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Sunday, October 18, 2015

For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow: Sarah Brown Passes Britain’s Highest Farrier Examination

Scotland's Sarah Mary Brown joined the small rank of farriers worldwide who have earned the right to add the letters "FWCF" after their names. This means that they have been through all the examinations of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, including the highest level, the Fellowship exam, which Sarah passed on October 12, 2015. And yes, if anyone is counting: she is the first woman in the world to do it. (2014 Aaron "Cowboy" Kampfer portrait of Sarah)

I’m not sure, but I think I heard a cheer on the wind a week ago. It started in Scotland--or maybe Yorkshire, England--and it blew around the world as only a snippet of good news with a strong breeze behind it can. File this under “When Amazing People Do Amazing Things”.

There aren’t many Fellows of the Worshipful Company of Farriers in this world. Until this week, there were only 34 in the world, according to the ancient British Livery Company (a surviving London trade guild that now benevolently helps oversee farriery in the UK) website. But on Monday, another farrier joined the ranks and earned what is widely held to be the most respected advanced distinction available to any farrier in the world.

Scotland’s Sarah Brown has spent the last two years not just shoeing horses and competing on the world stage in farrier competitions in Europe and North America; she’s been doing research, writing a thesis on that research and preparing for--and passing--a series of grueling practical and oral examinations that take a farrier as high up the ladder as it is currently possible to go.

Sarah’s long been recognizable on the competition circuit as one of the few women competing at the top level. (She’s the one with the blue fingernails.) Challenges are nothing new to her. But she’ll now be known for defying another stereotype, as one of the few top-level competition farriers to also belong to the elite "Fellowship". This is all after earning her Diploma and Associate degrees from the Worshipful Company over the past years; in 2012, she started to prepare for the highest level of examinations.

Sarah chose as her research topic an investigation into the effects of plastic wedge pads on hoof horn in the heel area. This meant assembling a group of horses who could be alternately shod with and without bar wedges, so that the horn could be compared under both conditions.

Sarah said she chose the subject because she could find papers describing the effects of the wedges of the coffin joint, and other biomechanical aspects of raising the heels, but what do they do the quality of the hoof wall itself?

Sarah wrote her thesis and submitted it to her team of examiners, which consisted of two farriers and one veterinarian. She then appeared for an examination in April 2015 where she presented a PowerPoint lecture on her research, and defended it by answering their questions about it. She was notified that day that she had passed that portion of her examination.

She then had six months to prepare for the practical portion, although it is difficult to say how and if one can prepare for it unless one is already at the level needed to be a Fellow. She appeared before a new set of examiners and was told her task would be to shoe the hind feet of a lame horse. But first she had to discuss with the veterinary examiner how she would shoe the horse, and why. He had to agree with her rationale before she could go on.

“It was just like at home,” Sarah recalled. “Quite realistic.” Similar to a farrier competition, she had to stop to have her foot trimming evaluated, her shoes evaluated, and finally her finished work evaluated. She had two hours and fifteen minutes to make, apply and finish two handmade lateral extension bar shoes and trot the horse up for evaluation. She finished with time to spare, and passing marks.

But she wasn’t done yet. The wild card of the FWCF exam is a surprise topic given to the farrier by the examiners. The farrier then has one hour to prepare a lecture on that subject. For Sarah, the chosen subject was medial heel shunting.

Sarah went home with the news she had passed the examination. She’s FWCF #35 in the world, and if anyone is counting, the first woman in the world to have those letters after her name. She won’t be the last.

Sarah is a native of Glasgow, Scotland. She did her basic farrier studies at Scotland’s Oatridge Agricultural College and then completed a four-year apprenticeship with Derek Gardner, AWCF. In March 2014 she married five-time Calgary World Champion Steven Beane, AWCF.

What’s next for Sarah Brown, FWCF? “I’m looking forward to getting back shoeing my own horses, and competing,” she said.

Psychologically, perhaps, Sarah didn’t go into the FWCF examination process on her own. She gives full credit to the oversight of her three mentors: Derek Gardner AWCF, Mark Caldwell FWCF, and Allan Ferrie FWCF. The adjective she used to describe them: “relentless”. “Without their support, this would have been impossible. They have been amazing through all three Worshipful Company exams,” she said several times, “especially Derek, who gave me the opportunity to learn.”

One thing is for sure: whenever anyone passes that examination, the bells should toll and fireworks are in order. Sarah didn’t tell me (she didn’t have to). One of her fellow fellows, Dave Duckett, emailed me with a gush of enthusiasm for what he called “the start of the big girls’ club”.

“The very best to her and all the girls that follow,” he said. “She’s on top of the world now.”

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