“Where is your husband?”
That’s a question Platteville, Colo., farrier Eli Pettitt often hears from first-time clients. They thought Pettitt was merely the little lady on the phone scheduling appointments for her big, burly horseshoeing hubby.
Others exclaim upon seeing her, “Oh, you’re so tiny.”
Although females greatly outnumber males in many equine disciplines, women who trim or shoe horses are still somewhat uncommon.
It is a time-honored but false assumption that gals just can’t out-muscle unruly horses or take the back-bending work like guys can.
Like her male counterparts, petite Pettitt, standing just 5 ft 4 in, has suffered a few broken fingers, bruised ribs, and sundry minor bumps and bruises.
But the avid, lifelong horsewoman uses “leverage and my brain” rather than brawn when dealing with problem equine customers.
She admits she used to just lay them down by old-time, cowboy methods. Now, if called to work on truly unsafe animals that pose a danger to themselves and handlers, she honestly tells owners, “You don’t need a farrier; you need a trainer.”
As a girl, she was fascinated watching a male farrier calmly work during a thunderstorm.
The booms and lightning flashes from the sky had inspired one horse’s very naughty behavior, but the man’s business-as-usual demeanor soon de-escalated the situation.
Pettitt told the farrier she would sure like to learn to do that. He brusquely told her that women simply cannot.
After graduating from horseshoeing school in 1990 and establishing her business, Diamond E Horseshoeing, she mailed that gruff farrier her business card.
In the 26 years since, her gender has never interfered with her work. In fact, Pettitt’s daughter Rachel was almost literally born into the business because very pregnant Mom was shoeing horses when she went into labor. Rather than defending it, Pettitt celebrates her femininity by often wearing blingy belt buckles, hot pink farrier aprons and other brightly colored apparel.
“I absolutely love being a woman in my profession,” she says.
Pettitt acknowledges that, as a female, she has to continuously prove herself to some clients regardless of her competency. One customer for whom she’s worked for eight years still questions her ability, all the while retaining her services because she’s so good at what she does.
What she does is provide a complete line of farrier services. Her vast supply of shoe sizes fits animals from miniature horses to drafts, and includes specialties like traction shoes for mountain riding, sliders for reining horses, and racing plates. To assure every horse a custom fit, she handcrafts on the forge what she doesn’t have in stock.
Hoof work can be strenuous but has its lighter moments, as well as some head scratchers. Pettitt recalled shoeing a horse called Snowflake one Monday. On Wednesday afternoon, the mare died from colic. Snowflake’s owner called to demand a refund on his horse’s new shoes because he never got any use out of them.
Pettitt not only works for paying clientele but also donates farrier services.
She volunteers at Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center in Longmont, where she trims and shoes 31 horses. She does likewise at Acres of Opportunity Ranch in Lafayette, a facility that busses in underprivileged and at-risk Boulder and Denver-area children.
“The day I watched a 5-year-old, blind boy climb on board with the biggest smile on his face, I knew my work, although laborious at times, was well served,” says Pettitt of her involvement with the Longmont 501(c)3 non-profit.