Women Horseshoers of America
Photo at right: In action at the 1994 Calgary
Stampede, where the team placed a highly respectable
third place in international competition.
|ANVIL: Today we're going to dis uss how this came about, what
it has accomplished, where it's going and who the members are Laurie
Fiesler, Alice Johnson, Kelly Vermeer and Kathleen Verley (Kathleen was not
available for the interview). Laurie, let's start with you. You have been
shoeing for quite awhile.
LAURIE: Yes; I graduated from the Ohio School of Horseshoeing about 17 years ago.
ANVIL: You've been quite active in the Mideastern Farriers Association, haven't you?
LAURIE: Right; I was secretary for five years and for six years was on the committee that operated and ran the contest. I ran it for four of those six ears, and I've been on the Board of Directors.
ANVIL: When did you become inter ested in competing?
LAURIE: It's been about ten years now. I just got the bug. I didn't even realize that there were contests. I went to a few Mideastern Farriers As sociation meetings and discovered that there was a whole new world to horseshoeing besides the little world that I was involved with. I got inter ested in making handmade shoes and started competing and I got hooked!
ANVIL: Did you find that your in itial motivation was to become a bet ter farrier, or was it to compete?
LAURIE: It was to become a better farrier. That was one way of being able to judge how I stood in compari son with my peers, and I could learn new things. I wasn't aware at that time that there were hands-on clini cians and other sources of education. I thought that, besides our associa tions, all that was out there were con tests. And the contests opened the doors to everything else.
ANVIL: Now you are co-chairman of the Rules Committee of the AFA. What kind of responsibilities do you have in that regard?
LAURIE: It's a lot on the secretarial end; I help Myron McLane organize the annual meeting we have at the conventions, and I write letters dur ing the year. The Rules Committee is instrumental in judge selection and the contest sites, as well as things that we might change in the contest.
ANVIL: I see that you've been a com petitor in Paris.
LAURIE: Yes, I went to Paris with Bruce Daniels in 1991. I was the first woman in their 100-year history to compete. That was quite an honor.
ANVIL: That must have felt strange to compete with so many Frenchmen, didn't it?
LAURIE: It was odd in the sense that there was a language difference many of them could not speak Eng lish, and I knew very little French. But it was a wonderful experience and a great contest I'd never been in an international contest held over seas. It was great. They were very
out, the radio crews were on site. It was awesome to have all these people shoving microphones in your face, as well as cameras. At first I didn't un derstand what was going on, but then they let me in on the fact that I was the only woman who had ever partici pated, so it was thrilling.
ANVIL: Alice, you graduated from Gene Armstrong's horseshoeing school in San Luis Obispo in 1983 and then apprenticed with Steve Collins.
ALICE: Actually I also apprentice with Steve before I went to the scho in San Luis Obispo.
ANVIL: Did Steve persuade you t go to Gene Armstrong's school? ALICE: He was instrumental in tha Ron Koch told me to go and ride wit horseshoers. The worst thing that ca happen is that they might say n And that was probably one of tIn most important things I ever learne You just have to ask.
ANVIL: You've been active in asso ciations, as well. You've been secre tary/treasurer of the Professional Farriers and Blacksmiths Association. And then you organized the North ern California Classic (NCC) for the Western States Farriers Association.
ALICE: First I helped organize the clinics for the PFBA; then I learned about the hands-on clinics. In 1985 I attended my first Bob Marshall clinic and got totally hooked because there was so much more I could learn on a one-on-one basis. I found that very important. And that wasn't being done very actively back then we're talking 10 years ago. So we started getting Bob out very regularly. Then I met a number of WSFA members and got involved there, as well.
ANVIL: You've had experience working with quite a few other clini cians, too, haven't you?
ALICE: Bob Marshall was the first, but then we had a great clinic with Bob Marshall and Dave Duckett to gether. I used to try to get different clinicians to work together. Bob would be demonstrating and Dave would be interpreting, explaining and clarifying to the group. Between the two of them, they could accom plish just about anything! Then we also got Shayne Carter, Grant Moon and Bob Marshall together in one big clinic. And that was really an incred ible event. There were about 35 peo ple at that one. I would go up to Jay Sharp's twice a year John Suttle, Stan Huggins, Dan Cook, Steve Col lins and me. We'd jump in the car and go and spend about a week. That was really quite a wonderful learning en vironment to be in because there was nothing to do but make shoes! So we'd have the clinic all day and then we'd stay out in the shop and make shoes until midnight or longer. For five days straight, it's amazing what you can learn!
ANVIL: You were the first and the only woman to finish in the top ten at Calgary.
ALICE: Well, that was luck.
ANVIL: I don't think so! It shows an incredible amount of talent, as well as an incredible amount of hard work on the part of everyone.
ALICE: Grant Moon helped me a lot at that point. He'd have practices in Texas with Jim Keith and Dan Hauss man. A lot of guys would be at that practice. And they would each have their go. I'd watch them, then watch the next person try to improve on what they did. So you'd see this pro gression of shoeing technique and then you had to do it yourself, which was always a bit intimidating. But they pushed me to do better, and to go for it. I was around fantastic people for years, so I've been fortunate.
ANVIL: Kelly, you had the opportu nity to apprentice with Emil Carre, didn't you?
KELLY: I did I volunteered myself. I just showed up at his shop three days a week while he was working at Pioneer Equine Hospital. I started pulling shoes and finishing feet. Emil is the one who got me motivated; be fore that, I was a cold shoer only. Not only was it highly unattractive, it was pretty poor horseshoeing. This wasn't on purpose, of course; I thought I was doing great!
ANVIL: Did you go to a school?
KELLY: No, but I wish I had.
ANVIL: How did you learn?
KELLY: I worked on a big ranch and had a horse that needed shoes. The only farrier available charged $45, which was way too much money for me. So I decided to shoe the horse myself. After that, I shod all the ranch horses. I must have done a good job, because the shoes didn't fall off.
ANVIL: What got you started in forging?
KELLY: Emil sold me his old forge and anvil. Then, every time I went to work with him, he would show me how to make a shoe a different one every time. I'd take it home and try to copy it. When I proudly went back to the vet hospital with my little shoe, he'd always tell me how good it was. Emil was great about bringing me up instead of pointing out all the flaws.
ANVIL: While you were there you must have also been exposed to a lot of therapeutic work, as well. Did you take an interest in that? Some farriers do and others don't.
KELLY: Oh, I love that aspect of it. When I can help a horse, I like that type of work. Sometimes the plain old shoeing gets a little monotonous to me. If I have to apply myself and think a bit more, and if I can help the horse in some way, I like that.
ANVIL: I've been told that draft horses are your favorite.
KELLY: Actually, I don't particularly like draft horses. They're usually heavy and can act opinionated. But I love making draft shoes! You can hit them hard, and it's easier to hide mis takes. I like the little forging shoes, too, the little ones with lots of parts to them. But every once in awhile, it's fun to get out and really whale on something big!
ANVIL: Let's talk about how WHOA came about. Alice, you were saying that Margie Lee came up with the acronym. Why did you decide to form a team like this in the first place?
ALICE: Actually, we wanted to do it six years ago. But we weren't ready then. We had to wait for some of us to 'get there,' so to speak.
ANVIL: Six years ago, who was in volved in this process?
ALICE: It was just Margie Lee-Gus tafson and me. Laurie was around, too. I guess it started at Calgary. We really were enjoying our time there, and we got to thinking about the tal ent that was around. Margie, Don Gustafson, Ron Ramirez and I shod a horse, and it went well. Some people at Calgary thought that a women's team would be a good idea.
ANVIL: I remember in the July, 1994 issue, you and Margie were on the cover of ANVIL Magazine, and I took a bunch of copies up to Calgary and you autographed them.
ALICE: It was a big hit!
ANVIL: So then you did well as a two-man, two-woman team, and what happened after that?
ALICE: Laurie and I did the draft shoes together in Lexington, Ken tucky, and while we were practicing that, I asked Laurie if she would come to Calgary. Laurie said she would, and so it was the four of us, Kathleen, Laurie, Margie and me. We had a great time. It was in 1994.
ANVIL: It was fun for everyone.
ALICE: We spent two days shopping for shirts that looked good on every body on the team. We wanted some thing colorful for all of us.
LAURIE: And we wanted to keep it light, too. We really stood out. Our shirts were black-and-white stripes with the Sesame Street characters all over them.
ALICE: Each one of us was a differ ent character.
ANVIL: I remember observing how smoothly you worked together. I was actually quite surprised you didn't finish in a much higher position than you did, despite the fact that the com petition was really tough. You just seemed to work together so well.
ALICE: Our goal that year was just to do a good job. That was all we wanted to accomplish.
ANVIL: Well then, you certainly ac complished your goal. And last year you went back and you finished third.
ALICE: That's because we had Kelly by then. She could really hit it!
ANVIL: Were you surprised at how well you did?
LAURIE: We were shocked, yes. We knew we did a good job. We'd worked very hard over the last year. We had done a lot of clinics and work shops; we've worked with Jim Ferrie, Grant Moon and also Edward Martin. We really spent a lot of time concen trating on learning how to build these shoes properly and apply them. Alice was wonderful with teaching us how to trim draft horse feet correctly. I don't do draft horses in my clientele; I'm a gaited horseshoer. I'm used to long-footed horses with pads and the whole buildup. Draft horses, to me, are like foreign objects. Alice is our encyclopedia of horseshoeing. She was very helpful in teaching us how to prepare the feet and how the shoe is supposed to fit and why, and then the clinicians expanded on what she had taught us. We just worked hard to do the best that we could. When we went into Calgary last year, we were ready. We had matured over the last year; we were prepared. Of course, we knew what we were going into.
ALICE: We worked very smoothly together. Laurie and I had worked together for a long time. But we'd switch Kathleen and I have worked on several draft shoeings together, and Kelly and Kathleen had been working together. We did a practice at Jim Poor's with the American Farriers Team. Jim made some wooden feet for us to use because we didn't have a horse. He did this so that we could practice our timing and shoe ing there. At Calgary we arrived a few days early, and Art Gallais opened up Olds College and brought in draft horses for us to shoe. So we really got good, solid practice in, as well. And Jim was there, also, to coach us. As you can see, we've had tremendous support from farriers in many areas.
KELLY: Jim taught me how to check heels about three days before the con test took place.
ANVIL: When you say 'check heels,' what do you mean?
KELLY: For your heel caulks, have it correctly measured and then turn up the heel caulk to where it's not long and ugly.
LAURIE: It didn't click. You know, a lot of things you're taught over and over again but then all of a sudden, someone will walk up and take you through it. Then it finally clicks that this is the right way to do it. And you've got it!
KELLY: That's what happens.
ALICE: But you don't always own it. Sometimes it goes away! You have to see it again and again to get it.
ANVIL: You've all done quite a bit of traveling, haven't you? Laurie, you've been to Paris; Alice, you've been to England a couple of times, and Kelly, you went to the Isle of Man to work with Grant Moon.
KELLY: Oh, it was great it's so beautiful over there. It was about six weeks before Calgary. I'd never worked in coke before, so I had a crash course in working in coke, which I love. We spent the whole time shoeing horses and making shoes. We got to do a little sightsee ing, but mostly, we worked a lot on hoof prep and we got all the Calgary shoes figured out while there, as well. We would watch each other and note if we saw little mistakes. It was an intense learning time. Mostly, Grant was watching me for those mistakes!
ANVIL: Grant competed at Calgary last year, too, didn't he?
KELLY: Yes. He was a judge at Calgary this year.
ANVIL: Now you have some real exciting things coming up, like a trip to Australia. You're going to be a real international team, aren't you?
LAURIE: Yes; and hopefully, not for the last time.
ANVIL: Between all this practice and all these competitions, in order to sharpen your skills, you must run yourselves pretty ragged both time- wise and money-wise.
LAURIE: We're all full-time horseshoers. So between credit cards and sponsors, we have been fortunate enough to do the things that we've done. But we really need more spon sorship to do it properly and more efficiently. It's very difficult to do it on our own incomes to maintain a full-time work atmosphere and travel as much as we're doing.
ANVIL: So how did you approach sponsors for your team?
KELLY: Well, we knew we needed help, and so we asked.
ALICE: The worst they could do is say no. The initial letter we wrote last year described who we were, our goals, a list of the things we wanted to accomplish, places that we wanted to go and a biography on each of us. We wanted to convey that we were very serious about what we're doing. So we've now expanded that to in clude our itinerary and what we've accomplished in the last year.
ANVIL: I notice you really do em phasize the education not only your own education, but also educating a lot of other people in the process.
ALICE: That's the give bock part. We've gotten so much help from so many people in the industry. And you can never pay back directly the person who helped you. So you just try to lend a hand wherever you can. I think we've all done that; we've all been very active in the farrier associa tions and in clinics and other educa tional situations. Whatever we learn, it's just that much more knowledge available to help someone else.
ANVIL: Who are your sponsors for this upcoming trip to Australia?
ALICE: The two for Australia in par ticular are Capewell and St. Croix Forge. We've had quite a few spon sors for a lot of other competitions and events. But Capewell and St. Croix earmarked the money specifi cally for that.
ANVIL: What is your competition?
ALICE: We have no idea as yet. We do know that it is the largest draft horse show in Australia, and every day, basically, you shoe a draft foot and make a specimen shoe. And it's a two-person team. So we'll be work ing in pairs.
ANVIL: Will you keep the pairs the same or mix them around?
ALICE: Unfortunately, it's required that you keep them the same.
ANVIL: Do you switch off being striker and smith?
ALICE: Yes, we will there.
ANVIL: Which pairs competed in the draft competition at the recent American Farriers Association Con vention in Kansas City, Missouri?
ALICE: It was Laurie and me, and Kathleen and Kelly.
ANVIL: How did that work out?
LAURIE: Really good.
ANVIL: What are you laughing about, Kelly?
KELLY: Well, I just wasn't really happy with my shoes. It wasn't my best run. It was the convention. You know, you get a little nervous. This was just my second AFA Convention competition.
ALICE: This was my tenth!
KELLY: This was my first time doing the hinds, too. That was the problem, right there. I'm afronts person.
ALICE: That is something we do - switch off the hinds and the fronts in the contests.
LAURIE: That's what we did last year at Calgary reversed what we did the year before just switched positions. There wasn't any real rhyme or reason to it, we just decided that we wanted to do something dif ferent. And because we feel so confi dent with one another, it wasn't a matter of, 'Well, you can only do fronts and I can only do hinds.' It wasn't that way at all. It was go for it. And we're equally as strong. I feel we keep getting stronger as we go on.
ANVIL: You mentioned, Laurie, that you don't do any draft horses but that you're a gaited horseshoer. Certainly moving that big iron around has helped you.
LAURIE: I like that end of it! The more that I get to understand the draft type of shoeing and what the judges are looking for in the shoes, the more I like it. I like the forging part of it. The size of the metal for me hasn't been the problem. It's working under that size horse. I'm not as comfort able under the big horses. It's like holding up a tree trunk! I feel very awkward, but I'm getting more com fortable at it the more I do.
ANVIL: I think a lot of women farri ers don't realize that worn en compete in contests across the country. So I think it's great that you've already amply demonstrated that you can be just as competitive as men.
LAURIE: We are not as physically strong as the guys. But we can do the work well. We would like to see how good we can become it's more that than just trying to beat the guys. The higher you place, the more confi dence you get, and the more you want to excel. And this is a strong team. I'd be ecstatic if we could go to Calgary and someday win it! Third place to us was as good as winning it last year.
ALICE: We walked around in a daze! It was so amazing to win third.
ANVIL: I'm sure the people who have been working with you were really proud. You've obviously util ized what they've given you.
ALICE: People were so supportive they were behind us all the way.
ANVIL: What do you see happening to your team?
LAURIE: We'd like to see the team grow to have new people come onto the team over the years to replace those of us who decide we are ready to retire from competition. Those of us who do leave the team will most likely stay on as a coordinator, in or der to show others how to help them with procedures. We'd like to guide others as they come in, and we'd like to see new blood come on the team and carry on.
ANVIL: It seems inevitable that peo ple burn out on competition.
LAURIE: Yes, your body wears down; emotionally, it can take its toll. I've been competing for over ten years now, and it's hard on you finan cially, as well as physically.
ALICE: Last year we went to an event every six to eight weeks either a practice or a competition, often even twice a month.
KELLY: Last year I attended compe titions and/or practices 72 days out of the year that's how much I was gone. I went to 17 events overall. You can't maintain that year after year. It wears on you after awhile. And there are home responsibilities to take care of, as well.
ANVIL: It must be difficult with Laurie in Ohio, Kathleen in Texas, and Alice and Kelly in California. It's quite a spread-out team.
LAURIE: That's why sponsorship is so important to us because we just can't make all the flights and compe titions on our own incomes. We have mortgages or rents, we have monthly payments on vehicles. You've got to maintain your business it all adds up. And we've done as much as we can possibly do on our own. We need help now to survive as a team. If we've got to cut back a little until we can get the kind of money that we need to regroup and do it full blown, that's fine. But we're sitting pretty well right now for what we want to do and how we're going to go about doing it. We just need a little more money to accomplish our goal.
ANVIL: Do you four have people at home who can cover for you while you are away at contests and clinics?
ALICE: When I got pregnant, I worked through the seventh month. About then, I was needing some help. It was getting difficult. I had 22 peo ple come and volunteer their time! I received the income from it I made the shoes and fit them, but they bent over and did a lot of the work. So they were there the two months before I had my son and for a couple of weeks afterward, as well. In addition, Bob Marshall, Grant Moon and Jim Poor put on clinics and gave me the money from them. And Jim and Kelly Poor flew to California and spent four days shoeing, on top of the clinic that they did and donated all that! And these were people I'd met through the com petitions and through the associa tions. They wouldn't take a dime. They came from all over the state it was a blessing.
ANVIL: And Kelly, you've found it similar?
KELLY: Clint Johnson takes care of my people for me when I'm gone and handles those who can't wait for a shoeing, as well as any emergencies. We've had a lot of local interest from people who never would have gotten into competitions before. They're stopping by the house in the evenings and on weekends. They're really interested in getting into hand-made shoes and maybe doing a little com peting. Some also want to take their Certified or Journeyman test and want some help. It's neat!
ALICE: You learn so much teaching, it's amazing.
ANVIL: Laurie, being somewhat specialized with gaited horses, do you find it more difficult to find someone to cover for you?
LAURIE: Definitely. I'm basically on my own. The few gaited horsesho ers in the area are all overworked, as I am, so it's very difficult to get some one to cover for me. It's nothing for me to work 20 days in a row, 12- or 14-hour days, just so that I can take time off to compete. I often don't get into the shop until 9:00 at night, and I might be out there until midnight or later to get some practice in. I don't want to hold these gals up; I want to come in to a competition with them and be equal to them I don't want to be the week link. We all want to come in prepared.
ALICE: Competing as part of a group is a most interesting motiva tion. When you're competing as an individual, the only person you let down is yourself. There's more at stake when you're on a team. You don't want to go all the way to Aus tralia and just get by! You want to do the best you can, because you are a team and the others are counting on you to pull your share of the load in the competitions. I think it has moti vated all four of us.
ANVIL: I have to ask do you find it difficult to compete against men be cause men are physically stronger?
ALICE: I'd say with technique, we can excel. But if they have the strength and the technique, then we have to also have a very good day against that. I think more and more guys are learn ing better and proper tecbnique now because the competition is getting tougher. It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways there are to use your tongs, for example. You learn the basics, and then you find out how to go way beyond that. I'm still learning new things that continually make it easier to work. Learning to use slightly different pressure, or a slightly different move or angle can turn the tide and make a world of difference.
ANVIL: So as your finesse increases, the actual use of strength becomes less important.
ALICE: Yes. You learn a way not to hit itso many times. Using your tong hand properly, using the horn of the anvil properly, standing properly especially under the horse!
LAURIE: You still need the strength, yes, but learning how to channel that and get the most out of it with the technique and the mechanics behind it puts us right up there with the rest.
ANVIL: Other than Australia, the NCC and Calgary, do you have any other future competitions in mind?
ALICE: We are dying to get an invita tion for Stoneleigh, England! We would love to do that one. Unfortu nately, they only invite countries, not teams as such. The U.S. is already represented, as is Canada. We call ourselves the Women Horseshoers of America, but that title hasn't carried any weight with the Stoneleigh com petition, so far!
ANVIL: Thanks to all of you for tak ing the time for this interview. I think there will be many who will be inter ested in your accomplishments.
Published in the August 1996 Issue of Anvil Magazine