A congenital birth defect didn’t stop this Colorado horsewoman from riding and starting a business in natural hoof care.

When Hannah Usher shows up to trim new clients’ horses, she is often greeted with skeptical looks because she’s not a conventional farrier. But the petite barefoot trimmer from Cortez, Colorado, has spent years studying natural hoof care, apprenticed under reputable farriers, and has been a practitioner of the natural hoof care principles of Robert Bowker, VMD, Jaime Jackson and Pete Ramey for nearly 20 years. She applies it to working ranch and performance horses.

Due to Amniotic Band Syndrome, Usher was born with only parts of her fingers on both hands and only her little toe on her right foot. Doctors didn’t think she’d ever be able to walk. She not only walked, but also went on to trim and train horses and day-work on ranches.

Today, she has a full roster of clients, and also starts colts and works with problem horses. She applies natural horsemanship and low-stress stockmanship to her training, following the methods of Buck Brannaman and Curt Pate. She also breeds a few registered Quarter Horse mares to her stallion, Streak Olene by Streakin Six. Her goal is to produce horses she can train for barrel racing, ranch work or trail riding.

Six years ago she bought her own farm, where she raises chickens, grass-fed dairy cows, Wagyu beef cattle and Mangalitsa hogs. She is interested in producing premium-quality foods for herself and her community using regenerative agricultural methods. She also is designing a progressive facility that is functional for training while also mentally and physically healthy for horses, with large stalls and track paddocks.

My mom never treated me differently [with my disability] and never told me I couldn’t do something, so I never let it affect me. Most people don’t even notice and I’ve never known anything different; I’ve just adapted.

Hannah Usher. Photo by Jennifer Denison.

I didn’t grow up in a horsey family. I babysat and saved enough money to get a horse when I was 12 years old. He was a little Navajo pony, and I taught him to do tricks.

I was a library geek as a kid. Instead of hanging out with other kids I’d go find horse books to read. Tom Dorrance’s True Unity was one of the first books I read, and it made complete sense to me.

While my friends were out chasing boys, I was out chasing cows. I started day-working on ranches when I was 14 years old.

I dropped out of school my sophomore year of high school to go to work because my mom was a single mom, and she had hurt her back and was unable to work. I worked anywhere I could to make ends meet. If I could do it again, though, I’d finish high school.

When I was a teenager I rescued an Arabian mare that was skin and bones with a foal by her side. I raised and trained her foal, Resses, and I’ve done everything on her, from working cattle to trail riding and barrel racing. She’s not the fastest horse in the world, but she sure tried her heart out for me.

Resses is the reason I became interested in barefoot hoof care. I didn’t own a trailer and was riding her on 10 miles of pavement every day to work [on a ranch], worked cattle on her all day and then rode her 10 miles back home. It got to the point she was wearing her shoes in half, so I started studying barefoot hoof care and transitioning her into it. All of the cowboys I worked with gave me a hard time, but she stayed sound.

I got my start training horses for a horse trader. She’d buy horses at a sale and we’d bring them home and fix the holes in their foundation training, trim their feet and then find them new homes. We sold have to 10 horses a week, sometimes more when we were busy, and had 20 to 25 in training. That education was priceless.

After that, I rode horses in the sale ring for clients, and that was a good experience in riding different horses and quickly figuring out what they knew and how to get along with them long enough to get them sold.

Colt starting is my passion. I think the most important time in a horse’s life is during its initial experiences with humans. I imprint all of my babies from Day 1 and it makes them so easy to handle throughout their lives.

Just because something has been done the same way for 50 years doesn’t mean it’s right. We can always find ways to do better.

One rule I live by is never, ever stop learning, and that has led me to have an open mind to many things deemed non-traditional.

My goal is to build a life I don’t need a vacation from. My friends say, “You don’t ever get to do anything,” but I’m doing everything I love and couldn’t ask for more.

This article was originally published in the April 2019 issue of Western Horseman.

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