With a hammer in one hand and several nails pursed between her lips, Elizabeth “Eli” Hoyt, 43, crouches under a half-ton horse at a stable near Longmont, Colo. (pop. 71,093), and prepares to tack a metal shoe onto the animal’s left rear hoof.
“Good boy,” Hoyt mutters to Robby as she struggles to balance the horse’s hind leg between her knees.
After Hoyt attaches Robby’s last horseshoe, she turns the horse over to her daughter, Rachel, 14, who smoothes and files the animal’s hooves and new shoes with a rasp.
“It really is an ancient art,’’ says Eli, who has shod more than 5,000 horses over the last 20 years. “Things change, but horses always need to be shod.’’
The Hoyts work as a team during the summers and on weekends. Each morning after feeding their own horses in Platteville, Colo. (pop. 2,370), the Hoyts hop into a truck toting a trailer loaded with an anvil, hoof picks and trimmers, nail pullers and other tools of their trade. They travel to farms, stables and private residences in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, performing equine pedicures with a woman’s touch.
“She has a real way with my horses, a knack for knowing how to deal with them,’’ says Kevin Olson, 47, the owner of Robby and five other horses.
A native of Houston, Texas, Eli became interested in the horseshoeing trade when she was 18. “I watched this guy shoeing horses in a rainstorm, with lightning crashing all around,” she recalls. “I said: ‘That’s so cool, I want to learn how to do it.’’’
Six months later she enrolled at Oklahoma Horseshoeing School in Purcell, and in 1990 she started her business Diamond E Horseshoeing in Colorado. Three years ago, Eli started teaching Rachel how to shoe a horse by prying off old shoes, removing dirt beneath and trimming the animal’s hooves, and shaping and securing new shoes.
“I’d like to have been born 100 years ago, when people relied on horses for transportation,” Eli says. “But women couldn’t shoe horses back then. I was a novelty when I started, and it’s still a male-dominated profession.”
Shoeing horses is dirty, difficult and dangerous work that requires long hours of bending, squatting and lifting, and exposes farriers to occasional outbursts from ill-tempered animals that bite or kick.
Eli has had ribs broken, a foot smashed, and legs and arms deeply bruised by spooked and cantankerous horses. Eighteen years ago she was flown to a hospital by helicopter after a thundering hoof to the head knocked her out cold for several hours.
“On her office door she has a sign that says: ‘Cowgirl Up,’’’ says Rachel, a high school honors student who plans to become a lawyer. “It means: ‘Put your big-girl pants on and deal with it.’ She’s very tough.’’
Despite the dangers and backbreaking labor, Eli can’t imagine working in another profession. She and her daughter typically shoe a horse in 30 minutes and perform about 50 equine pedicures a week.
“It’s about production and numbers,’’ says Eli, who charges $75 to shoe a horse. “But mostly it’s about the horses. I go on vacation and before long, I’m saying: ‘I need a horse to work on.’’’
Fast Fact: Men outnumber women more than tenfold in the physically demanding horseshoeing trade, says Eric Nygaard, president of the American Farrier’s Association, based in Lexington, Ky.