poorly. If their tone and actions are beyond your ability or desire to cope, then politely tell them that you require a professional working relationship with trainers so that the horse can benefit from everyone's expertise. Tell them that they have obviously lost their confidence in your abilities and therefore a new farrier might be a better solution for the owner and horse.
  • Don't try to fight with them. Fighting with them may only complicate matters further and can pave the way for a bigger argument. Allow them to run out of steam. If you argue with stupid people those folks passing by cannot tell which one is which.
  • Don't try to win the argument: Do not approach the argument with the mindset of winning it and proving the other person wrong. You may prove them wrong but that is unlikely to change their future behavior. Instead of trying to win the argument, try to work towards a reasonable solution, which will be in the best interests of everyone concerned. Remember your goal is simply to assertively express your own opinion, not try and win a battle of right and wrong.
  • Leave professionally. When you have had enough you must remain composed and professional. Do not bad mouth the trainer to the owner. Just tell them that the relationship with the trainer is not working out and that, in the interest of their horse, you would advise they find another farrier, or perhaps the farrier that the trainer recommends. Be calm, professional and polite. Let them know that they are free to call you if they need your services again.

Farrier/Veterinarian Relationships

For many farriers the vet/farrier relationship is a sign of success. Most new farriers proudly relive that first veterinarian recommendation as a rite of passage.

In almost all state the Veterinarian Medical Practice Acts are pretty specific. If a Veterinarian is involved, he/she is in charge. If you are given a "shoeing prescription" your options are to follow it or don't shoe the horse.

To maintain a relationship with a veterinarian you must be proactive and prepared to make the relationship work. It's really up to you.

  • The farrier and the veterinarian are both attempting to do the same thing, make a living in the horse world. We are not adversaries so don't start a power struggle.
  • Never question or argue with the vet in front of anyone! If you disagree with the vet's finding then make an appointment to speak with the vet. Be prepared to state your case with specific information. Always return phone calls and/or emails immediately.
  • Acknowledge any referrals that the vet makes. Send a card that thanks them for their confidence in your business. Everyone likes to know that they are appreciated.
  • Farriers see the horse every six to eight weeks. The veterinarian my only see the horse once every two or three years. Don't hold the veterinarian's feet to the fire if he makes a decision based upon very poor history from the owner.
  • Keep the veterinarian in the loop. Once you have a working relationship with a vet you will be able to modify his shoeing recommendations as things change with the horse. Send a short letter on your business stationary stating the name of the horse, owner, address and any other information required to identify that animal. In as few words as possible explain the changes you have made and why. The vet may not see this horse for another year and this will keep them informed of the horse's progress.

Business relationships are not stuffy, dry second cousins to our personal relationships. Business relationships are personal. They require us to be genuine and understand those that we deal with on a daily basis. Just remember that this relationship building boils down to the fact the it is you they buy, not your shoeing.