If the Shoe Fits: A Farrier’s Story

Written by Bill Kent / Photos by Callie Broaddus

Thirty horseshoes hang on a wall in Gwen Nardi’s Rixeyville rancher, which she shares with her wife Katy, two horses, and as many as seven rescue dogs. 

Instead of luck, each horseshoe comes from a horse whose life Nardi helped prolong and improve. Nardi either detected an illness early so a vet could treat it in time, or made a special shoe that corrected a problem that, without it, would have made the horse lame.

“It’s about making things better for the horse, the client, the rider — everyone,” she says. “That, and a feeling and a knowledge of doing the job right. Being a farrier is an art as much as any other, and this is my art.”

And yet, at 34, having practiced her art professionally for more than a decade, Nardi readily acknowledges the challenges. “This can be a thankless job. Only about five percent of the apprentices who train to be farriers are still working after five years,” she notes. “Very few last more than 25 years. You can tell the older ones because their legs are stiff from squatting and they stand hunched over from bending their backs.”

Not to mention swollen thumbs and fingers from those moments when they did not hit the nail precisely on the head, or scarred skin on the hands and forearms from red-hot metal particles that fly into the air while the farrier hammers a shoe into shape.

However, Nardi persists even after a horse’s hoof broke her jaw and battered her skull a few years ago. After a month of sipping meals through a straw, she was back to work, treating and shoeing eight horses a day during Hunt Country’s summer hunting and jumping season. 

And she does not pay attention to those who think — wrongly — that women farriers can’t do the job as well as men.

“It’s true that there are more male farriers than women, and that women tend to have less body mass, that our hands are smaller. But the farrier’s art goes back to Celtic times and there’s evidence that women farriers have worked since then.” 

Nardi’s tool rig sits inside a custom-made trailer that includes racks of pre-made horseshoes, bars of metal she can shape into a custom shoe, an anvil, and a toaster-oven-sized forge that burns at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit and can “heat a can of soup in record time.”

But Nardi doesn’t eat lunch. She works a full eight to 10 hours on a 32-ounce Yeti mug of coffee.

After taking a sip, she holds up a pair of nippers. “These used to come in one size. Now, because there are so many farriers, and some of us have smaller hands, this is made with an intermediate-sized grip.”

When the hardships of the job threaten her resolve, she looks at the horseshoes hanging on her home’s wall, or she calls one of her mentors, Professor Travis Burns, chief of Farrier Services at Virginia Tech. “We commiserate about the job, and I learn more every time we talk,” she notes.

“Most farriers leave the profession for many reasons,” Burns says. “Some of those include the physical toll of the job, difficult clients and horses. Gwen has dedication and a work ethic that is unmatched,” he adds. “She is relentless in her commitment to increasing her knowledge and skills to make her the best possible farrier she can be.”

The word “farrier,” a person who shoes horses, comes from the Latin word “ferrus,” for iron. Today, steel is the preferred metal for shoes, with aluminum also employed for a lighter fit.

For centuries, making horseshoes was one more job for a blacksmith. The farrier’s task was cleaning and trimming the hoof, and attaching the shoe. To shape the shoe more precisely to the hoof, farriers acquired the skill of metalworking. 

As the breeding, care, uses, and competitive roles of horses became more sophisticated, so did the farrier’s job. Organizations such as the United Kingdom’s Worshipful Company of Farriers (founded in 1356) and the much younger American Farriers Association (founded in 1971) now mandate proficiency examinations and apprenticeships that expand the farrier’s ability to identify and correct problems relating to the hoof.

However, in the United States, a farrier need not have any formal training, pass a test, or earn a certification in order to work with horses. It’s impossible to say how many American farriers are not certified or achieve journeyman status. Nardi has an added therapeutic endorsement qualifying her to make special shoes to accommodate injuries and illnesses. Within the year, she plans to complete her UK certification.

“It is the toughest and strictest in the world,” she says. Why pile on distinctions? “I’m proud of what I do.”

Born in New York state to a family of five, Nardi and her twin sister rode their first horses shortly after their father died. They were 6 years old.

“My mother encouraged us to ride as a way to help us deal with our loss, and it worked.” At the stable, Nardi was the farrier’s shadow and liked their manner and characteristic leather apron. “I liked its clean lines, and I think I knew, even at that early age, that I had found my life’s work,” she explains.

The sisters supported their riding passion by caring for others’ horses. After high school, Nardi decided to attend the Kentucky Horseshoeing School’s 22-week workshop where, in addition to learning to always open the soup can before you heat it on the forge, she slept very little and worked hard to graduate with the highest distinction.

Her apprenticeship to the late, legendary Paul Goodness at Forging Ahead in Round Hill brought her to Hunt Country, where, with the exception of seasonal working trips to Florida, she has remained, mentoring younger farriers and, on days off, going for hikes at the Manassas Battlefield and “other places where it isn’t too crowded.”

During the height of the pandemic, Nardi actually worked harder, seeing her clients more often as those with horses found themselves with the time, if not the means, to give them even more attention. “People used the barn to escape their homes and confinement,” Nardi remembers.

But the post-COVID inflationary rise in prices has affected her costs. Prices for just about everything she uses, from the metal for her shoes to the propane that fires her forge, have gone up.

“So I work harder,” she says stoically.

Terri Turner Smith has known Nardi longer than most of her horses. The trainer and owner of TS Show Stables, Smith is one of 70 Hunt Country clients and owns 15 of the 210 horses that Nardi visits every four to six weeks, more often during the summer jumper and hunting season.

Smith first hired Nardi nine years ago on the recommendation of her veterinarian. She cites that Nardi’s “attention to detail and pride in her work make her stand out in her profession. Her knowledge base and ability to work with veterinarians while understanding the anatomy and pathology of the horses is an invaluable asset. She is as important to the health and success of my horses as my veterinarian.”

Dr. Paul Anikis, a veterinarian with Piedmont Equine, learned of Nardi’s work when she was apprenticed to Paul Goodness. Since then, all 14 of Piedmont Equine’s vets have worked with Nardi in treating hoof pathologies.

“We have had a lot of cases where infections to the foot will require the removal of the majority of the hoof wall,” Dr. Anikis says. “Depending how much we take off, the horse can lose the stability and integrity of the foot. Gwen can make a special shoe with a Kevlar cuff that will restore some of this stability and prevent further injury while the foot is healing.”

The dimensions, construction, and installation of the shoe must be extraordinarily precise. Errors in these hospital plates or other special shoes for horses surviving white line disease, keratomas, laminitis, or injuries resulting in deep cracks in the hoof, can lame a horse. When the shoe fits and the horse gets proper care, the animal’s longevity and quality of life can be greatly improved. And Gwen Nardi will add another shoe to her home’s wall. ML

Published in the March 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

Great Meadow International —Something for Everyone: Equestrians, Spectators, even the Family Dog

By Heidi Baumstark
Photography by Sienna Turecamo

Great Meadow International, a four-day equestrian event, will bring the hills fully alive August 22-25 at Great Meadow in The Plains. Now in its fifth season, this annual event offers three levels of international competition featuring Olympic-level riders and horses in what can be described as an equestrian triathlon (dressage, show jumping, and cross-country).

But this year, Great Meadow International (GMI) has broadened its vision from its first event in 2015. Five Rings Eventing (FRE), founded by Darrin Mollett of Beverly Equestrian and Olympian David O’Connor, is a high-performance event organizer and management company that has led the competition side of GMI since its inception; but this year, Five Rings is managing all aspects of the event. Mollett added, “Our vision for 2019 is to produce a festival atmosphere to enhance the spectator experience and the community flavor of our event. We’ll be a family-friendly, country festival with a special focus on everyone’s best friend—dogs.”

In honor of Mars Great Meadow International in August, the Middleburg Life July cover features Olympic-level athletes, the organizer of Mars GMI and Middleburg Humane Foundation’s K-9s in support of this year’s enhanced spectator and community experience at GMI.

Another change this year is increasing the GMI from a three-day to a four-day event, which will include a fall festival featuring Meadow Market, a charming vendor village with a beer garden, a tent where people can cool off, local food trucks, live music, and entertainment. Organizers are planning for dogs, too, including demonstrations, dog agility activities, and canine treats. There will be a large tent open to everyone overlooking the main arena. Guests can take their food there and get out of the sun. Nearby will be the Mars VIP Hospitality Pavilion for guests who prefer all-inclusive dining and a full-service bar in a private setting; tables and half-tables are on sale for this pavilion venue. For those who want to be close to the action, a variety of tailgates and ringside boxes are available with a cash bar and access to local food trucks.

Athletes on the cover include Karen O’Connor and Lynn Symansky, Mars GMI organizer Darrin Mollett, and adoptive pets from MHF.

Mars Equestrian™, a division of Mars, Incorporated, is this year’s title sponsor, which falls in line with the organization’s canine focus including dog food and treats. A statement from Dr. Bridgett McIntosh, Director of Mars Equestrian™, confirms their support, “Offering multiple levels of [equestrian] competition in a community-focused event, with pet-friendly activities for fans, creates the ideal intersection for Mars, Incorporated’s diverse portfolio of brands. Ultimately, the partnership with GMI is central to our purpose to improve the lives of horses, pets, and the people who love them.”

The equestrian competition portion of GMI has also expanded in scope. With an expected attendance of 200 horse/rider combinations across the three levels of international competition (dressage, show jumping, and cross-country), this number is up from 35-45 in previous years.

Mollett said the event includes the term “International” because it’s an international level of competition for all three levels, which includes dressage on Thursday and Friday, show jumping on Saturday, and cross-country on Sunday. “We moved the event from July to August so competitors could prepare for their fall championships; it’s meant to benefit the rider. And the racecourse has amazing footing and a new irrigation system. Plus, we’ll have so much more for the community,” Mollett explained. The rule of thumb is that competitors bring three to four connections. In past years, thousands have come. With over 200 horses/riders expected, scores of spectators will be attracted, plus owners, riders, trainers, and horse enthusiasts from across the country.

Clothing styled by Tully Rector.

FRE’s organizing committee is an all-volunteer group. One volunteer, Max Corcoran, has been on the committee since the beginning. She said, “In previous years, there was just the highest level of the competition; but this year, we’ll have the next level—the intermediate/preliminary level—which opens it up to more riders. There will be different countries represented; we’ll see Canadians, riders from Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, England, and Ireland. They’ve come to compete, to ride for their country. It’s such a beautiful facility and a great excuse to come out and enjoy time in the country—not just for riders but for everyone.”

Pet collars & leashes: Loyal Companion

Plans are on track for a portion of GMI’s proceeds to benefit non-profit partners, including the Pedigree Foundation (the non-profit leg of Mars) and the local Middleburg Humane Foundation, which operates a farm shelter in Marshall, Virginia for abused or neglected animals.

For over 30 years, literally millions have come to events at Great Meadow drawn by its natural splendor, a 380-acre field events center and steeplechase course among the backdrop of the rolling Bull Run Mountain range. It began with the Virginia Gold Cup held every May and grew from there. Today, it is home to a laundry list of greats including the International Gold Cup Races in October, Saturday night Twilight Polo from May through September, the Twilight Jumper series on select Friday summer nights, and home to the popular Fourth of July Celebration. It is also the site of public astronomy events hosted by the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, Team America Rocketry Challenge, and is a favorite pick for seasonal trail rides, weddings, and other community events.

Dog food: Mars Petcare

But back in 1982, the property known as Fleming Farm was a failing dairy farm. The late Arthur W. “Nick” Arundel (1928-2011), news executive and philanthropist, spotted the property, which was slated for sale, ready to be turned into a large housing development. But Arundel purchased the property, envisioning a preservation of open space for the permanent home for the annual Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase, and to showcase one of Virginia’s most beautiful natural resources. He donated the farm that would become Great Meadow, stewarded by the Great Meadow Foundation, which was first established in 1984 as the Meadows Outdoor Foundation and renamed Great Meadow Foundation in 1996.

Hair and Makeup by Salon Emage Day Spa
Location: Beverly Equestrian

Thanks to the initial vision of Arundel—and since then many more—friends still meet at Great Meadow to celebrate the preservation of this sweeping space and the entertainment it brings. Mollett ended, “And GMI is live-streamed on multiple platforms.” So now even more people can catch the vision of this international event and the wonder of Great Meadow as its prized venue.

GMI tickets include general parking and admission to the venue and Meadow Market. For more information and to purchase tickets, tables, etc., visit Great Meadow in The Plains is located at 5089 Old Tavern Road; the phone number is 540-253-9845 and the website is

Photoshoot credits:

Pet collars & leashes: Loyal Companion @loyalcompanionpets; Clothing: Tully Rector @tullyrector; Dog food: Mars Petcare @mars_petcare; Hair and Makeup: Salon Emage Day Spa @salonemagedayspa;
Photography: Sienna Turecamo @siennaturecamophotography; Location: Beverly Equestrian @beverlyequestrian; Cover pets: @middleburghumanefoundation

This article first appeared in the July 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.

“Lucky 7” Charity Gala Celebrating Seven Years of Serving Individuals with Special Needs

November 19, 2018 | Courtesy of Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center

Therapeutic Riding and Education Center’s “Lucky 7” Charity Gala and Gaming benefit kicked off the celebration of their “lucky” seventh year of serving individuals with special needs with fun, food, drinks, and a little “gambling”.

The gala was held in the organizations’ barn, complete with twinkling string lights, professional gaming tables with dealers and a farm to table dinner, courtesy of Fields of Athenry Farm and RSVP Catering.A cocktail hour eased guests into the night, featuring beer from Solace Brewing Company and wines by Slater Run Vineyards, both of whom partnered with Sprout on this special anniversary event. A “Big Board”, a fresh take on a silent auction, entertained guests by featuring items to anonymously bid upon. This “interactive” auction added to the excitement and theme of the night as guests could take their pick from any auction item listed on The Big Board, ranging from designer silk scarves, spa treatments, personal chef dinners, weekend getaways and more.Executive Director, Brooke Waldron, delivered an inspiring speech about the importance of serving others through the power of horses. With not a dry eye in the house, Sprout students arrived in the arena, accompanied by their trust four-legged friends and Sprout instructors for the “Sponsor a Horse” portion of the evening. With warmth and love in their hearts, guests generously bid to sponsor a therapy horse for an entire room – resulting in ALL seventeen of the horses being sponsored!With the generous support of the event sponsors of Sue Fitzgerald and Associates, Newstead Farm, Alison Robitaille and Family, TriSept Corporation Northwest Credit Union and many others, the “Lucky 7” gala was a huge success.Event Chair, Kristin Quinn, and her committee worked to make the gala a night to remember, and their efforts did not go unnoticed, as Founder and Executive Director Brooke Waldron revealed following the charity gala that support from all those who attended raised over $300,000. Save the date for next year as it’s sure to be a “don’t want to miss event!”



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Pioneering Jockey Diane Crump Loved Horses from the Start

Diane Crump after a tough race

Diane Crump after a tough race

by Sophie Schepps

Pioneering jockey Diane Crump, the first woman ever to ride in the Kentucky Der-by, is the only horse person in her family, and her fascination with horses seemed to come out of thin air. 

Born in Milford, Connecticut on the Long Island Sound and without a horse within many miles of her house, Crump turned to her imagination. “I thought about them,” she said. “And talked about them, read every horse book and drew horse pictures.”


While still a pre-teen, Crump’s parents decided to move to Florida and buy a piece of property to build a marina. The wheels began turning in her head and Crump formulated a plan.

“They promised me when we moved to Florida I would get a horse,” as she said, adding that she also took any odd job she could. “I delivered newspapers and mowed lawns. When I was 12, I saved up $150 and we moved to the Tampa Bay area.”

Crump purchased her first pony out of a newspaper classified ad and the seller taught her how to trail ride and basic horsemanship. Once the Crump family settled on a property, the seller also had an interesting proposition. He offered his two paint mares to Diane if her father would buy his land. And so he did.

Diane Crump with her daughter Delia and grand daughter Farah

Diane Crump with her daughter Delia and grand daughter Farah


Crump learned much from taming those two paints because they hadn’t been ridden in years. Soon however, she was riding western with other children and formed her own pony club. A friend was learning to be a blacksmith and first took her to the racetrack. She soon began handling the weanlings and teaching them to lead.

The Crump family then moved into town and Diane boarded her horse at a barn lo-cated near the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack. She felt an immediate draw to the facility.

“It was instant fascination,” she said. “It was the off-season and I would ride all around the track and go into the barn area. I was enthralled with it all.”

Crump continued to work with the weanlings and before long she was breaking yearlings. She began exercising horses brought back from injuries. A local trainer took a liking to her and snuck her into the track under a horse blanket in his car because she wasn’t even 16 years old.

“When I was a senior in high school, the horses that were weanlings when I first started were at the track learning how to be race horses,” she said. Knowing she had to push forward, Crump finished school early as a night student. “I went with them and learned how to gallop and breeze and come out of a gate. I was a groom, a hot walker, and an exercise rider. There was nothing I didn’t do.”

As one of only a handful of women even attempting to ride in pari-mutuel races, Crump garnered attention wherever she went. She was only permitted to compete when officials threatened to fine the male jockeys who were boycotting the races she entered. In 1969, at the age of 20, she rode in her first race at Hialeah in Miami on Bridle n Bit and placed ninth in a field of 12. She won her first race just two weeks later.

In 1970, Crump burst open the doors for women riders and was the first female to ride in Kentucky Derby. Atop her mount, Fathom, she placed 15th out of 17 but the fame she earned followed her everywhere. She continued to ride before finally retiring in 1999 with 228 career victories.

Crump said she knew when it was time to hang up her tack. Her aching body gave her the message.

“When I stopped riding races in 1999,” she said, “it took me two years to get out of pain. I was riding 20-30 horses a day for 40 years. I was worn out.”

Crump, who now lives in Linden, has spent the last decade training horses at the Middleburg Training Track. Once she retired, she also started Diane Crump Equine Sales. Her internet-based company continues to help place buyers with sellers of every type of horse imaginable.

“I’m a real estate company for horses,” she said. “Any consulting that people need in the horse world, I provide. Within a couple years it got big. I could use more people but I like to keep it personal.”

Looking back at her racing career, Crump said she has no regrets. When she started, she was forced to change clothes in a closet because no jockey room had space for women. By the time she retired, half of the exercise riders she met were female.

Although she’s credited with pioneering equality for female riders, what always kept her going was her passion for horses. 

“My whole life,” she said, “I did what I loved.”  

On the Hunt… For Side Saddle Attire

By Summer Stanley

Imagine Lady Mary sitting on her horse appearing refined, graceful and elegantly dressed for the occasion. We love her, we hate her, but mostly we adore her polished looks. Last month, Downton Abbey fans said goodbye to a show in which our longings for a stylishly poised era were more than fulfilled.

Because of the recent fascination, it’s no surprise that even more women are being drawn into the lost art and sport of riding aside – in a side saddle, after nearly a century of riding astride. Of course, the UK has revived the tradition a bit ahead of the US, but we’re more than happy to catch up with three races alone planned for this spring.

The 2nd annual Mrs. George C. Everhart Memorial Invitational Side Saddle Chase kicks off the 50th annual running of the Loudoun Hunt Point to Point Races at the Oatlands Historic House and Gardens on Sunday April 17. This race follows the Cheshire Hunt in Pennsylvania held in March, and precedes the High Hope Steeplechase in Kentucky in May. Be prepared to be impressed!

A lady’s ensemble, referred to as a habit, generally depends on the riding discipline, and for fox hunting, it depends on the season and your hunt’s attire guidelines. The basic rule of thumb for riding aside is somewhat similar to what’s worn from the waist up for contemporary attire; a well fitted, perhaps cutaway styled jacket, vest, shirt and stock tie. With the addition of an apron in a matching or coordinating fabric you then have a habit, which is most traditional for women riding aside.

For formal days, the smart and tailored rider wears a habit in a darker color. Black, navy or charcoal with a canary or tattersall waistcoat (vest) and white or cream stock tie. To complete the look, a ladies’ top hat, with veil is proper for married women. Women who are not married may wear a bowler without a veil. Of course a safety rated helmet with a chin strap is always correct and often required. For cubbing days in the hunt field or for informal hunt outtings one might see habits in subtle checks and tweeds patterns. Button down shirts and a man’s ties vs. a stock tie or even nowadays a stock tie in an elegant paisley or checkered pattern would be considered correct. Brown gloves (for a woman who is not widowed), a hunt whip and a sandwich case make for a lovely look!

Locally, TriCounty, Feeds, Fashions, Finds in Marshall provides consultations for ordering side saddle attire directly from English label Alexander James, offering ready to wear items in the finest material from some of the oldest mills and weavers in Britain. Middleburg Tack Exchange has been in business for 25 years, specializing in both new and used English riding tack and apparel, including consignment habits and accessories. Alexander James will be featured at TriCounty on May 27 and 28. For information or an appointment email [email protected]  

Alternatively, some side saddle riders might prefer more historically correct and period inspired dress, whether for show, parades or historical reenactments in which case these habits and costumes are often purchased vintage, or custom made. Here you might see more vivid colors, varied fabrics and elaborate details.

Cindy Westbroek, owner of Wildhorse Fashion in Utah, has been making side saddle clothing for over a decade. Combining her passion for horses, living history and sewing she began making the clothes when she started riding aside, and quickly discovered there were very few affordable resources for acquiring these pieces. Specializing in period riding habits of the 1800s, she creates everything from late 1700s to modern day styling.

“I take great pride in every piece I make or have ever made. Each one takes on a personality of it’s own as it evolves,” Cindy says.

Across the pond, the Vintage Tack Room, in Midhurst, West Sussex, England, was established in 2013 to curate, buy and sell the best in vintage riding clothes.

“The company has grown enormously since starting and now is the first call for any hunting man or woman, and for any side saddle rider, to either sell their cherished coats and habits, or to buy a ‘new’ one. Although by new, we can mean as old as 150 years!” says shop owner, Mia Woodford.

The growth in side saddle has been so fast, that they have set up a separate web site to cater to this special audience. The Vintage Sidesaddle Company, already running on Facebook, will open its doors officially in May. For those equestriennes ready to ride aside and replicate the romance of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, joining the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Elsa Martinelli (all filmed in the side saddle), it’s time to look the part!

Where to hunt in Northern Virginia and the US:

Cherry Blossom Farm LLC, Middleburg, VA; 5402872034;

Middleburg Tack Exchange, 103 West Federal St., Middleburg, VA; 5406876608;

TriCounty Feeds, Fashions, Finds, 7408 John Marshall Hwy, Marshall, VA; 5403641891; in partnership with Alexander James

The Side Saddlery, 554 Morley Ct., Belford, NJ; 7329628747;

Recollections, Inc., 7956 County Road 451, Hawks, MI; 18004525925;

Custom & Tailoring Services:

Wildhorse Fashion, Clearfield, Utah; 8014586488;

Tracy Michele Designs, Neptune, NJ; 7328047088;

Ewbank Clothiers, 6807A Lord Fairfax Hwy, Berryville; 5405149565; Facebook

Highcliffe Clothiers, 112 West Washington St., Middleburg; 5406875633;

Where to hunt in the UK:

Alexander James, 6 Mossfield Rd., Pendlebury, Manchester; +44 (0)161 793 6340;

The Vintage Sidesaddle Co., Hoyle Ln., Midhurst, West Sussex; 01798 867517;;; Facebook

The Old Hunting Habit & Co., Mellor Rd., New Mills Derbyshire; 07855 433 770;

Side Saddles, Burnt Hill, Thatcham, West Berkshire; 07770 954 367;

Showtime Supplies, Forest Barn, Salem, Carmarthenshire; 01558 824 163;

Side Saddle Lady, 60 Argyll Rd., Pennsylvania, Exetor, Devon, England; +44 1392 271080;

Photos provided by:

Nico Morgan Photography (Dianas of the Chase, photographed), Wildhorse Fashion, Cindy Westbroek (photographed with her horse, Tanka), The Vintage Sidesaddle Company, and Middleburg Photo