Farriery in New Zealand
David Hankin passed his Diploma in January 1996 after serving his apprenticeship with Malcolm Purcell. He relocated to New Zealand in January 2003 and has a regular column offering advice to horse owners in New Zealand’s leading equestrian magazine. Now heading a hugely successful farriery practice in Christchurch, NZ, his passions are walking, health and fitness and snowboarding.
Visit his website www.farrier.co.nz
"My decision to make the move to New Zealand was a milestone. After being born and raised in England, serving my apprenticeship on the Isle of Wight then running a busy farriery business in the North-West of England for a number of years, a couple of clients opened my eyes to the fact that there may be more desirable places to live, play or shoe horses. Wooah! A concept I had never considered before…
Back in the UK, I could see the threat from a countryside that was getting little or no support from politicians and a growing number of people who had their understanding of country issues being influenced by city-folk, the impending attempt (at the time) to ban hunting and the ever increasing thrust of red-tape and political correctness on our trade that could potentially become a problem in the future. This was about six years ago now and I wanted to see for myself what else the world had to offer.
New Zealand had always appealed to me, I’d only ever heard positive things and if any of the NZ foods that I had been eating for years were anything to go by (New Zealand lamb and Kiwi fruit for example) then I was keen to find out more. Looking back now, the decision to relocate to New Zealand was the best thing I could have done at the time. I can now look at the UK from a distance and although the increasing problems of political correctness, immigration, crime and violence are heart breaking to see in the country in which I was born, I appreciate being well away from the madness and in the relatively safe, peaceful yet exciting country that is New Zealand.
After a look around some other places along the way, I arrived in the South Island of New Zealand in early 2003 and fell in love with the country almost immediately. I was grabbed by the dramatic beauty of the place - the diversity of gentle flowing rivers with rugged snow-capped mountains in the backdrop but also the Kiwi outlook on life. That is, rather than chasing around in a rat-race trying to make as much money as possible with little direction, the desire to enjoy what a breathtaking country has to offer – namely the outdoors, placing more importance on spending time with friends and family and working only to make it all possible! It’s a basic concept but until I had experienced it for myself, one I had never before grasped. The genuine friendliness of the people of NZ is known throughout the world but it was refreshing to find people I had only just met offering me help with anything and everything.
Setting up a farriery business in NZ was quite a challenge at times. Whilst I had set up a farriery business before in the UK, there was nothing that quite prepared me for the small yet significant differences of a new country. Having to make numerous applications for different sorts of visas and submit amendments and explanations for my immigration applications all took time and it might have been a lot easier had I taken some professional advice beforehand. Gaining my permanent residency status (that meant I could legally live and work in New Zealand) was a happy occasion to say the least.
There are a large number of British-born people living in New Zealand and some say there are strong similarities between the two countries but setting up a farriery business, making it work and understanding the clientele took some time and six years later, I think I’ve just got the hang of it. I’ve realised that this is not the UK and things do not operate the same. To be honest, having these challenges is a lot of what appeals to me about living in a different country.
After gaining a few clients in New Zealand, I had my eyes opened yet again. I soon realised and had a very real appreciation of the contribution that the combination of professional bodies, training facilities and passionate farriers have made to the overall standards of hoof-care in the UK. Of course, we are all told that the overall standards of shoeing in the UK are the best in the world but until I had seen some of the shoes (from other farriers) that I was taking off I had always taken it for granted. It seems to me that in the UK, there are farriers who wish to knock those in positions of ‘power’, shout and scream for changes to the systems that are currently in place and have numerous complaints. Of course, there’s always room for improvement and healthy debate and changes are vital, but it’s also important to appreciate what you’ve got, remember and be grateful to the farriers of the past that have put in so much hard work in getting these systems in place and to recognise how high the standard of farriery is throughout the UK. With no compulsory registration in New Zealand, it is possible for anybody to buy some tools, shoes and nails and call himself a farrier. Believe me, many people do and the results are as you might expect. Shoes fitted that you should not be brave enough to nail on, an inch short on each heel and flares on feet that should have gone out of fashion in the sixties. This wasn’t what I was expecting from a country that had produced some of the best event riders of recent history.
I should at this stage point out that there are a core element of farriers spread throughout the two main islands of New Zealand that are in my opinion, world-class farriers. Regularly competing in Calgary with some impressive results, these are also some of the guys that train apprentices through the official NZ apprenticeship system and of course, contribute to keeping the standards of work and knowledge levels up. Whilst I saw some shocking standards of shoeing to start with, I also now see and appreciate some impressive and ingenious handiwork from a definite number of ‘good guys’ that are around.
I made sure I spent plenty of time enjoying my new country of choice during the first few months. If I wanted to settle and adopt the Kiwi mentality, I had to make an effort to appreciate everything New Zealand had to offer and this involved taking time out to try some of the outdoor pursuits, see the sights and meet new people. Just to confuse me and make things tricky, there were so many things I wanted to try that I didn’t know where to start. I’d seen some television shows before I left the UK and some of the water sports had always appealed. With the excellent NZ climate and the fact that February was the middle of summer, I took time to learn to wakeboard and find some muscles that even shoeing had never before discovered. With New Zealand having so much thermal activity underground, we are lucky to have a selection of hot pools dotted around the country to dip in to soothe away aches and pains (whether from over indulgence of leisure activities or one too many horses during the week). Naturally heated from the thermal activity, the health benefits are numerous and the pools can be a social place to meet up with, or make new friends.
Soon after arriving in New Zealand, I developed a passion for snowboarding. In comparison to Europe, the ski fields are smaller but so much more accessible. For three seasons, I was able to look up from my house to the top of two mountains, decide there and then whether to go up, and be on the slopes within the hour – all juggled in around shoeing a few horses of course.
Coming from a country with such a long and colourful history as England does, New Zealand is a relatively young land. Whilst this means we don’t necessarily have some of the older buildings and so on, it also means that we are still developing and growing. Being here during this time allows us to contribute and mould how we want the country to be. Many New Zealanders take holidays in Fiji or Australia (which are close by) in the same way as UK residents often holiday in Spain or other parts of Europe.
As farming is one of two main industries in New Zealand (along with tourism), I soon noticed the different attitude towards the countryside. The majority of New Zealanders have a realistic understanding of how things operate and accept the concept of controlling the wild animal population. As we have no foxes; possums and rabbits are amongst some of the pests that need to be controlled and this is generally an accepted and necessary part of Kiwi-life. The regular hunting that goes on (in all forms) has escaped many of the problems and negative attention of those that have formed misguided opinions like the anti-hunt protestors in the UK. I constantly find New Zealand to be quite refreshing with the people here having a common-sense approach to most things in life.
The clean and accessible rivers throughout much of the country provide us with some fantastic fishing and this is a very popular pastime for locals and tourists alike. All in all, I soon discovered that NZ is a haven for those that appreciate the countryside and as a farrier; it suited me down to the ground.
The vast majority of horses live out all year around in New Zealand. With a population of just over four million people in a country of similar size to the United Kingdom (population 60 million), there is a large abundance of space and the horses benefit from this in so many ways. I had never questioned the amount of horses during my time in England that had vices, were bad tempered or would try to take a chunk out of me when I walked down a stable block. After shoeing in New Zealand for a few months, I suddenly realised that horses were noticeably happier. None of them were trying to kill me, I saw very little cribbing or wind-sucking and I could only put this down to horses living out and being able to graze all day. Additionally, every year in England I would lose a handful of my clients horses to twisted gut brought on by colic. I struggle to think of more than a handful of horses in NZ that I have heard of with colic and this could be attributed to a similar explanation. One of the downsides of horses living out all the time is that it is far too easy for owners to leave their horses out and not spend as much time handling, picking out their feet and so on. With generally lower levels of horse care knowledge compared to some other countries, education of owners is an important part of any equestrian professionals job in New Zealand. These challenges are something that I particularly enjoy.
I found that most of my new clients that I was picking up were almost as happy and well behaved as their horses. It was nice to be appreciated and so many were grateful that they had a qualified farrier to do their horses that they were eager to please the new British farrier. It was a far cry from feeling used and abused and totally dispensable as I had felt at times whilst working in England.
Along with the lack of compulsory registration for farriers and not the same level of understanding of owners, this also results in the average amount that farriers are able to charge and therefore, the money to be earned is less than in the UK. Farriers earn less but when I moved here myself, it was for the lifestyle and nothing else. Even with the lower pay, I still wouldn’t exchange the freedom, great weather, friendly people and the safe environment for raising children with a move back to the UK and the issues it currently faces.
Being from England originally means that I had to soon learn to accept being the butt of many jokes. As a large number of people have a close connection to the UK (many with family there), all the leg pulling is usually in good spirit but I draw the line at being told that I have an accent. I’m the first to point out to New Zealanders that I speak English, I am from England and therefore it must be them that has the accent! This usually does the trick. As you can tell, it’s important to give as much as you get and the Kiwis love that. I also tell them that I find it hard to accept the insistence of owners to call their horse trailer a ‘float’ when there is clearly no water to be seen anywhere….
After a year or two of being in New Zealand, with business booming and the strong demand for qualified farriers that there is, I started to look to the UK for a young or newly qualified farrier to come out for the busy summer months to give me a hand. I was lucky enough to hear from Ryan Batty who had at that time just completed his apprenticeship with Huw Dyer and was enthusiastic to come and experience all that New Zealand had to offer on a short working holiday. Being in a position to be able to employ him, we got Ryan a visa for a limited period and he came over to ease my workload over a summer.
More recently I have established a successful farriery practice with a growing number of professionals working together to provide an exceptional level of service to horse owners in around Christchurch. The friendly and relaxed team work well together and get to enjoy all that New Zealand has to offer whilst working in the career they are passionate about – farriery"