By Amanda Ciejko
Sarah Azbill holds a Masters in Farrier Science from the Oklahoma Farrier’s College and a Bachelors in Equine Science from Michigan State University. She has been shoeing horses for 16 years and counting. She eagerly agreed to share her experiences as a female farrier, in the predominantly male trade.
Start at the beginning—how long have you been working with horses? What is your background?
I started taking lessons at ten years old. I started riding dressage at the age of thirteen. Being so young, I had a hard time with focusing on such demanding requirements to score well on dressage tests. So, I changed focus to jumping, though I quickly found out that a solid understanding of dressage is still needed to make it across a course. I competed in the hunter circuits through college, until I outgrew my mount. I couldn’t afford my next level horse, so I bred my mare to the Dutch Warmblood stallion, Argus. This cross resulted in a very talented young colt named Brandon RF. While he has the scope to jump, I decided to focus only on dressage and, with the help of a very special trainer, we are getting him ready for Prix St. George this year. Unfortunately, I am not riding as consistently as I would like because I am very busy with my clients’ horses. I plan on getting back in the game in the future, and hope to compete in-hand at more breed shows.
When did you know that you wanted to be a farrier? What was your motivation?
My quest to be a farrier was quite interesting. I was having a hard time getting a farrier to shoe my show horses, and with the costly expense of having three horses showing in full sets, I decided to turn my dilemma around. My thirst for equine knowledge led me to Michigan State University (MSU), to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Equine Science with a minor in Science. I was on MSU’s equine judging team, and during the summer I would attend Oklahoma Farrier’s College. Even though I looked into several schools, I still picked Oklahoma Farrier’s College since it had a strong reputation and offered the longest program. I chose the long program because I wanted to learn about the “hard cases” in shoeing. School was mentally and physically difficult with long hours, cuts on my hand so bad that they would hurt in the shower, and big bruises on my thighs, but I toughed it out. I was the only girl in a group of fourteen, so I felt I had to be just as tough as the guys. When I graduated, my first client was my college friend’s warmblood. I was 21 years old. Back then, I didn’t realize that I was setting myself up to be such a knowledgeable equine professional.
How did you grow your reputation in the dressage world?
My reputation really began to grow when I was competing. I remember one show where the judges were commenting on how nice my horse’s feet were. I was really happy with those comments since I was the one doing the farrier work.
What made you specialize in sport horses?
Since I was already in the industry of sport horses, it was easy. However, I don’t limit my practice to just dressage or sport horses. My practice includes competition, dressage, eventing, driving, and endurance horses, to name a few.
What is your favorite part about your job? Least favorite?
My favorite part is the challenge of getting the horse set up right and watching the horse successfully climb the levels at the shows. My least favorite part is when there is a lameness that I cannot help with, or the loss of a horse. I get attached to my clients’ horses, and I believe we (the client, horse, and vet) are a team.
What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced?
The biggest difficulty was trying to fit in. I know I’m not a guy, but I wanted the respect from my colleagues, and that meant being tough like a guy. That was and is a more difficult challenge than getting client business.
In your experience, how do people react to women farriers (ie. impressed, surprised, indifferent)?
At first a lot of people were surprised, even shocked. I was afraid to put my first name on my business cards because I didn’t want potential clients to shy away just because I was a girl. I knew when a potential client would call and ask to speak to the farrier, I would have to say, “You are speaking to her.” I would ask the client a lot of questions to figure out what issues where going on with their horses. After that, anyone who spoke with me could figure out that I knew what I was talking about. Many who saw me first as a farrier would ask how it was possible for me to do such work, since I am 5 ft . 10 in. and 138lbs. I told them “You don’t have to muscle a horse into being trimmed or shod.” I feel it’s all about the training, and asking them to perform a task without hesitation or misbehavior.
Do you think that the farrier profession is becoming more accepting to women farriers?
Women have been shoeing before my time, but it was extremely rare. Now I see more women getting started in the field, and time will tell if they have what it takes to continue professionally. Plain and simple, it is a tough job with long hours that is physically and mentality challenging. The farrier community seems to be changing as well. I know the phrase “You shoe like a girl” was a joke that was always circulating around. While that phrase never offended me, it drove me to be more like “one of the guys.” Now we have a few really accomplished female farriers out there and the community is very accepting of them.
What are some of the triumphs you’ve experienced?
I am proud to shoe some top show horses. I have shod for top ten halter horses, APHA world horses, international FEI endurance horses, FEI driving horses, Young Rider mounts, Grand Prix dressage horses, and Grand Prix jumpers. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would have been able to work with such highly accomplished competition horses, trainers, and owners.
What is the most common question you receive from your clients?
Most of my client questions are hoof and performance related, but the most frequently asked question is typically “Do you have time to do more?” (Laughs)
What is the one piece of advice you would give your clients?
Ask questions! You, the horse, and your farrier are a team. The more you communicate, the better everyone understands. It’s imperative to keeping your horse’s feet balanced, healthy, and at proper angles. As the saying goes, “No foot, no horse.”
What is the one thing you would tell someone who wants to be a farrier?
Oh, there is not just one thing. It’s a tough but rewarding job, and no matter how long or how much you know, you never stop learning about this profession. When I graduated from farrier school, Bud Beaston (Head Instructor of Oklahoma Farrier’s College and Master Farrier) handed me a box of very large aluminum horse shoes and said to me, “One day you will become a Class A shoer.” At the time I thought it was because I graduated top of my class, but now I know what he really meant. I never thought I would have the chance to shoe such incredible horses, and I’m proud to be doing so well in a male-dominant profession.