March 2007
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Lady Farrier Shoes Horses Across Central AL

  Arlene Durham sizes a horseshoe.
This farrier is a far cry from yesterday’s village blacksmith

By Ben Norman

Mention shoeing a horse and many of us recall a scene from an old western movie where a burly blacksmith, with biceps the size of cantaloupes, is standing over his forge hammering a red-hot horseshoe into shape.

Years ago most everyone took their horse to the blacksmith shop to get their horse shod. Today, the blacksmith, or farrier as they are now called, comes to the customer. Their image has changed somewhat also. Start looking for a farrier in central Alabama, and one just might end up doing business with an attractive forty-two-year-old blonde lady driving a Dodge truck.

Horse lovers in Elmore and surrounding counties often call Arlene Durham, a graduate of The Oklahoma Horseshoeing School, when they need a farrier. Durham says most farriers have an inherent love of horses that draws them into the profession. "I own four at present and buy my feed at the Elmore County Exchange. They have a large selection of veterinarian supplies for horses, also."

Arlene Durham trims a hoof before fitting shoes.  
Durham said she got interested in shoeing horses as a necessity. "I was headed to a horse show in Springfield, Illinois, when my horse threw a shoe. I called a farrier to replace the shoe. By the time the show started my horse couldn’t even walk because of a bad shoeing job. I lost my entry fee and couldn’t even go to the show. Right then I decided I was going to farrier school and learn to shoe a horse professionally," says Durham.

At the time Durham enrolled in farrier school, it was a twelve-week course. "I enjoyed farrier school so well I stayed on an additional four weeks to learn how to pad up the feet of Tennessee Walking Horses for show. I was fifteen-years-old at the time and there was only one other female in the class of thirty-two students," says Durham.

Durham says she didn’t have much trouble talking her father into letting her go to farrier school, but her mother was a different story.  She just didn’t think that was the thing for a girl to go into at the time. As it turned out, I picked the right profession. I’ve basically made my living shoeing horses since I graduated from farrier school. I’ve shod a lot of horses including doing corrective shoeing. I’ve also trimmed a good many pet hogs’ and goats’ hooves. I’ve even done corrective shoeing on a pet bull. I cut the shoes in half to fit the bull’s clove hooves and did corrective shoeing that solved the bull’s walking problem.

  Arlene Durham examines a goat’s foot.
According to Durham, some horses can be a challenge to shoe. "Some horses are just not in the mood to be shoed, but that’s what the owner is paying you to do. It’s best to start handling a horse’s feet when it’s young, raising it gently and working with it. They teach you how to handle a spirited horse. Usually patience works but sometimes you have to tie them or "throw" them. In a worse case scenario, I call a vet and get him to sedate the horse so I can do a shoeing job, but this is not usually necessary," says Durham.

Students in Durham’s class spent several weeks studying horse anatomy and other classroom subjects before working on a live horse. "We began by learning how to properly trim a hoof. You have to have the proper foundation to start building to, that’s why a proper trim is so critical. Horses are just like people, some of us are pigeon-toed, some lead with one foot over the other. Horses are the same way, you’ve got to learn to observe and diagnose the problem before you can make a corrective shoe."

Durham says that she did run into some resistance being a woman farrier in a previously all male profession. "When I first came to Alabama in the early 1980s, some of the horse owners questioned if a woman could do the job. But after they saw some of the corrective shoeing I did, I started getting referrals from people I had done work for," says Durham.

Jack Roth, a retired veterinarian and owner of The Oklahoma Horseshoeing School in Purcell, Oklahoma, agrees with Durham that women are in the horseshoeing profession to stay. "Today, ten to fifteen percent of our students are female. We have students from all over the world taking our course. Although many of them have been around horses, most have no experience shoeing horses when they get here. We teach anatomy, physiology and other related subjects in a classroom for about ninety minutes each day, and the rest of the student’s day is spent working with horses under strict supervision. We have courses as short as two weeks for those who just want to learn to shoe their own horses to a fifteen week course for those who want to become professional farriers," says Roth.

Roth says many are surprised at what a good farrier can make. "People love their horses and are willing to spend money to keep them in top condition. A beginning graduate farrier who works hard and promotes their business can make $30,000 to $40,000 or more the first year. After getting established and with proper advertising, a good farrier can make $75,000, some much more. It’s like any other business; you’ll get out of it what you put into it. I was a farrier before I went to vet school, and after I retired as a vet, I went back to being a farrier," says Roth.

The days of the old-time blacksmith are gone, but the new breed of farriers are doing a much better job. A few, like Arlene Durham, are even wearing perfume and may go by the beauty shop to have their hair done before shoeing the first horse of the day.

Arlene Durham can be contacted at 334-657-0654 and The Oklahoma Horseshoeing School at 405-424-3842.

Ben Norman is a freelance writer from Highland Home, Alabama.