Based in Oxfordshire, UK, in the centre of a thriving equine area, Ben Benson has an established farriery business catering for many professional riders. An Approved Training Farrier, Ben was instrumental in the Forge at the London 2012 Olympics alongside Jim Blurton AWCF and acted as NTO (National Technical Official) for the Paralympics heading the team of 13 farriers who provided around the clock care throughout both events.
Why did you decide to become a farrier?
Ben’s Father was a farrier and as many small boys do “wanted to do what Dad did” and so it was arranged for Ben to spend time with a local blacksmith. After spending two weekends sweeping the floor numerous times he was allowed to do some forging, “something clicked” and Ben found it incredibly satisfying being able to “make something”. Despite interests in game keeping the more forge work he did the more addictive it became. Ben flew through the ‘pre-farrier’ course and successfully secured himself an apprenticeship with Haydn Price DipWCF. Through Haydn Ben was introduced to horse shoeing competitions and competition horses, his first real taste of “Formula 1 cars”.
Who (or what) has been your biggest influence or inspiration in your career both within and outside the profession and how?
Haydn ‘opened Ben’s eyes’, “his passion is never ending and he works in many different areas…he gave me the tools to work with”. Ben completed his apprenticeship with David Smith AWCF and Ben credits David for being the one who “told me how to use the tools” and it is David who Ben credits with helping him win the Apprentice National Championship.
In addition, Ben’s Father was incredibly supportive and as an apprentice would often pop a ‘note’ in an envelope with a “don’t tell your Mother” message included!
What’s the most unusual shoeing job that you have done?
“This would have to be shoeing a fat-bottomed cob, quite happily stood on its hind toes with its heels elevated off the floor – his owner seemed to be completely oblivious”.
What is the funniest incident you have experienced whilst at work?
“It would have to be watching a client hold a horse that I was shoeing and allowing it to chew the extension lead – there was actually smoke coming out of the wire. I also heard an amusing tale of an apprentice making an owner feint by holding a cadaver leg out on her return from making the tea which closely resembled her own horses…needless to say he was banned from the yard.”
If you didn’t become a farrier what do you think you would have done? (If you could do it all again would you be a farrier?!)
“I don’t know….yes I would do it all again though!”
What has been your highest point of your career so far?
“The Olympics and the Paralympics were amazing and for different reasons. The Paralympics was the most inspiring, humbling and emotional experience, the ability to ‘just get on with it’ and the sheer joy and sense of achievement that the competitors and their teams had for just being there was fantastic. We were overwhelmed at how friendly everyone was.”
What has been the lowest point of your career so far?
Ben failed his Diploma examination first time round – “with Honours!” Despite gaining ‘A’ grades in both theory and practical, Ben’s horse trotted up lame as he had bound a heel nail. This situation was made slightly better by a fellow apprentice also working for David Smith failing at the same time. Many clients thought they were joking when thy told them. Second time round Ben passed no problem at all. “You are only as good as your last job!”
What is the biggest regret you have in your career so far?
“Not doing the American Exchange as a newly qualified farrier”.
What advice would you offer those just beginning their apprenticeship?
“They need to absorb. Become a sponge. Don’t become fixated one way or another – there is more than one way to skin a cat. Ask your ATF as many questions as you can, step back and think about situations; it will set you up for life”
What advice would you offer those just starting up their own business?
“Realise you are a business, it is not just about how well you keep shoes on – farriery is not a transaction it is a service. You also need to learn how to deal with clients.”
What’s your next goal?
Ben’s next goal is his Associate examinations, “would love to be involved in another Olympics” and to continue his involvement in the Excel and World Class programme’s.
Why do you participate in farriery competitions?
Whilst Ben does not actively compete in farriery competitions he still sees himself as a competitive farrier. Nearly 90% of the horses he shoes are competition horses, many ridden by professional, full time riders. Ben does not feel you need to do competitions to be a good farrier.
What do you think the farriery industry will look like in the next 20 years? Do you think we will have more or less farriers, do you think training will have changed?
Ben believes the farrier industry in the UK is becoming “polarised”. The current problems with the training system in the UK will lead to big changes…
What do you think is the biggest threat to the farriery industry?
“Farriers are their own worst enemy; we can decide how it goes. Poor farriery promotes the positive aspects of barefoot trimming; work is there to be lost not taken”.
What is your biggest concern for the farriery industry?
Like many farriers in the UK Ben believes there are too many apprentices being trained. “It is about quantity not quality”. However, it is hoped that once the current problems are ironed out “we will come out of this bigger and stronger. The farriery apprenticeship needs to be recognised as further education.”
What keeps you sane and motivated when you are having a bad day?
“Your apprentices look to you for leadership and to be positive, failing that a few beers helps… tomorrow is a different day”
Favourite past time away from hot steel and horses?
Trick or tip (please provide a trick or a tip, this may be shoeing, shoemaking or trimming or could be getting money out of bad payers or handling nervous horses)
Ben highlighted the need for horse handling skills, “calm, no screaming or yelling. The ability to handle a horse, put it at ease to get through a situation, how to hold a horse”.
By Claire Brown