Updated: May 4, 2019
Meet Jess Baker, a young woman from Illinois who is small in stature but spends her time shoeing large horses and taking care of their hooves in what was once thought of as a male-dominated profession. Check her out on Instagram @Jessthefarrier.
Jess Baker didn't really grow up around animals. Her grandfather was a veterinarian, but animals weren't part of her everyday life. When she was 14, her father encouraged her to begin riding horses at a facility near her home in central Illinois. Her life took a course that would involve horses from there. It started with lessons in standard western pleasure riding and then moved on to working at the riding school. Along with the job, she always had an interest in animal behavior.
"I always taught animals to do things and was on a track to become a trainer. As I learned more about training horses, I felt the need to know more about being a farrier," Jess says.
She left college where she studied equine and agricultural management for what was to be a short-term stint at a farrier training school. At the school, she learned how to work on a forge and about horse anatomy. Her short-term stint turned into six months with no return to college.
Jess, who is American Farrier's Association certified, enjoys this line of work because there is no cap to what she can learn. She also loves being around the horses and felt that being a farrier was a good fit for her. "I realized that this career was probably going to be a better match for me rather than being an animal trainer. Being an animal trainer is about working with people who train their animals, and it can be tough to get people to do what you say as an 18-19-year old."
Though she's in her 20's now, she still enjoys her career. "I'm never in the same place for more than 6 hours in the day. I'm never bored. It's very hands on, and I love the environment," she says. "It's a good fit for my personality and energy level."
People may wonder how a young woman with such a small build can work effectively with 1000's of pounds of horses, but Jess says it's not about your size or strength. Besides, she's never been one to go with the social norm. "The class I was in at school was half and half men and women, but, overall, there are more men in the field. There are not any particular challenges to being a woman as a farrier. Women tend to think quicker and smarter because our presence is less invasive, and you don't have to be really strong to do it."
Another thing Jess learned at farrier school was how to build things from scratch, which is something that she has had to do with her business. The business side of things is a part of her work she truly enjoys. "I run the business like a high-end business. I've raised my rates because I was providing some of the top work in my area and this helped refine my customer base."
Jess knows that being a good business person is just as important as being a good farrier. She learned this from an early age when her father began his own business when she was eight years old. "Business methods and decision-making determine how long you can stay in the field. I treat it like a business because I am passionate about that side of it. I like something that is high-quality, high-calibre, and is running smoothly. I've been a problem solver from an early age."
But Jess isn't stopping by just making her own business better, she's devised a product in response to a need she saw in the field. "I created a liquid hoof cleaner this past winter that I've started selling, which meets a need and creates another stream of income."
This cleaner is gentle on both the horse and their owners but still effective. "It's so wet for so much of the year, and many people don't get out and clean their horse's feet. Bacteria starts to grow and it can begin to rot the hoof. Everything on the market for this has warnings on it because it is so strong, which is tough on owner and horse. I needed something that would work without all the toxins. With this cleaner, you spray it in and wipe it out for deep cleaning. It's made of hydrogen peroxide and essential oils. It works well and gentle but doesn't burn hands or hooves."
An average day for Jess begins with coffee and responding to email and social media. In the colder months, she begins her day inside by going to the gym and doing home-based office tasks. As it gets warmer, she moves the outside work to the mornings to beat the heat.
What is her advice for following a fresh path? "Go for it, but be smart about it. The best way to make something happen is just to start it. Never let the fear of failure get to you."
Her advice particularly for girls who want to follow their dreams is, "Do whatever you set your mind to do. No one can stop you. Don't ask for a pass just because you're a girl."