Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Open Letter to My Next Horseshoer

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller

I've often told people that when I ultimately quit horses, it won't be because of the cost -- hundreds every month in hay, grain, veterinary bills, fly spray and the endless litany of other products they need (or I want).  It won't be the hard work:  the hours every day of cleaning stalls, dragging hoses, measuring supplements, or grooming.  It won't be the injuries, not the major damage from having that horse fall on me on the blacktop, nor the daily minor bruises and cuts and scrapes from tending them.  It won't even be the heartbreak:  those awful moments when you say goodbye to an old friend who just can't get up again.

Nope.  It won't be any of those things.  It'll be horseshoers.

Now, I've got a great deal of respect for anyone willing to work long hours in the heat and dust and grime, doing backbreaking work with hammer and nippers, while having invested their own time or money in learning everything from equine anatomy and motion mechanics to how to control sheared heels.  A good horseshoer is a hard-working, knowledgable member of every horse owner's extended family.  A competent and professional horseshoer who also is kind to the animal is worth his or her weight in gold (and to those petite gals who do just as great a job as their bigger guy colleagues, you're worth twice your weight in gold).  I love you horseshoers, I really do.

But having seen those T-shirts and coffee mugs with "things you never want to say to your horseshoer" and hearing those horseshoer gripes (face it, there are many), I need a little equal time here.  Any of you who've worked on my horses know I'm going to tell it to you up front -- it doesn't benefit your business when someone doesn't communicate with you, then lets you go only to talk smack about you to their horsey friends and neighbors.  I'm not going to do that.  I'm sharing this with those of you who are starting out, or who might be parking in front of my barn in the future.  If you're losing customers faster than a horse will lose a shoe in a chain-link corral, maybe this will come in handy.

Here are some things I'd like you to know, future horseshoer guy.  I want us to have a long, productive, professional relationship in which my horses are safe and happy and you, hardworking horseshoer guy, are safe and happy, too.

  • Please ... listen to me.  I see my horses on a daily basis.  Heck, on the best days, I even get to ride them or spend time working them on the ground.  I watch.  I know how they move, I know what I do with them, and I know how I want them to move.  If you're so committed to your opinion that you'll value mine, I'll shop for someone who does.

  • Be kind to my horses.  Every one of them will stand quietly if handled properly.  By the time I'll ask you to work on their feet, they are trained not to kick, bite, invade your space, or jump on top of you because they see their shadow.  When they're babies, I'll pay you a few bucks just to go in and pet them until you know each other.  If they have behavioral issues, I'll tell you about it and I'll be right there making sure you're able to safely conduct your business.  In return, don't constantly snarl and growl at them.  Horses are big, fearful creatures and you're not going to alleviate that fear by continually barking at them until they're so edgy they'll jump when you sneeze.  If you make them tense, I'll find a new shoer.  If you strike one of my horses, you'd better have a damned good reason to do so (and yes, a horse acting aggressively towards you -- not fearfully, but aggressively -- qualifies).  We're partners in this thing, you and me, and my horse and I are partners, too.  Don't bark at my horses.  Geez.

  • Don't badmouth my last horseshoer.  Heck, don't badmouth any other horseshoers.  For crying out loud, don't ever badmouth my vet.  If you want to constructively critique the work of another shoer, that's fine -- that's how we can have open, honest dialogue.  But I've had so many horseshoers whose first question is, "Who was shoeing them before?" and as soon as I mention the name, they start shaking their head and running down the other guy.  It's unprofessional, it's not impressive, and it's totally uncool.  

  • If you say you're going to be here, be here.  I'm not the normal horse owner:  I'm pretty flexible.  I don't get too worked up if you're late.  I don't get worked up if there's an occasional no-show.  Now, there was a time I had to take vacation hours every time my shoer was coming out.  It galled me no end when I lost hundreds of dollars or a wasted rare day off waiting on a shoer who never came out.  Don't do that.  Your client's time matters, folks.  Taking a vacation day every six weeks uses up all the vacation time some people even accrue!  If you SAY you're going to be here, be here.  If something comes up, call.  Don't say it if you're not going to do it.  I always pay the minute the work is done.  I don't ever, ever bounce checks.  Now, how would you feel if I was as bad about paying as you are about showing up?  

  • If you get injured, or are going on vacation, or Old Trusty Blue Pick-Up is going to be at the shop for eighteen weeks, be professional enough to tell me so I can make other arrangements.  Don't get your feelings hurt if I have someone else fill in.  It isn't that I don't care.  I do.  It's not that I'm unsympathetic -- I am.  But I'm not going to neglect my horses because you're taking six months off.  Let's be reasonable:  we can either communicate about this and you can even give me your recommendations for a back-up shoer, or I'll do it on my own, but either way it's going to happen.  I'd rather work with you so you can retain my future business than work against you because your feelings got hurt.

  • Don't make a pass at me.  Granted, this doesn't happen much these days -- I'm married now, and I've had the same shoer for the past five years (with occasional interruptions due to some professional disagreements).  As for the many times it occurred in the past, it never was welcome.  Seriously, your female customers don't want to be alone in the barn with a sexually-aggressive guy wielding a hammer, okay?  Be professional.  Don't try for a hay-roll with your customers -- it'll hurt your bank-roll.  If your professional relationship develops into a friendship that turns into a date, great.  

  • Heck, don't tell me filthy jokes, either.  I don't need that garbage.  Note:  if your customer isn't laughing, that's a clue.  And your language?  I'm a big girl, and I know how to launch a bomb like anyone else -- but the neighbors don't need to hear you yelling profanities.  I don't like it, either.  Be professional.  Professionals don't use the F-bomb in front of their customers.  Ever.

  • Don't criticize my big furry babies.  I don't own them because I hate them, you know.  I love the big kids.  I know they're not perfect.  If there's a behavioral issue I need to know about, I'd appreciate you letting me know so I can work with them on it.  But don't walk along the barn, look at my new baby and announce, "She's long-backed!" or "She's a nasty ol' biatch!"  Say something nice, even if you have to look long and hard to find it.  Just as you won't look at your sister's new baby and loudly burst out, "But that's an ugly baby!" don't do it here.  Keep your inside voice and your outside voice properly separated.

  • If I am not happy with the shoeing job you did, don't get defensive.  It is a good thing that a customer will tell you what the issue is so you can resolve it.  Talk about it.  Listen.  Set ego aside and communicate.  If I'm telling you that you're about to lose my business because the horses' heels are so overrun that they can't walk down a slight slope, don't keep pointing at them and yelling, "Those angles are perfect!  Look at them!"  I did.  Right before I started looking in the phone book under "Farrier Services."

  • Don't tell me that horses "just lose shoes" and there's nothing a shoer can do about it.  I've gone through far too many horseshoers, and I've noticed a pattern:  some shoers can't keep a shoe on a horse.  Others shoe a horse so the shoes just do not come off, not through mud and miles and rocky terrain.  Obviously a horse can get hung up and pull a shoe off.  I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about a horse where the shoe just plain falls off a week after the shoer has been out, and the shoer says, "That's not a shoeing issue" -- four times in a row.  Guys?  Listening?  It's a balance issue.  An imbalanced shoeing job will cause the shoes to fly off.  It's worse than winged monkeys!  If your customers are complaining that the shoes just will not stay on, it's time to start self-assessing your work and figuring out what's wrong.  Not everyone has that problem.
Oh yes, I know I'm demanding.  I want competence, patience and professionalism.  And I know how many wonderful, competent, patient and professional shoers there are out there.  If you're all that, I'm the perfect client.  If you're not, I hope you'll see a little bit of the horse owner's viewpoint here and -- forgive the pun -- take it all in good stride.

Copyright (c) 2013 by MJ Miller
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