Not knowing very much at all about horses or their footwear, I had always fallen into the trap of thinking of the ancient art of horseshoe-making as something quaint and traditional, belonging in the past.
But according to former world champion Darren Bazin, who runs the British Horseshoeing School in Desborough, there are now more farriers than in the days of “working horses”.
In fact the rise in popularity, which has seen horses increasingly used for leisure pastimes such as sports, has meant that more farriers are now needed to make horseshoes than in previous centuries when heavy working horses were more commonly used throughout the country.
The 42-year-old said: “There are more people training now than when we had working horses as there are so many horses in the leisure industry. But our training system is being overhauled so the trainees will be reduced as they are now training more apprentices than are required.
“In Northamptonshire we are pretty rural and there are a lot of horses about and there are quite a few farriers in Northamptonshire, about 30 to 40.”
The British Horseshoeing School was set up by Darren about two years ago as an independent facility. As a three-time world champion farrier, Darren brings about 20 years of experience in the trade to his role.
He tutors the people who come to him for an education in a discipline which is thousands of years old but still very much used in modern times.
Darren, who also runs a farrier business called Willowbrook Equine Farriers, said: “We can do a maximum of six students in one go. Most of my courses are one-day courses but I do longer courses for the guys who come from abroad, they can come for a week or 10 days.
“It is training for the industry more than taster courses, it is giving people a bit more of my knowledge and a bit of what I have learned over the past 20 years.”
Not only does Darren take on apprentices in his own business but he also tutors at the school, helping students ranging from British trainees who want to develop their skills in certain areas to visitors from across the world who are keen to develop their own skills with the help of a former world champion.
The school runs short courses for every level, although longer courses are also available.
According to Darren, the process of training, which is generally done through large colleges such as those in Hereford, Warwick and Myerscough, takes four years.
He said: “It isn’t an easy thing. In order to shoe in the UK, you have to be a registered farrier and it takes just over four years and you have to take a final exam. You have to know the full anatomy of the horse’s limbs and be able to shoe for different conditions and diseases. We have as much knowledge as a vet when it comes to horses’ limbs.
“You have to take in the whole of the animal and the way the horse is moving. There are also now more products that are coming out on the market and you have to know how to do these things. You don’t just nail them on now, you glue them on.”
A number of rehomed horses are kept on site at Darren’s Desborough base, giving students an ideal, real-life opportunity to fit the shoes they have made. So not only are the animals given a new home in the countryside, but they also have regular access to new shoes.
Darren explained: “They have been rescued from different situations, we give them a home and in return they have to be shoed.”
As someone who comes from a “horsey” family, it could be argued that, for Darren, equine work is in the blood. Together with a business partner, Darren even runs a website called www.knowfootknowhorse.com which contains educational movies about the many different aspects of horseshoe making.
Reflecting on his background, Darren said: “We had horses when I was a kid and a friend of ours was a farrier as well. It looked like a good job. The guy I was apprenticed to was a good guy and it went from there. I’m fortunate that I look forward to going to work.
“My brother is a former jump jockey, my sister and dad used to have a company that did horse-drawn carriages. It seems we all have a bit of an attachment to horses.”
The stereotypical idea of a farrier is arguably a fairly butch depiction.
Think of images of workers banging out horseshoes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and those images will invariably include men working in hot conditions with heavy materials.
But speaking to Darren Bazin of the British Horseshoeing School, it seems that increasing numbers of women are being drawn into a career as a farrier.
He said: “It is physical, but a lot of the work is down to technique. Some guys built like brick houses might struggle and then there are girls who can get around horses because they have the right technique. You have to have a love of horses and you shouldn’t be afraid of hard work.”
There is often a lot of confusion between the terms farriers and blacksmiths.
The general distinction seems to come down to the fact that farriers are very much focused on the making of horseshoes, shoeing of horses and expertise in the animal’s lower limbs, while blacksmiths carry out a wide range of work with different metals.
It is believed there are now about 3,200 farriers in the country. According to Darren, the job is an extremely skilled one, requiring an eye for detail.
He said: “It is about getting the ‘eye,’ to see what is best for the horse, the balance and not only the balance but cutting things into lines and symmetry.”