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If the Shoe Fits

April 15, 2005—Spurred by job frustration and a lifelong love of horses, Christine Draksler Abramo ’87 traded sixteen years of creating medical board certification exams for a new career as a farrier.

Horse Farrier

In 1998, Abramo left her position as senior editor for the National Board of Medical Examiners to start her own editing and writing business. Working from her home in Philadelphia, she spent several years writing and editing pharmaceutical training manuals and medical journal articles and continued to create exams.

However, frustration with her career was growing. Abramo found herself intrigued watching a farrier work with her horses. She had been around horses since childhood, and was fascinated with the skill displayed in shoeing them.

Christine Draksler Abramo ’87

She brought up the idea of becoming a farrier with her husband, Peter Abramo ’87. “I was working as an independent consultant at the time and so was very flexible,” he said. “After all, she supported me through years of college while I completed my Ph.D., so the least I could do was support her dream to work with horses.”

After some on-line research, they chose a school in Oklahoma. Only a few weeks later, she was on her way west to learn a new trade while he stayed home with their four children.

Abramo likened farrier school to being at boot camp. It was intensive training—six days a week for twelve weeks. In addition to learning how to shoe a horse, she was trained in blacksmithing. A farrier needs a sound knowledge of shoeing all types of feet, whether normal or defective, and of making shoes to suit all types of work and working conditions.

“It’s really horse podiatry,” she said. “You’re cutting and nailing into live tissue. The hoof is like the very tip of the middle finger, and all of the animal’s weight is on it. A farrier’s work has a definite impact on the quality of a horse’s movement.”

Within a month after completing her training, the Abramo family was on its way to Oklahoma, this time driving a truck loaded with their possessions and hauling a trailer with three horses. In May, 2003, she unveiled Christine’s Custom Horseshoeing, and ever since has been driving a truck loaded down with horseshoes, a forge, anvil, and a variety of tools, shoeing horses across the southwest corner of the state.

“It was hard on my kids when I was in school,” she said of her three daughters and one son. “But they are extremely resilient. They love Oklahoma and have an adventurous spirit.”

Photo: Michael D. Pope -- The Lawton Constitution

Photo: Michael D. Pope—The Lawton Constitution

She doesn’t feel her education is wasted. As a certified farrier, Abramo applies her biology experience to working with horses. She noted that many high-quality farriers work closely with veterinarians. The work can be almost like surgery, as the hoof contains living tissue.

However, it’s legal for anyone to shoe a horse, whether trained or not. Known as “cowboy shoers,” such untrained people can end up ruining a good horse. It can be a slow process, resulting in the horse gradually becoming lame over the years or developing other problems.

“I try to teach my clients what to look for and be aware of,” said Abramo, acknowledging that learning about the job will be a lifelong task.

“It’s hard, filthy, and hot, even on cold days,” she said. “It can be dangerous, even with nice horses. They can misstep and hurt a person. But it’s so much better than sitting in an office or commuting. I’m real happy doing this.”

In addition to caring for horses, Abramo has written a book (unpublished yet) about her childhood horse. After being separated for ten years, she found the horse for sale along with its four-year-old filly. The twenty-seven-year-old mare recognized her instantly, and she bought both of them.

Even after such a complete switch of careers, Abramo still creates one board certification exam each year for the American Board of Colorectal Surgery. But it comes nowhere near her new career satisfaction.

Now in her second year of shoeing, she puts in seveal hours each day traveling to her clients, from distant ranches to rural backyards. Word of mouth is as important as any other advertisement. It takes persistence—few women are in the farrier field, and she only knows of five others in the state.

“Every foot is an advertisement,” she said. “You never know who’ll see the horse.”