Lance Bombardier (LBdr.) Abbie Robinson Wyss, CMF, knew from a young age that her life would include horses and the British Army.

“I started showing interest in horses when my sister took riding lessons, and it grew from there. We’ve had horses since we were little,” Wyss says. “I never saw myself doing a job on a civilian street, and the Army has always been there. I joined at 18 to work with horses in the King’s Troop, knowing I could study to become a farrier. And now 10 years are gone.”

Her dedication to hoof care earned her the title of first female farrier in the British Army this spring. Though Wyss’ main focus has always been on becoming a good farrier, the honor was a bonus.

What is the King’s Troop?

The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, based in Woolwich, London, is a saluting battery within the British Army that is active on ceremonial occasions such as state funerals, birthdays and parades and takes over the King’s Life Guard for one month each year. The mounted unit drives teams of six draft horses pulling a Quick Firing (QF) 13-pounder gun for salutes.

The majority of the King’s Troop’s activities are in the summer months, including the King’s Life Guard, Trooping the Color (the king’s birthday), the Windsor Horse Show and all county horse shows across the United Kingdom.

Qualifying was the main goal, but knowing I could make a bit of history was fantastic as well ...

Though Wyss says her previous experience with horses helped her quickly acclimate to the King’s Troop, no prior experience is required to join. Along with learning horsemanship, riding skills and ceremonial duties, soldiers are completely responsible for the horses in the Troop, including training and daily care.

Every year, Wyss and her peers receive a new group of horses, most 3-4 years old, that have never been ridden. The Troop then spends 4-5 months breaking the horses and training them to work on the team. In the first stages of training when they’re learning to walk, trot, wear a harness, carry a rider and take a sword, they’ll keep their mane. After the horses complete two Musical Drives and move onto the next stage of training, they have their mane roached for safety reasons. Wyss is also a riding instructor, meaning she helps recruits learn basic riding, health and horsemanship before they move on to more advanced education, skills and relevant knowledge.

“Day-to-day, we call it working within the lines, which is when you work directly with the horses,” Wyss says. “They’ll be exercised the majority of the morning, and then we groom and clean them until dinner. There can also be training, prepping for salutes and other lessons in the afternoon.”

Two to three times per week, the King’s Troop performs full dress rehearsals, where salutes or Musical Drives are practiced. A safety team is also present, and they step in should a horse get injured or fall ill.

Training in the Forge

Wyss worked with horses in the King’s Troop for 6 years, first as a mounted gunner, before she joined the Forge in 2020. The Defence Animal Training Regiment is responsible for the military’s school of farriery and is recognized by the Worshipful Company of Farriers (WCF). After the completion of the apprenticeship and examinations, students become Certified Military Farriers, the equivalent of a diploma from the WCF.

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Hot shoeing is standard practice across all horses in the King's Troop. Image: LBdr Abbie Robinson Wyss

“Once you’ve joined the Forge, you’ll train for 4 months to learn the basics of farriery,” Wyss says. “Then every 6 months you’ll have a week phase. Each phase is harder than the last. You learn more theory, how to fit different shoes and why they’re important. After that, you have another 4-month block where you revise everything you’ve learned over the past 3 years and also learn important veterinary skills. At the very end, there’s a theory exam, a barefoot trim, a practical exam, a vet oral exam, a live horse oral and a general oral. You have to pass all of those to qualify.”

During training blocks, apprentices are stationed in Melton Mowbray, a town northeast of Leicester and southeast of Nottingham. During these periods, training is more structured between practical and theory education. However, back in-unit, apprentices juggle their education with responsibilities as members of the King’s Troop. The physical and mental workload is demanding, and Wyss says her class started with six, which is large for the Forge, and ended with four.

“It’s about finding time within the workday to study theory,” Wyss says. “You’ve got to take your apprenticeship into your own hands.”

In spring 2024, Wyss passed her exams with honors and became the first woman in the British Army to earn the title of Certified Military Farrier.

Life as a Military Farrier

As a farrier for the King’s Troop, Wyss is no longer involved with riding and daily horse care. Her main responsibility is to shoe horses. The King’s Troop employs around 130 horses, meaning she and her peers are shoeing 30-60 horses per week. During the busier summer months, Wyss says it can be up to 20 per day.

The amount of farriers available to shoe the Troop’s horses varies per week, meaning efficiency and precision are key for both the farriers and the horses.

“You want to take your time and get it right, but you don’t want to take too long. It’s a case of get in, get out, get the next one in,” Wyss says. “To shoe the horse by yourself, it could take 40 minutes to an hour.”

You've got to take your apprenticeship into your own hands ...

In the summer when military farriers are busiest, the majority of shoes are pre-made to save time, but the military utilizes a mix of factory-bought and handmade shoes. Hot shoeing is also standard practice unless a horse has not been desensitized to it.

Because the horses spend most of their time on concrete roads, Wyss says their feet are often callused and shoes are quickly worn down.

“The shoe wear is unbelievable. We’ll shoe some horses every 2 weeks,” Wyss says. “Because they go through shoes that fast, a lot of the horses tend to get sore.”

Though some horses require remedial shoeing due to hoof conformation or for surgical and pathological reasons, as Wyss gets more experienced, it’s easier for her to tell what constitutes a serious hoof problem and what soreness just needs rest to fix. Because farriery is such a physically demanding career, regular exercise and stretching are what help Wyss manage her own soreness.

Shoeing in the King's Troop

  • On average, the Troop employs 130 draft horses, 3-4 years old, who have never been ridden, with new additions yearly.
  • The horses spend most of their time on concrete and, in the busiest summer months, might be shod twice per month because of excessive shoe wear.
  • Horses are shod with a mixture of prefab and handmade shoes depending on demand. Army farriers may shoe up to 20 horses per day.

Now that she’s been certified, Wyss plans to train as an associate with the WCF, which consists of 2 additional years of study, and if she has the time left in the military, she plans to eventually pursue a fellowship.

Wyss is the only woman qualified as a military farrier in the British Army, but the pressure she put on herself wasn’t to break ground, it was to ensure she’d become a good farrier.

“Qualifying was the main goal, but knowing I could make a bit of history was fantastic, as well,” she says. “No one was putting up barriers for me. I’ve always been evaluated the same as the men. For me, it was always about working toward my next goal. In practice, we have to trim the feet, make, fit and nail a shoe within a specified time, so when you get to that time, and you’re still fitting the shoe, you think, I can’t do this. There were a couple of moments I wasn’t sure I would make it, but you’ve just got to carry on. And I did.”

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