Friday, June 21, 2013

Future Faces Video: Sarah Coltrin, Farrier-Eventer, Shoes to Ride as She Joins the New Cadre of Equestrian Smiths

What do you say to someone who is new in the profession? Sometimes it's best to be quiet and hear what they have to say.

You might learn something.

After all, they are the future. We may be the present, but we won't always be.

And once upon a time, we were the future.

So sit still for five minutes and listen to Sarah Coltrin. 

That's exactly what filmmaker-photographer (and farrier herself) Sandra Mesrine of Wisconsin did. She listened and filmed and, in several places, captured the silence, too.

You're about to meet confident new farrier Sarah Coltrin, proprietor of Iron Rose Forge in Schaumburg, Illinois, and an apprentice to Illinois horseshoer Alan Dryg. She is 20 years old and has been through farrier school, set up a business, found a part-time apprenticeship and passed the American Farrier's Association certification test.

She's done a lot in two quick years. But it's not Sarah's shoeing ambitions that made me pick this video out of the stack of new farrier videos this week. It's that she comes to shoeing through riding. And she recognizes the connection between the two.

When she gets up in the morning, Sarah chooses either her schooling chaps or her shoeing apron, and gets to work.

Sarah Coltrin, eventer-farrier, is exemplary of a new breed of shoer who wants to both ride and shoe for a living. (Kasey Mueller photo, courtesy of Sarah Coltrin)
For years I have marveled that some of the best farriers I know tell me that not only do they not ride, they have never ridden. And don't ever intend to.

This reminds me of the fishermen and lobstermen who head out to sea each day from our harbor. Traditionally, men who went down to the sea in ships couldn't swim. Wouldn't swim. Their rationalization was that if their ship went down, they wanted to die quickly, without a struggle. They're superstitious about it. It would be bad luck to be the only crewman on board who can swim, they say.

Perhaps there is an understanding between horses and their farriers who don't or won't ever ride. Do horses sense that this person is solely interested in its feet, and won't ever throw a saddle over its back? Is there a safe connection bond that only a horse would sense?

"The shoers know they charge too much when they can afford a better horse than the ones they're shoeing."

On the other hand, most farriers do seem to ride and many excel at it. We've had farriers make it to the National Finals Rodeo, become AQHA champion riders and at least two farriers have represented the United States on the USEF Endurance Team. 

I know a farrier who is a polo coach. A farrier here in Massachusetts is Master of Foxhounds and takes that job as seriously as his shoeing. Another drives a coach and six. In New Zealand, two farriers were top show jumpers in the 2013 World Cup.

Sarah is in good company in the American Farrier's Association; one of the organization's officers has competed in dressage at the FEI level.

In England, at least two up-and-coming eventers are farriers. The German farrier who shod the double-gold champion eventer in the Olympics is a keen competition rider himself. A university farrier in the USA told me that he once exercised racehorses for a job.

I remember a story told to me by Kathy (Skradzio) Slezak. She was at home one day in Pennsylvania and went to the window with her sisters and mother to look out because the hunt was passing behind the house and had to clear a fence. Suddenly, her mother froze. Her sister screamed. 

"Oh, no, it's Daddy!" Kathy remembered crying. Her father was supposed to be shoeing but, unbeknownst to his family, was after the hounds. And yes, Bob Skradzio cleared the fence and galloped on. "He didn't even wave to us," Kathy smiled.

When I visited the farrier school at Haras du Pin in Normandy, France years ago, I was amazed to find the forge empty one morning. When I inquired where they were, I was told that it was Tuesday, the day that farrier students do their dressage work. I found them in an indoor arena, schooling horses, in breeches and tall boots.

I heard about a farrier event in Germany that hosted a team jumping competition between farriers and veterinarians, with horses and helmets supplied. I'd like to see that sometime, but I'd rather ride in it if I can put together a team of journalists.

You know who they are on Facebook: they post photos of their foals or themselves in the winner's circle at the track or on a trail ride along with their interesting hooves.

French-born filmmaker, photographer and newly-educated American farrier Sandra Mesrine brings a creative eye and mind to the status quo of American farriery and horsemanship. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Mesrine)
Which brings us back to Sarah. What attracted Sandra Mesrine to make a video about Sarah was her horse connection. "I am not surprised to see women attracted by the trade," Sandra said when the video was released. "It happened with grooms, barn managers, trainers, now equine vets, saddlemakers, and -- more recently -- farriers. 

"All of the (women farriers) I have met are riders. They want to become farriers by passion for the horse. Making a living comes with it, but their passion for the horse is always first. 

"I am interested to see how this is going to change the trade. When women farriers meet, in general, their conversation is more oriented (to) the horse and how to make things better. They like information and education, are open to change and new ideas. Men farriers are more inclined to talk about their business, money, success, complaints, criticize others, etc. It is funny, there is a palpable difference."

British farrier and sometimes model/reality-tv star Dean Dibsdall plays the role of farrier-equestrian well in a new reality series for Horse and Country television airing this week. In this clip, he's learning to spin a reining horse. Last week he tried polocrosse.

I remember a sage older veterinarian explaining farrier pricing to me once. He said, "The shoers know they charge too much when they can afford a better horse than the ones they're shoeing." 

Sandra, who recently completed farrier course at Cornell vet school (taught by farrier/polo player Steve Kraus) and is a new face herself, is also a rider and certified in show jumping, dressage and eventing by the French Equestrian Federation. She definitely sees riders as having an advantage in the farrier profession. 

"There are excellent farriers who are not riders," she said, "but being a rider and knowing what the horse does helps to resolve communication issues between farriers and clients. 
"It is a plus. I understand (the rider's) worries, and it gives me more patience, because as a horse owner and ex-professional rider myself, I have the same worries about my own horse's performance and well being."
Will a client be pleased if his or her farrier beats them in a competition? Maybe not, but it does make the relationship more interesting and, as things in the horse world and the farrier profession change, and people like Sarah Coltrin and Sandra Mesrine come along, they might start to expect it.  

To learn more:

Check out Sandra Mesrine's Le Chambre Noire photography web site and her growing Sandra Mesrine video channel on; look for Sandra July 3-7 (and her camera) at the 2013 Calgary Stampede World Championship Blacksmiths' Competition for sponsors Delta Mustad Hoofcare Center. And watch for Sarah Coltrin on the eventing scene in the USA!

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