Forging a new future: Women in farriery

The farrier profession has traditionally been a male domain but in light of the increasing number of female apprentices and students at farriery schools around the world, these deeply-rooted norms within the community are now being challenged.

In some parts of the world there has been a noticeable change in gender division in the upcoming farrier generation and it is causing a paradigm change within the equine community. Professional schools, training schemes and competition organisers around the world are starting to notice the growing number of farriers and blacksmiths that break the well-established traditional norms. During the Werkman Spring Games 2015, the number of non-male competitors reached an all-time high with a 54,2 % increase in female competitors since it was last organised in 2013. At the Kentucky Horseshoeing School, USA, the student body now consists of 20 % women, a noticeable increase in comparison to previous years. The change is evident in the Nordic countries where classes currently enrolled in farriery education often have a majority of female students.

For the last three years, up until now, we have had around 30 students in each class where 80 % of them are women, Avichai Arbiv, apprentice coordinator at the farriery school in Lerum, Sweden, says. And as far as I know, it looks about the same at the other schools.

Avichai Arbiv tells us about the need for a change in who the equine sector as a whole expects to see when encountering a farrier. The stereotype of the male farrier is rooted deep within the business, amongst horse owners and the farrier community itself. As an actor with an important role in fostering farriery knowledge, the school in Lerum is constantly working on promoting an equal representation within farriery by supporting their students and encouraging them to learn and compete in international arenas regardless of gender expectations.

Women in farriery around the world
Web_Katinka1In Norway there are quite a lot of female farriers and apprentices and it’s getting more and more common for sure, says Katinka Ødegaard, Norwegian farrier and forging competitor at the top international level. I feel that being a female farrier is something that is more and more accepted in the farrier community, but that society in general finds it strange that a woman can do work like this. I think for me, it has been important to prove that I can do well as a female farrier in competitions, not only in the everyday work.

The shift towards a more inclusive farriery workforce has also been noticed in the Netherlands, home of the biannual forging competition Werkman Spring Games International Farriers Congress.

The number of women working in the Netherlands as a farrier, is increasing every year, says Sandra de Wilde, Dutch farrier and international forging competitor placing third in the intermediate class in this year’s Werkman Spring Games. There were a lot of women participating at the Spring Games in April this year, I hope the number of women forging keeps increasing.Web_Sandra_deWilde

Like many others she has encountered some scepticism from the older generation of horse owners and breeders and describes them as traditional and old fashion in their approach to the farrier profession. However the majority seem positive about the increase of women in farriery; most people accept it because they see that there is no difference in results, she concludes.

There are obvious and drastic contextual differences between the Nordic countries and other parts of the world but these experiences and the case of Lerum Farrier School still points to a very interesting aspect of farriery education that educators everywhere could learn from. The way the profession is presented in educational programs plays a huge part in fostering the new generation of farriers and thus have the opportunity to challenge gender norms and push the boundaries of who is accepted as a qualified farrier. Jenny Hagen, German veterinarian specialized in equine podology and FAF-FID volunteer in 2014, agrees;

Yes, I definitely think so. In general as a teacher you act as an example for the students. […] It should be the goal of each teacher to encourage different students to become professionals in their specific field.

She goes on to describe how she finds it important not only to share knowledge but also to further the passion for farriery. In my opinion farriery is more than just shorten hooves and put a shoe on it – it is passion, science and great handcraft, Therefore, one of my main aims, next to teaching knowledge and skills, was to transfer the spirit of farriery.

A love for the trade and a will to share knowledge is the most important factor when it comes to inspiring the next generation of farriers, but the benefits of having representative role models are also evident.

Good role models are a key figure in whatever line of work you decide to get involved. It’s always great to see someone with passion, drive and determination, not to speak of good work ethics. […] I think it can be encouraging for future generations to choose a profession such as farriery if you can see women in the trade, says Jenny Mc Culloch, a farrier paving the way for women working in the profession in Argentina.

Ellen Staples, a farrier working in the United States, shares a similar thoughts on the benefits of role-models and representation within farriery: As a woman in the trade, I have never felt that others were trying to discourage or hinder my success within the trade. Yet I have never experienced the great benefit that my male counterparts have: repeatedly seeing others like myself succeeding within the trade. She points to the need to include conversations on diversity and representation in education in order to achieve a respectful presence of diversity within the trade. The inclusion of this diversity will only serve to improve, evolve, and secure the trade alongside the ever-evolving and globalised economy, she concludes.

Experiences from FAF-Farriery Institute Dundlod
FAF’s pilot training institute in India is yet to have its first female student, and the country is battling with its deeply rooted patriarchal norms. In the latest Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum India ranks only 114 out of 142 countries on gender equality and struggles with severe workplace inequality – especially within the agricultural sector where we find over 80% of formally employed women.

Additionally, in India, much like the rest of the world, craftwork professions such as farriery are traditionally carried out by men, and especially thosefound at the bottom of the socioeconomicladder. With their knowledge in anatomy, trimming, hot- and cold shoeing and forging, the students of the institute are now gaining more and more respect in their surrounding communities. In this process FAF is contributing to raising the status of the profession by establishing the farrier as a vital and educated actor within the equine sector. By promoting and sharing knowledge in farriery around the world they play important role in creating new norms for farriers where gender is not a factor. When using volunteers and teachers that breaks the norm, thus displaying a varied image of who can be a farrier, FAF contributes to creating an environment where prejudice and stereotyping is not a part of the farriery profession.

As mentioned, so far all of the previous and present student bodies have been exclusively male at FAF-FID but when it comes to the team of international farrier volunteers sent to teach at the school in Rajasthan there is a slightly different story. Since the start of activities at FAF-FID the foundation has had three female volunteers all bringing their special skillsets and perspectives to the school.

It was a unique, interesting and great experience to teach students of a very different culture and with a different background, says Jenny Hagen. She continues;

I could not see a big difference how the students approached me versus Martí [her co-volunteer]. Even in the free time, we had fun together, played or had a weekend trip. In general the students were extremely polite, open and friendly. I never felt uncomfortable in the group. However, I think that the Indian students did not see me as a “real” woman. I guess after the first forging and shoeing demonstration they saw me more as a teacher than as a woman.

In 2014, Riina Villanen, winner of the Finnish Farriery and Forging Championship 2015, visited FAF-FID to teach at the institute. She also had a positive experience furthering the professional development of the global farrier community.

It was a wonderful experience in many ways. Of course I learned a lot; that always happens when you meet and work with other farriers. I think I learned a lot about teaching as well, I have mainly been teaching one student at the time, so it was interesting to have a class. It was also wonderful to notice, once again, that even in such different culture and circumstances farriery and farriers are still the same as everywhere else, she says.

Throughout their professional lives they have both encountered prejudice and comments on the basis of their gender but never in a way that is truly disheartening. Jenny Hagen experiences a good relationship with all her students as her vast knowledge has established her well within her field, problems only occasionally occur when interacting with an older generation of males.

Riina Villanen shares her experiences from the international forging and farrier community:

The higher level you get, the more everyone appreciates each other, and knows it is not about gender […] I’ve heard some comments about women being incapable of doing this and that but nothing that would really irritate me.

By being active parts of the professional community and showcasing their impeccable skills and knowledge in the field Jenny Hagen and Riina Villanen, together with the other FAF volunteer Charlotte von Zadow, as well as the growing number of women working as qualified farrier professionals around the world, are pushing the boundaries of what is both accepted in the profession and among its practitioners.

When asked whether she believed her participation in the course at FAF-FID had an impact in the student’s image of who is suitable for the farriery profession Riina Villanen answered that it probably did.

If it is not common to see a woman as a farrier, at least now I hope all the students at my course have no misunderstandings that a woman couldn’t do this job or be good at it, she continues.

Maybe it was good for the students to see what women can manage. But as I said, except maybe the first day, I had not the feeling that they were totally surprised or disturbed that I can forge, trim or shoe, Jenny Hagen explains further.

Challenging gender norms through representation
Through its work in India FAF is re-establishing the role of the farrier by promoting the profession though training knowledgeable and qualified farriers. Here the foundation has the opportunity to present the students, and the general equine community in India and around the world, with an image of farriery that promotes diversity and gender equality.

The stories from professionals around the world, the case of progressive farriery education in certain regions as well as the experiences of FAF-FID volunteers proves that displaying variety within the profession can be an important step in battling norms and prejudges within all aspects of the farrier community. By highlighting the experiences of those breaking the norms within the profession, thus displaying a more varied image of farriery, educators and practitioners can help further the budding development towards a more inclusive and representative state of farriery.

A warm thank you to all the respondents around the world who contributed to this article by sharing their experiences and knowledge: Jenny Hagen, Jenny Mc Culloch, Ellen Staples, Riina Villanen and Katinka Ødegaard. Additionally we would like to thank Avichai Arbiv from Lerum Farrier School, Werkman’s Auke van Waal and Mitch Taylor from Kentucky Horse Shoeing School for their contribution.