Farriers, practitioners of a very old profession, travel regularly many miles a day to provide services at the dozens of barns in Benton County. Farriers “trim feet” which means they shave off overgrown hoof, they reshape hooves as necessary, and often mount shoes for horses. They also fit special shoes for horse who require special techniques according to their orthopedic needs.
Over the past decade many women had joined this important profession. There are at least a half dozen women who currently provide hoof care in the Corvallis area, some full-time, some part-time. All started in the profession for the love of horses and convenience of taking care of their own animals. The job requires patience, intuition, and physical strength as well as schooling and apprenticeship.
To get a glimpse of the female farrier perspective, I asked four of them who work on horses in the Corvallis area for some insights on being a minority in this profession.
Charlie Sayer of Junction City is starting the tenth year of her career. She attended Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, est. 1991 in Plymouth, CA, which now has a female instructor, Tiffany Gardner, on staff. Sayer recall of her motivation for schooling: “Originally, just wanted to take care of my personal horses. I ended up falling in love with this trade: between getting to work with horses, the ability to keep learning and to help horses and make a difference.”
Over the years she has seen a few raised eyebrows and reservations about her career choice, “but overall, I don’t feel that being a woman has affected my business in a negative way. In fact, it’s actually caused people to call because they personally felt that their horse/s would do better with a woman instead of a man.”
When asked if being a woman made her job more challenging, Sayer said, “Horsemanship is horsemanship no matter your gender, and so is presentation. The one thing that it seems most females do run into is we don’t have the mass to ‘muscle through’ shoeing the horse. Which is honestly a good thing, at least to me personally. If you learn how to finesse your way around the horse, to feel if they are sore or uncomfortable in any way and be understanding, it can save a lot of wear and tear on your body and make shoeing the horse a heck of a lot easier on them.”
Although, she points out, tool handles are often designed for larger palms. “Actually, I am contemplating making my own hoof knives,” she said, “because I can’t seem to find a handle that is actually comfortable with the blade that works for me”.
Sayer is currently gearing up to take the Certified Journeyman Farrier exam which is the highest certification provided through the American Farriers Association. My mare, who is her client, and I are rooting for her.
Sayer has two female farrier apprentices who travel with her. For one of them, Rachel Weeks of Lebanon, shoeing is not her first career.
Weeks went to Oregon Farrier School after having earned her degree in interior design and working in the wine and hospitality industry. She said, “I really enjoy helping horses anyway I can. I think the value of good farrier work can be greatly overlooked.”
Even though Weeks has her own farrier business, she continuously rides with other farriers as a part of broadening her training. In her words: “I don’t think it matters whether you’re a female or male. If you’re willing to put the horse first, educate yourself and do the work, you should be able to be successful.”
Rabeka Ellis of Newport works in Corvallis while attending OSU to become a pediatrician. She promotes a solid education, saying “I go to multiple clinics a year and learn something new every time I go. I also work with other farriers and ride along to get more experience.”
“It is a very physical job and dangerous as well. We work under live animals who with one swift move could injure or kill us very easily,” Ellis said. “We must endure the physical and push through the hard days mentally, we deal with not only horses but the horse owners as well. That being said, the job is also very rewarding. This profession has changed a lot over the years, we do have a lot more women farriers now. Which I believe is amazing!”
Ellis is not the only woman farrier in her family: her aunt, Amy Shrock, is one as well.
Amy Shrock of Lebanon entered the profession in 2019 while having an established career of creating business solutions for companies, creating things like websites, accounting, contracts, and business proposals. Her brother, ill at the time, needed help with the administrative tasks which were Shrock’s bailiwick. The scope of her help grew.
“Before long I was handling tools, getting equipment out, managing his books and picking out feet,” Shrock said. “As my interest in farrier work grew, my brother helped me focus on broadening my skills. I did not attend a professional farrier school, however I had one-on-one apprentice-based training for over nine months before going out on my own.”
As Shrock’s brother recovered and no longer needed help, in the fall of 2019 she started to build her own clientele. Her farrier work scope diminished temporarily by the end of the year when Shrock found out she was pregnant. Up to eight months of pregnancy she worked only trimming feet, resuming full services when her daughter was six months old. Now the baby and her nanny come along to the stables.
Shrock’s training was unconventional, and she benefits now from continuous education.
She says she enjoys the diversity of tasks the farrier profession offers and adds, “I think that women have the ability to be incredible in the industry, even though it is a male dominated [industry]. I feel that women have a hand up in many of these areas as they tend to have an eye for detail, are generally rather gentle with the animals they work on, and most of the female farriers I know are extremely personable.”
“Even though I didn’t attend a traditional horseshoeing school,” Shrock said, “I attempt to stay connected in the farrier community. I work with the Oregon Farriers Association managing all their social media and work with a company who manages [the] Association’s website.”
Before the challenges of 2020, OFA was very heavily involved with veterinarians around the valley. They organized forums at the equine clinics, and allowed farriers to perform full evaluation of equine orthopedics – a great educational opportunity.
Challenges of physical jobs are different for people based on their body height and mechanics. In Shrock’s opinion, “most every tool is made specifically for men. As a rather silly example, my chaps are made with fewer pockets even though I work with the same number of tools as a male farrier. On a more serious note, anvil stands are often too high for most women, the shaping hammers are extremely heavy. I have witnessed many women who make these tools work for them, however it is important to understand the dangers of using tools that are not the proper height or weight for your size.”
Adjustable-sized tools, like anvil stands, are coming onto the market, but if one is riding as an apprentice with a farrier, one uses provided tools. So, what keeps Shrock continuing as a farrier?
“You truly never know where farrier work will take you or who you get to meet. I have worked in beautiful stables and backyard pastures with mud past my ankles. Our goals are the same, do what is best for the horses that we have the privilege of working on.”