When Lauren Mrozowski had her daughter Ava this spring, she had to deliver by Cesarean section because the baby was upside down.
"Probably because I spend my life upside down," Mrozowski laughed.
That's only a slight exaggeration. As a farrier trimming and shoeing horses' hooves, Mrozowski does almost all her work bent over.
With a book of about 150 horses, Mrozowski is believed to be the only Santa Barbara County woman working as a full-service farrier in the county. Based at a ranch midway between Buellton and Lompoc, Mrozowski runs a mobile farrier business. Her clients live as far south as Topanga Canyon, in Los Angeles County, and north to Santa Maria.
The profession came naturally to Mrozowski, although via a bit of a circuitous route. She started riding when she was just 1 year old and her mother put her up on a pony.
As an adult, she worked as a trainer's assistant, then had her own training business.
"That evolved into a full-scale rescue on my property in Colorado," she said. "I had a farrier coming out at least once a week. I was helping them a lot and that got me interested."
She became a certified veterinary nurse, and was considering becoming a veterinarian when the farrier profession called to her again.
"I looked into shoeing schools because it combined everything I'm interested in."
She attended Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, followed it with an apprenticeship and opened her own business in 2011.
While growing in numbers, women farriers are still a rare breed. A 2014 American Farriers Journal Farrier Business Practices survey found only 6 percent of full-time farriers are female. Beth Daniels, executive director of the American Farrier's Association, said the organization doesn't even have a gender designation in its database.
"When it was set up, all the farriers were men and so was the association's leadership, so there was no need," Daniels said. "But now the number of women in the field is growing by leaps and bounds."
Mrozowski said that she's found other farriers -- men and women -- to be "overwhelmingly supportive" of her decision to work in such a male-dominated field. Winning over new customers is still sometimes a challenge, though.
"Potential clients aren't used to seeing a woman in this role. Everybody has a picture in their mind, their assumptions on what a farrier should look like. A lot of horse owners are women. Some are disappointed that I'm not a cute guy in tight Wranglers," she said without a hint of irony.
Sometimes, she feels she has an advantage with women owners.
"The communications aspect of my business are so important," Mrozowski said. "Women are less hesitant to ask questions or have me explain things because they are comfortable with me. I love questions. I love to explain things. I would never treat a client like they're stupid."
Man or woman, this isn't a profession for a weakling. The equipment is heavy. The hours are long. The working conditions are often hot. And horse poop, well, "it's just a job hazard," Mrozowski laughed.
Proof of that was Asia, a 20-something retired show horse getting a "mani" from Mrozowski on the day the Valley News visited with her. He pooped, almost as if on cue, as soon as Mrozowski secured him into position for his shoeing. Asia is one of three horses owned by Kelly Haake in Santa Ynez.
"He was a show jumper," Mrozowski said. "Now he's living out a very spoiled retirement pretty much just hanging out in the pasture."
Asia has very noticeably bonded with Mrozowski. As soon as she got out of her truck, he came over to the pasture fence to greet her. He followed her into the barn and stood patiently while she got to work, cooperating with every move she made with his feet. There was never even so much as a flinch when she hot shoed him, steam rising all around.
"When I take a factory-made shoe, I shape it to fit the horse. You can get a lot more of a precise shape when the metal is hot. It would only hurt if I'd trimmed him too short or left it on hot too long."
She hadn't made either error and Asia appeared totally unaware that a red-hot piece of metal was being held against his foot as Mrozowski worked it into the perfect shape.
Frequent treats are part of Mrozowski's routine with Asia, a horse she sees every six weeks. Asia only gets front shoes. His hind feet are fine barefoot for his easygoing pasture life.
"Asia, like a lot of older horses with arthritis, benefits from a therapeutic shoe," she explained. Sometimes she even gets a shoeing prescription from a vet.
"There is definitely no one size fits all."
Finished with his "mani," Asia gave Mrozowski a gentle nudge -- maybe a request for one last treat? -- before she led him back to his pasture and moved on to the next horse.
"Not every horse is as cooperative as Asia," Mrozowski admitted, "but you never want to rely on brute force. It's about using leverage and horsemanship."
Mrozowski is enthusiastic about encouraging other women to become farriers. She's even giving a career day demonstration to a Girl Scout troop in Santa Barbara next month.
"I see this as a long-term profession," she said. "I love what I do."