Become A What?

The first time I heard the word farrier, I thought it had something to do with taxidermy. No, I was told, it is the person who cares for the horses hooves. The horses need regular trimming and sometimes shoeing, and the farrier travels around to different barns to provide this service.

My highly opinionated project horse, Contessa, did not like the farrier. Contessa did not like many things, including doing as she was told. For the farrier to do his job, she “had” to pick up her feet and stand quietly, but this never happened. It looked more like a rodeo with the farrier trying to get out of the way of her kicking, biting, jumping around, slamming her feet down, and being generally miserable. The first time I watched her get trimmed, I had to remind myself to breathe as my gut clenched each time a blow was narrowly escaped.

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Her “I would rather not” face.

This seemed like a great goal for me to work on with Contessa: keep the farrier alive on trim day!

Considering I had no experience manoeuvring around the legs of these thousand pound creatures, and I had trouble simply leading this spicy filly, my goal was much more challenging than I imagined. Contessa, knowing my limitations, would get my heart racing each time I tried to lift a foot. We would engage in a dance of determination, with a powerful kick threatening each move. She took great pride in leading this dance, and it felt as though she was laughing each time I retreated. I was angry. I was afraid. I was defeated.

Eventually, I gave up. I decided I was teaching her more bad habits than good, so I changed my focus. I tried to make each interaction we had positive for both of us, and the only way I could succeed was by choosing small activities where I felt confident. Little by little, I found my own footing with a wider range of work on the ground. She began to enjoy my company as a respected companion instead of a play thing.

Every six weeks I held Contessa for her trim, and each time she showed improvement. Despite the fact I wasn’t the one picking up her feet, I felt my heart expand as I watched her begin to behave and let go of the fight.

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Seeing the light after a storm.

Working with Contessa this way always gave me a great excuse to get out of weeding the garden or mucking stalls since I had to hold her for the farrier, Rodd.  He and I got to know each other through these interactions, and I would often pester him with questions about hooves.

Seeing how much Contessa had changed and recognising my interest in his work, one day Rodd offered to mentor me. I laughed him off, thinking I was not destined for farriery! I didn’t even know this job existed less than two years ago, never mind become one…

I was still chuckling to myself as he drove away, then stopped dead in my tracks as I realised a farrier is exactly what I needed to become.

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A Diva Named Contessa

What is in a name? A LOT!

Contessa was proof of that. A two year old dark bay filly with attitude coming out of every pore – she was a handful.

Contessa was born on the farm a couple of years before Aquila and I arrived as WWOOFers. From the moment she entered the world, she seemed to fully embody the hierarchy associated with her name. She intimidated many humans, and persisted with all the horses until they gave into her will.

Each morning and afternoon we would lead the horses in and out of the barn so they could have their time in the fields. This was my favourite part of the day as it gave me a chance to test myself with the horses in action. Would I be a good leader today, or would they be leading me?

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What will the day bring? What will I bring to the day?

One morning, I decided to take Contessa outside since she was the only horse left in the barn. Unaware of her history, I approached her innocently and confidently, and she, unaware of my lack of horse experience, went along with me out to her paddock.

As I was locking the gate the owner of the farm rushed over, concerned for my safety. Not only was I surprised by her worry, I actually felt an affinity for Contessa. Seeing all had gone well with our first encounter and appreciating my persistence in spending time with the horses, the owner offered I work with the filly as a project horse. I was delighted.

I tried to incorporate a short activity for the two of us nearly every day. She tested my character constantly, and let me get away with nothing. Simply leading Contessa could take all of my emotional and physical strength!

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One of our challenging moments…

To some, this may seem like a terrible idea – a feisty young horse paired with a green human. Truthfully, it was fairly risky, but looking back I am beyond grateful I was given the opportunity. I am quite sure she taught me more than I taught her, but the regular interaction and connection with a human helped her become a much more willing partner.
Contessa was my first horse, even though I didn’t “own” her. She will always be part of me, and she is the reason I was offered a farrier apprenticeship.

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Appreciating a peaceful exchange with the Diva herself.

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I’m Addicted to Horses

 

There are plans, and then there is life.

Initially, Aquila and I were to stay at our WWOOF location for two weeks. Nearly two years later, we were still there.

The farm owners were looking for long term apprentices and we were happy to fill those roles. Despite my family believing I had joined a cult, I felt free. I was making decisions for myself, learning what I wanted even if I had no idea where it was taking me.

Over time, we lived with nearly 150 people from all over the world; like us, they wanted to experience Canadian small farming. I loved learning about everyone’s different cultures through sometimes thick accents and exuberant body language. We became a family for a short time. What a diverse, revolving-door family it was.

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Every spare moment I had I spent at the barn. It felt like the horses were also teaching me about equine culture through a silent language of their own. Whether I was leading them out to their paddocks, helping with night feed, or simply standing by their side, I struggled to understand them and loved every minute.

Whether it was learning to live in human or horse community, the lessons received often coincided. Everything I practised with horses was completely applicable to people. Both species can require enormous amounts of patience, while simultaneously offering support and growth.

 

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Horse time during my WWOOF apprenticeship.

Two full planting seasons had passed as WWOOFers for room and board, and Aquila and I started feeling the need to find paid work. Once we decided it was time to move on, I began to feel panic. I could not imagine my life without horses. An occasional horse visit would not suffice; I was thoroughly addicted and needed my dose every day.

Unexpectedly, a solution was offered: I would become a farrier.

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Sense Knocked Into Me

Friday the 13th was the beginning of my new life. It was June of 2008 when my boyfriend Aquila and I left Montreal to go WWOOFing across Canada.

Our first chosen farm destination captivated me with its description of horses, vegetable gardens, and maple syrup, but the promise of equines guided my soul. Nestled in magnificent cottage country near Rosseau Lake in the Muskoka regions of Ontario, my first steps on the farm were a waking dream.

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The horses were exactly how I imagined: majestic, intelligent, athletic, beautiful and inspiring. I, on the other hand, was not at all how I imagined: I was afraid. They were so BIG! I felt slow, unsteady, unsure of myself, and very vulnerable.

There were 24 horses at the farm when Aquila and I arrived, each with their own personalities, gifts, and challenges.  I appreciated their gifts from afar, but I was very challenged up close. My heart was connected, but my body and mind betrayed me. I tried not to let it show, but the horses were never fooled; they knew exactly how I felt and treated me accordingly. In their pecking order, I was not a dominant, a leader, or even a friend. I was a fly, an annoying fly, trying to coax them into following me.

This became most apparent one day trying to lead a particularly pushy horse outside. Ace spotted something in the distance and decided to rear. I managed to keep hold of the lead line and avoid his hooves as they slammed down in his display of power. I felt quite proud! I can handle you, I said to myself. Just as the thought left my mind, Ace showed me the truth. He bolted, dislocating my shoulder in the process, and knocked me to the ground.

At that moment, I had two choices. Stand up, hobble away, blame Ace for being badly behaved, and carry my fear of horses perhaps forever. I chose option two. Stand up, pop my shoulder back into place, look inward, and keep learning.

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Talented photographer unknown.

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