Female Farrier Kim Winters- what it takes to shoe horses

 

Kim at work shaping a horse shoe for our horse

Kim at work shaping a horse shoe for our horse

Kim Winter  is a successful Farrier, a profession traditionally the domain of males but she is one of three women who work out a forge in Yorkshire tending to the needs of horses throughout the north and all three are always very busy. I have a documentary record of the work of two farriers in my archives, one male and one female from the period when my family and myself owned a horse. I took the opportunity to interview and photograph both farriers at work because I was so interested in the traditional tools and techniques that have been in use for many generations. Kim is actually quite a diminutive women but when I asked her whether her size was an issue she made it clear that although it is  hard physical hands on work  it is about technique not strength and size and of course gender just isn’t an issue.

farrier Richard hoof nail snipping

farrier Richard hoof nail snipping- he is over six feet tall & his height is a problem as he suffers often from work-related back ache.

The English word ‘Farrier’, distinguishes her and her male colleagues  from the traditional blacksmith who might have shoed horses but more often, many ‘smiths’ ( Jack-of-Iron-Trades )were engaged in general light engineering tasks , hand fashioning a range of items in iron and steel in a ‘smithy’ forge and many actually never shoed horses.

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Only qualified and registered farriers are legally permitted to shoe horses.

As part of their professional training farriers do need to learn blacksmith skills to be able to fashion horse shoes, but blacksmith’s can only shoe horses these days if they are an officially registered farrier. The word farrier orignates from the Latin for a horseshoe, ferrum ( properly iron) and comes down to us from the Old French ferrier. In the 16th century farrier was used to describe both a shoer of horses and a veterinary surgeon. Curiously, the word veterinary derives from the latin word for cattle,veterinus. Today, the term farriery surgery is still sometimes used to denote veterinary surgery, but a farrier and farriery are essentially and exclusively related to the profession of shoeing horses.

How do you become a farrier ?

Farriers in Britain have to be nationally registered and their licences to practice are renewable every year.The National Farriers Registration Council has, since 1975, regulated the profession and exclusively manages all farriery training throughout Great Britain.

The apprenticeship training period is long and vigorous and includes developing detailed knowledge of horses and their anatomy, since ailments to the feet and limbs, as with humans, have knock-on effects to the rest of the body. The farrier has often to compensate and remediate for anatomical hoof and limb weaknesses when selecting , fashioning and fitting the correct shoes, sometimes in consultation with the animal’s vet. They also are  required to devise corrective measures to compensate for faulty limb action.

To finally qualify, farriers have to pass the gloriously named ” Diploma of the Worshipful Company of Farriers” examination. It is illegal in Britain to shoe horses unless you are a qualified and registered farrier.

The Advent of the Mobile Farrier

In the old days when working horses were a common site on our streets, most towns and villages had at least one blacksmith’s ‘smithy’ and, as well as working in iron and steel making gates, hinges, rings for cooper’s barrels and wheel rims, et al the blacksmith would shoe working horses.

The local Devenish Brewery ‘smithy’ in Weymouth was always a favourite place of mine in my childhood, listening to the ‘music’ of the blacksmith beating out red hot sparkling iron on the anvil or pumping a giant bellows to draw air through a bed of burning coke to raise the furnace temperature sufficiently to make the iron red hot and therefore malleable or workable. I sometimes watched him shoe the brewery’s Dray horses or making hoops for beer barrels. My Great Grandfather, on my mother’s side, was originally a blacksmith and farrier  before he joined the Royal Flying Corps,(RFC) during the First World War . (The RFC was later to be renamed the Royal Air force , RAF)

With few working horses nowadays and most stables for horses are spread out at farms, small holdings and equestrian centres so farriers tend to be mobile these days.

With few working horses nowadays and most stables for horses are spread out at farms, small holdings and equestrian centres so farriers tend to be mobile these days.

Nowadays, the permanent smithy is a rarity, and many of the essential jobs formerly done by blacksmiths are the domain now of small, light engineering companies. There are very few working horses nowadays but conversely, an increasing number of horses used for sport and leisure and, as all horses need horseshoes, mobile farriers are now the order of the day in the business of shoeing horses. Equestrian sport and recreation is increasingly popular in Britain and Equestrian Centres and riding schools provide much of the modern farrier’s business. Because such establishments are widely scattered around the countryside, the farrier has to go to his charges, rather than, as in the old days, the horses being brought to him.

The Tools of the Farrier’s Trade

custom made farrier tool box

customised farrier tool box , usually made by the farrier themselves to have everything needed to shoe at hand close in.

The modern mobile farrier carries a range of traditional tools that might have been found in any smithy in any century. There is the curve-ended drawing knife for cleaning stones and debris out the inside of the hoof, a mixture of large, sharp, course-bladed files called rasps, used for filing hoof, long metalwork files for smoothing the actual horse shoe edges, long handled steel grips for holding and positioning hot shoes, long handled steel nippers for clipping hoof, and the farriers clawed hammer for tapping in hob nails, bending , cutting or removing them.

Kim has a gas bootle fired kiln in the tail gate of her truck for heating shoes so she can shape them on the anvil

Kim has a gas bootle fired kiln in the tail gate of her truck for heating shoes so she can shape them on the anvil

The only noticeable concession to the twenty first century is perhaps the modern equivalent of the Smithy’s forge in the form of a small, gas powered twin burner kiln for heating and softening the steel horse shoe blanks to make them workable. The  shoe is heated in the mobile forge till it is red hot and therefore workable . The mobile farrier also uses the traditional horn-ended anvil but a scaled down version for ease of transport.

underside of horses hoof showing a fullered shoe - the groove helps give grip but also protect the hoof nail heads  from premature wear

underside of horses hoof showing a “fullered” shoe – the groove helps give grip but also protect the hoof nail heads from premature wear

Farriers carry a range of pre-forged steel horseshoes. There are several types of shoe, and the majority of this stock seem to be ‘Fullered’ shoes ( that is they have a shallow groove along the under-edge whereas ‘plain stamped’ shoes are flat underneath and I presume the grooving extends the life of the nail head and offers the horse more grip.) As a concession to the farrier’s comfort and back health, instead of being bent double and having to grip the horses leg throughout the hoof trimming part of the process, they carry an adjustable hoof stool that takes the weight of the horse’s leg at a convenient height, thus protecting the farrier’s back and enabling them to exert more downward pressure when filing either hoof or steel.

Kim using a hoof stool to provide a firm base on which she rests the horses leg as she works on the hoof without having to support the weight.

Kim using a hoof stool to provide a firm base on which she rests the horses leg as she works on the hoof without having to support the weight.

Like so many craftsmen, working with hand tools, Kim has made herself a simple but ergonomically designed wooden open tool box that it easy to carry and holds the essential tools and nails she immediately needs to hand when working close to the horse and helping reduce unnecessary journeys back to the mobile workshop or back strain due to otherwise having to reach constantly around on the ground for his tools. She also wears either a heavy leather apron or leg chaps which protect the  clothes and skin from injury and the heat of the hot shoes and also improves hold hold on the horse’s leg.

the hoof nail points  bent over and snipped to secure the shoe

the hoof nail points bent over and snipped to secure the shoe

Many people have in their homes a worn and discarded horse shoe in keeping with superstition that they bring good fortune, and most people are thus under the mistaken impression that, while horse shoe sizes may vary in weight and size, they are all the same conventional shape and design. In fact there are a wide range of designs to fit the individual needs of horses and choice of shoe depends on, for example whether the horse is used for pulling, jumping, road riding or has any anatomical problems that need compensating for. The farrier’s training and apprenticeship period is considerable, typically four years and two months.Apart from developing the basic skills of shoeing and hoof care, an empathy and understanding of horses and basic horse anatomy and pathology are necessary to able to meet the individual requirements of each horse. Whilst, for example, the traditional “u” shaped shoe might be suitable for most hooves, it may be necessary to fashion a circualr for a horse that needs extra support at the rear (heel) of the hoof.

Two of my images were used to illoustrate an informative article about farriering as a career for women in the prestigious equine magazine Horse And Hound.

Two of my images were used to illoustrate an informative article about farriering as a career for women in the prestigious equine magazine Horse And Hound.

Most people are surprised that a set of iron horse shoes don’t actually last all that long, and shoeing is a recurring expense with the need to have the horse re-shoed regularly at perhaps six week intervals not because the shoes wear out but because the hoof grows constantly and if allowed to grow too much this can lead to the horse becoming lame. A set of tailored horse shoes, fitted costs up to £60 United Kingdom Pounds $96 US Dollars or 86 Euros)

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