By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Bent over, scraping manure off hooves and risking being kicked by an excitable horse…being a farrier wouldn’t be everyone’s choice for a life occupation.
For Sarah Thalheimer, it’s the perfect job.
“When I was finished I knew I didn’t want to go to University for another four years,” recalls Thalheimer as she slices slivers of hoof off to create a healthy, even surface for Cody, a 16-year-old gelding who has been through this process many times and bears it stoically, only moving to shift his weight now and then.
As a girl, Thalheimer knew she loved horses and being outdoors so when she heard about the Canadian School for Shoeing run by an “older fellow” 20 years ago now, she signed up. “I don’t believe it exists anymore,” says Thalheimer.
However, the skills she learned there have kept her busy for two decades in a career that can be totally self-supporting for anyone who loves horses and isn’t afraid to get kicked now and then.
“I’ve had some wild experiences,” recalls Thalheimer. In the early days, she would do hooves for a farm that was breeding Warmbloods and had over 100 horses in the stalls. “They were huge horses and some hadn't been handled very much…it was not fun,” laughs Thalheimer.
Thalheimer says she’s been kicked “plenty of times” but has never been seriously injured while working as a farrier. She did suffer a broken ankle when she got bucked off from her own horse, a few years back. These days she keeps three horses on a five-acre hobby farm near Brussels.
Twenty years on the job now, Thalheimer prefers to do six horses a day to protect her back and maintain a good life balance. Most clients are like me, with two to six horses needing trimmed and/or shod, though she does a few barns with more horses. Her goal with a horse that has no hoof issues is to keep the horse balanced and the hooves as even as possible. She trims, checks, and trims some more before finishing the hooves with a rasp.
It’s a fascinating process to watch. Clearly it’s hard work, requiring strength and patience. It’s dirty and messy and odorous as well, though Thalemeier says she doesn’t notice the smell anymore. The dog sure does though. Normally terrified of horse’s hooves, Jack gets right in there in order to snatch a piece of cut hoof to chew on.
“No dogs can resist them,” laughs Thalheimer.
This summer, with all the dry weather, Thalheimer saw a lot of sole bruises and the hooves were extra hard because the ground was so packed and dry.
For young men and women thinking of becoming farriers, Thalheimer says first and foremost, you have to love working with horses. Secondly, get as much experience as possible working with a wide variety of horses. “Then you really get comfortable with horses and that’s important because horses can sense when you are nervous or apprehensive. They will feed off you.”
Ponies, however, are a beast onto themselves. If ponies are used for riding or driving, then Thalheimer says they are good to work with. If they are ponies treated like a dog, or spoiled and lazy, they can be a problem. “They don’t want to stand and they can be nippy,” she says.
Ponies or not, Thalheimer says she genuinely loves her job. “I am thankful to work with animals and work outdoors. Plus I get to meet a lot of amazing people so I’m thankful I get to do a job I enjoy.” ◊