Thursday, March 01, 2018

First All-Women Farrier Class Training at Cornell Vet School

Kerry Spain, right, and Kahlan Schramm shape horseshoes as part of the Cornell Farrier Program. (Photo by Lindsay France, University Photography)

In early January this year, three women walked through the farrier shop doors at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. They weren’t vet students checking on a lameness case or horse owners picking up a freshly shod horse. These women started up the forges and went to work at their anvils--without a male in sight.

Cornell announced this week that the farrier program’s 2018 class is the first to be comprised entirely of women. Paige Maxxam, Kahlan Schramm and Kerry Spain will complete the four-month program in April.

Overseeing their work is Steve Kraus, CJF, head of farrier services and senior lecturer for the vet school. Kraus himself is a graduate of the program--but his classmates back in the 1970s were all men.

“More and more women want to get involved in horseshoeing,” says Kraus, who has been shoeing horses for more than 50 years and leading the program for the last eight. “It’s the same trend you see in veterinary medicine in general.”

Farrier student Paige Maxxam working at her anvil in the Cornell vet school farrier shop. (Photo by Lindsay France, University Photography)

Enrollment in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program at Cornell saw a roughly even gender split for the first time in 1979, and women have increasingly outnumbered men since 1980.

Cornell’s fall 2017 entering DVM class had 336 women and 100 men. This growing trend extends to farriery, where currently fewer than 10 percent of professionals are estimated to be female.

“It’s empowering,” says Kerry Spain, who came to Ithaca from Rutland, Vermont for the course.

Undercover farrier

Kraus has seen the number of women farrier students rise at Cornell since arriving as an undergraduate in 1968. He recalls the first woman, Toni Hanna, who entered the farrier program in 1972. “She actually disguised herself when she came in for an interview,” he says.

Kraus said that Hanna knew that Harold Mowers, the farrier instructor at that time, would reject her immediately, despite her background and professional recommendations, so she hid her hair under a hat and wrapped her midsection with an ACE bandage.

“Harold said that a woman can shoe a horse but a lady can’t,” says Kraus, who recalls Mowers declaring he would resign if he had to teach a woman. “But within that first week, they were best friends,” he says.

(Toni Hanna died on February 26, 1983 from complications of the flu. She was 30 years old.)

Cornell requires that farrier students have a previous background in horses, although most do not come with forge experience. When it comes to the animals, even if they’ve been around horses all their lives, being beneath a horse is much different. “It’s pretty intense,” says Maxxam. “You have to be able to do that without hurting the horse or hurting yourself.”

Partnering with the Equine Hospital

Cornell’s farrier program celebrated its centennial in 2014. As one of the only courses in the United States connected to a veterinary teaching hospital, the admissions process is more selective. Most competing schools are either privately owned or part of smaller community colleges.

“We want there to be a focus on one-on-one learning. Four students is the max,” says Kraus.

Partnership with the college’s Equine Hospital adds a certain amount of unpredictability. If an equine patient has a more complex hoof condition than what the students have learned to work with so far, they are still expected to learn from the situation and be ready to assist.

“It’s great getting that experience. I’d never seen radiographs with my trimmings before,” says Schramm.

An ad for Cornell's farrier program from 1918.

“The students have to be flexible, but they get to see cases they wouldn’t otherwise experience,” says Kraus.

“I’m here because I want to pursue this dream,” says Maxxam, who is from Brant Lake, New York. When the course finishes, most graduates find apprenticeships with their hometown farriers, which is Maxxam’s goal.

Farrier student Paige Maxxam, left, evaluates horseshoes with farrier instructor Steve Kraus in the farrier shop. (Photo by Lindsay France, University Photography)

Supporting equine welfare

The course will test the students according to American Farrier’s Association (AFA) criteria. Kraus has served as an examiner for the AFA certification exams and was one of the first farriers to be certified at the AFA’s highest level. He encourages all of his students to take the AFA exam, even though it’s voluntary.

“It’s a consumer protection issue and an equine welfare issue,” he says.

The program also draws professional farriers who take its intensive week-long continuing education sessions. They come to hone their knowledge and learn new skills, such as working with glue-on shoes, in a shop that is internationally recognized for providing an important service to the industry. “People come here for honest answers,” says Kraus.

Justin Dean, a professional farrier from Florida, traveled to Ithaca during a snowstorm just to work with Kraus. Dean has been a farrier for more than 10 years and trained for a week in February as part of his professional commitment to staying current.

As these three 2018 Cornell students confidently work the forge or survey a horse in the shop, it’s clear none of them has second thoughts about entering a male-dominated profession. They’re more concerned with learning the skills to succeed. “It doesn’t faze me at all,” says Maxxam. “The work is just what I do.”

“It’s not about being a woman or a man,” adds Schramm. “You need to be good at your job first. That’s why we’re here.”

The text of this article is extracted from a much longer article about the first all-women farrier class by Melanie Greaver Cordova that appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

To learn more:

Vet School Farriers: Change on the Hoof  (Hoof Blog archive)

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