By Britney Grover
Not just kids ride ponies, and not only men are farriers. Sarah Coltrin is proof of both.
Based out of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, 28-year-old Sarah has been a full-time farrier for 10 years and is a professional eventer. “My current riding position consists of a string of five to seven off-the-track Thoroughbreds, a couple of warmbloods, a Standardbred and a pony,” Sarah said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for Pony Club and all the ‘switch ride’ training to prepare me for a string of horses as varied as that!”
Iron Rose Forge is both the name of Sarah’s horseshoeing business and for her personally owned horses, like Madam Dragon, also known as Penelope — a half Welsh, half Dutch Warmblood pony that Sarah will compete at the American Eventing Championships this year. “As both a pony and a mare, you can imagine that Pen has a lot of her own opinions — but I love the fiery side of her,” Sarah said. “Every cross-country ride — whether it’s schooling or showing — is amazing.”
As a female farrier riding a pony toward eventing dreams, Sarah’s message to others is threefold. “Do what you love and surround yourself with like-minded people; work hard and be adaptable; and be unwavering in your goals, morals and ethics.”
Becoming a Farrier
Sarah grew up on her family’s farm in Schaumburg, Illinois, with her aunt’s retired horses. Sarah naturally gravitated to them, and saved up her money doing chores to begin taking lessons at a local barn when she was 8.
At 10, Sarah made a decision that shaped the course of her life: She joined the United States Pony Club. “When I joined as a little girl, I didn’t know the first thing about horse management,” Sarah said. “As a young rider, a nice upper-level prospect wasn’t in my family’s budget. In Pony Club, the most important things are safety and learning to become a versatile and effective rider, so that’s what I focused on.”
It was through Pony Club that Sarah connected with trainer Erin Dierks. “The first time Erin took me cross-country schooling at the Barrington Hills Riding Center, I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Sarah said. “I was completely hooked and eventing was going to be the only sport for me!”
As she continued in Pony Club and riding with Erin and her husband, Kenny, Sarah began considering her future. She had always imagined growing up to be a vet, but her first college visit made her question the career. As much as she wanted to be a vet and work with horses, she couldn’t see herself confined to a dorm room and following a traditional college path. She began looking into trade schools and other options when their farrier, a family friend, asked if she wanted to learn to trim their aged horses.
“I jumped on the opportunity and he taught me the basics of trimming,” Sarah said. “I began searching for horseshoeing schools, and was drawn to Midwest Horseshoeing School because of its credibility and association with the American Farrier’s Association.”
The structure of the American Farrier’s Association (AFA) reminded Sarah of Pony Club: stressing education and testing for a higher-standard graduate. Sarah graduated from high school early, packed up her tortoise, Bernie, and began studying to become a farrier at Midwest. Before the rest of her class finished high school, Sarah graduated from horseshoeing school, passed her AFA Certified Farrier test and began working as a farrier full time.
A Special Pony
It wasn’t until she was 26 that Sarah became a professional rider, riding sales horses in Pennsylvania. She was working at Hidden Acres Farm when an opinionated large pony named Madam Dragon came into the barn in need of a few rides and a new home. The pony left for a week on trial, but came back because she was too green.
“Grace Boyton, the owner, asked if I would put some rides on her and get her going over fences,” Sarah remembered. “I realized the first time I jumped her that she was never going to be a kid’s hunter pony, but that she could have huge potential as an event pony. My dad and I decided to invest in Madam Dragon, aka Penelope, in December of 2019.”
After a year and a half in Pennsylvania, Sarah took the opportunity to ride off-the-track Thoroughbreds for Cheryl Quick at Finishing Touches Farm in Genoa City, Wisconsin, and moved back home to Illinois — with Penelope in tow. She started getting Penelope ready to do an event or two with the intention of putting her on the market.
“Once I took her to those first two events, people really started to notice her,” Sarah said. “Not only is she small, she has all the chrome to get you noticed in the show ring and a fiercely competitive attitude that serves us well out on cross-country. It wasn’t until February of this year when we were preparing to head to Aiken that I started to think Penelope was more than just a Novice pony.”
In Aiken, Penelope stepped up her game — schooling Training and Preliminary cross-country questions without a moment’s hesitation. “She has a very natural jump and is extremely bold,” Sarah said. “Needless to say, here I am still showing her and having dreams of Teddy O’Connor!”
Showing and Shoeing
As Olympian Karen O’Connor knows from eventing her “Super Pony” Teddy through the five-star level, ponies have a particular surefootedness and soundness that can be an advantage in eventing. “When I got on Penelope for the first time, I immediately fell in love with the solid, ‘take on the world’ feel she gave me,” Sarah said. “We can take all the inside turns to make up for a smaller step, and she fits in the dressage arena with a lot of room to spare.”
Sarah says the biggest challenge is staying off of Penelope’s neck. “As the fences have gotten higher, she has really developed an insane jump with a lot of power and scope,” Sarah said. “Sometimes she jumps so hard she kicks me up and forward. In those moments, I’m very thankful for the strength I’ve developed as a farrier so I can use my core to hold my position and give her the room she needs to jump!”
Sarah keeps up that strength with 40 horses on her shoeing books. With three horses, three dogs and Bernie the tortoise — who’s been with Sarah for 18 years now — at home in addition to her jobs riding and shoeing, Sarah relies on her significant other, James McKinnon, to keep her busy life on track.
In Sarah’s downtime, she enjoys hiking and camping with James and the dogs. “James has also been teaching me archery, which is his version of horses,” she said. “I even managed to deck my bow out with lime green accents to match my eventing colors of black and lime green.”
Someday, she hopes to wear those colors in a five-star event. In the meantime, Penelope is currently at Training Level and Sarah is confident she has at least Intermediate in her future — a future where both pony and rider serve as an inspiration.
“Something I try to impress upon everyone who asks me about being a female farrier is that you can do anything you put your mind to, and you can’t let other people’s negative thoughts hold you back,” Sarah said. “As far as showing a pony is concerned, I think it’s important that people remember eventing is an intense and potentially dangerous sport. I have never let the breed or bloodline dictate what I ride, and I will never force a horse, pony or rider beyond what they are capable of. To me, the most important things are heart and soundness — and Penelope has enough heart for a horse three times her size!”
Follow Sarah on Facebook at Iron Rose Forge