The best in the business: Butler Professional Farrier School attracts students worldwide
August 7, 2017
Norway, Israel, South America, Australia, Korea, Sweden, Iceland, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand. Farrier students from each of these countries have traveled to Crawford, Nebraska, to attend Butler Professional Farrier School, LLC.
The business is owned and operated by three Butlers, Dr. Doug Butler and two of his seven children, Jake and Pete. They all live on the premises with their families. The school near Crawford is not the only focus of the business; they also produce textbooks, podcasts, DVDs, and anatomical study aids, as well as an online portion of the school. They focus on teaching their students not just how to shoe horses, but also how to run the business of being a farrier—including customer service and the numbers part.
Butler Professional Farrier School was born in 2006 upon locating and purchasing what they consider the ideal location for their school: a former cutting and horse training facility east of Crawford.
“We looked at a lot of places before we came here. Coming to this place was very much, we feel like, the design of the heavens. With this place, we can work in all kinds of weather; it is somewhere we could grow some feed for our animals, and we have room for our students,” Doug said. “We knew we wanted to have our own horses. A lot of schools work on dead feet or no feet, they just do theory, or they go out and have a big business where they travel around and do people’s horses. I always thought that was pretty risky, and if I was a horse owner, I wouldn’t particularly like that. Having this place allows us to use our own horses.”
The facility didn't need a lot of changes for what the Butlers wanted to do.
“The barn was all built this way, we just kind of modified it in a few small ways, but not very much, so we can have horses on site,” Jake said. “In the way the building is structured, the students can stay here on site if they want, so they don’t have to commute back and forth. In a lot of ways, it’s kind of handy because there are fewer distractions with being out in the country, so they can focus on their education while they’re here.”
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Outside horses are also welcome to be trimmed and shod, and horse owners need not worry about the quality of the students’ work. They are constantly monitored and are learning from some of the best teachers in the nation.
“It does take a little bit longer [for students to work on horses]. I try to emphasize that when people call; they usually have to wait. That’s the one disadvantage,” Jake said. “We also give them the option, do you want students to work on them or an instructor? Occasionally we do get a request for an instructor, but most of the people have the students work on them. They are supervised, they’re not left alone and fending for themselves. They’re learning and having that experience, but what a good thing for them to do because they’ll get better, but also they’re being supervised and managed.”
Working on outside horses replicates what students might actually experience working in the farrier business. One of the sayings of Butler Professional Farrier School, Jake said, laughing, is that they are working on live horses, but some are more lively than others. Students may also have to take into consideration more sore or arthritic horses and how to accommodate their needs.
Jake and Pete alternate teaching material, both usually teaching throughout the day, and Doug steps in when it suits him. He is semi-retired, Jake said, but still very involved in the business, especially since he lives in the apartment above the barn.
Class sizes generally range from six to eight, allowing for plenty of one-on-one instruction and hands-on opportunities. The morning begins with classroom work, which often yields homework, then they move into working on horses daily and often forge work as well.
“We have homework every night. We want them to learn theory; that’s how you learn it, you have to study,” Doug said. “Everyday, they work on a horse in some way, and everyday, they work in the forge and that way, in a very short amount of time, we can cram more into them. That way we don’t waste anybody’s time.”
Students of Butler Farrier School know they are learning from the very best, since they are being taught by authors of farrier textbooks used in colleges and farrier schools throughout the nation.
“The instructors here are, in my opinion, just top-notch guys. The textbook that they wrote is used by a lot of these other schools, so I thought, ‘Well, what better than to go to the source,'” said Tyler Lawson, a 2017 Butler Professional Farrier student from Garrett, Wyoming. “I used that same textbook when I was in college for some classes I took.”
There was a period of time, Doug said, in which horse numbers in the United States dwindled with the evolution of the automobile. Knowledge of the care of horses, including farrier work, went by the wayside as well.
“Taking care of them, that knowledge was lost. I went back and resurrected it, so to speak,” he said. “I searched the old books and learned all I could by traveling the country, and I put together a first book in 1965. That was just a very small pamphlet, then I put it into a book, Principles of Horseshoeing in 1974, when I was a student at Cornell. The next edition was in 1985, then this one 2004.”
Essential Principles of Horseshoeing was added to the library in 2012. That book is also used in the classroom, though it is primarily used with the online portion, which is introduced in the weeks leading up to students’ arrival. "They get some of the vocabulary, terminology, and anatomy started before they actually arrive, so they hit the ground running, so to speak," said Jake.
Classes are offered in 12-week intervals, though students may do the first six weeks if that better suits their needs, then return to finish the second six-week session later.
“We’ve had people come from all over. We had two guys come from Israel and they stayed for the full 12 weeks, which is kind of natural in that aspect. They wouldn’t be able to break it up and come for two different periods at a time,” Jake said. “Usually we leave it up to the individual as to what’s best for them."
Doug, Jake, and Pete take a break from classes for a period in the summer to allow for family time, for instance this summer’s celebration is Doug and Marsha’s 50th wedding anniversary. Thanksgiving through New Years is left open for family and holiday celebrations as well.
Each of the Butlers has worked as a farrier, taught in varying institutions, and acquired degrees that add to their credibility. “They haven’t all been in the same place their whole lives. Each one of them has gone and done their own schooling or gone and shod in different parts of the world, so they have a really well-rounded perspective of the farrier business,” Lawson said. “Dr. Butler has been all over the world and done just about any kind of shoeing you can imagine. Pete went clear to Mongolia for a few years to study their ways of doing things. Having that vast and collective knowledge is wonderful to be able to learn from.”
Doug holds the highest regard a farrier can: a Fellowship with Worshipful Company of Farriers, an English company established in 1356.
“They examine people at various levels, the highest is what’s called Fellowship. I have taken that exam and passed it. Only 150 people since 1356 had passed that exam,” Doug said. “Several Americans have gone over and taken it since I have, I was the first. Jacob has also been doing that. You have to be able to make shoes, understand anatomy and explain it, have to be able to give an impromptu speech in front of the examiners on any subject they choose, and have to be able to shoe a horse in any way they suggest. Of course, they’re trying to determine if you really know what you’re talking about so the examination is really difficult. I found it as difficult or more difficult than my PhD exam because it has a practical component.”
“They’re all very professional and very competent,” student Monte Wisseman said of the Butlers. “They have a lot of life experience to share, a lot of life stories, firsthand experience to share. I would very much recommend this school to anybody.”