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The Carriage Commentator




Looking at the crafts and skills involved in producing the driving turnout, where better to start that at ground level? Sarah delves deeper – January 2020

The UK leads the way in setting the standards in farriery globally.  Why?


For as long as humans have been using horses for work, war or pleasure, there has been a need to tend to their feet.  And this has usually meant applying metal shoes as a means of protecting the hoof.  As it was the ancient custom to bury a horse with its master, there is evidence through excavation that the Celts were some of the first people to apply a nailed-on shoe to their equines in the United Kingdom from about 500 BC onwards. 

The Romans also shod their horses, including during their British occupation.  Their horses were relatively light and small, and the shoes that have been found from that period reflect that.  By the time the Normans arrived with William the Conqueror, shoes were a little heavier and broader, most likely because the animals were bigger.  The Normans brought their own farriers with them and they went on to be influential as in the 13th and 14th centuries, there is evidence that farm horses began to be shod. 


It is known that farriery was first formally recognised as a craft and trade in London in 1356.  The Mayor of the City summoned farriers, then known as ‘Marshalls’, together and formed a fellowship which continues today as the ‘Worshipful Company of Farriers’.  It is a City Livery Company, number 55 in the rankings, like the Mercers, Grocers, Fishmongers or Butchers, and it retains close links with the life of the City, as well as farriery.  The Ordinances of 1356 were written in Norman French but sadly, most records pertaining to the history of craft in London were lost during the Great Fire of 1666. 

Farriers have been active throughout time, not only forging, trimming and shoeing, but also treating equines for their ailments.  The veterinary profession as we know it today arose from the work of farriers.  Like any other trade, industry or profession, farriers had to be actively controlled and were subject to rules, which were the same for anyone who worked and lived in the City.  Part of the role of the Company, or any Guild relating to a trade or craft, was to not only protect its members but penalise any rule breakers.  Another role of the governing body was to control the quality of the work carried out by its members, factors which are still the forefront of the profession in the 21st-century. 


By 1674, during the reign of Charles II, there was a need to formalise the role of farriers and so a Royal Charter was drawn up.  Today, those joining the Livery Company still swear their allegiance to the Crown.  By 1887 the Court, which is the decision making body Company, established a register of farriers and set about founding practical exams in the art of making shoes for horses and applying them.  By this stage the reach of the Company’s jurisdiction went beyond the City, and an Institute of Horse Shoeing was founded which listed qualified farriers throughout the country.  In 1890, various bodies with an interest in the welfare of the horse, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, worked together to create a scheme for training, examining and registering farriers.  By 1907 the formal qualification of AFCL (Associate of the Farriers Company of London) was formed, and then in 1923 the highest examination which still exists today was created, the award of Fellow (FWCF).


In 1975 the Farriers Registration Act passed through Parliament on a Private Members Bill and it has been amended on several occasions since then, most recently in 2017.  As a result of the first bill, the Farriers Registration Council (FRC) was born as a statutory organisation which maintains the registers of farriers and decides who is qualified to register.  It is also the disciplinary body and decides who should be  prosecuted, be it because of unprofessional conduct, cruelty or illegal farriery i.e. shoeing unless holding a recognised qualification or deemed to be able to, such as vets or those on apprenticeships. 

With its headquarters in Peterborough, the FRC is governed by a Council which is made up of three members from the WCF, plus farriers, vets and representatives from bodies such as racing, the British Equestrian Federation and the RSPCA.  All the members are co-opted or elected and aim to provide a broad coverage of equestrianism in the UK.  Running the FRC’s activities is the Registrar David Greenwood.

The Livery Company continues to be fully involved in the craft, overseeing the examinations of farriers.  The exams are run by the Registrar Coreen Beckford who liaises with approved farriery and veterinary examiners.  The majority of the exams are to enable apprentices to gain their Diploma, which has replaced the RSS as the first recognised qualification.  The AFCL has been replaced by the Associate qualification and the Fellowship is still the highest obtainable award.

The Clerk, Charlotte Clifford, runs the business side of the Company as its activities extend to charitable work, lunches and dinners in the City, plus trips and lectures.  Each September, a new Master is sworn in, someone who has served their time on the Court as a Warden, and although not necessarily a farrier or vet, they will have either a professional or personal association with the equestrian world.

The interests of the working farrier are represented by a third body, the British Farriers and Blacksmith’s Association (BFBA).  The organisation encompasses metal workers too, traditional ‘smiths’ so recognising the forging and blacksmithing skills required to become a farrier on top of the requirement to work with a live equine and have a deep understanding of the foot, leg and conformation.

Next time, we’ll look at the route to becoming a farrier in the UK.