Two jobs, two very different sides of the same person
There's not a lot of common ground between bank balances and blacksmiths' anvils. Dealing with one is a mostly mental pursuit, the other mostly physical.
Kate Aspenwall likes it that way. She's got two jobs to keep herself busy. One exercises her brains, the other her biceps.
During the day Aspenwall is a personal banker at Roundbank in Farmington. She likes the job, and she's good at it. But she gets restless sitting at a desk all day. She likes to be up and moving.
"I get bored pretty easily," Aspenwall said.
That's where Kate's Farrier Service comes in. The two-year-old business is Aspenwall's chance to get physical. Working with a propane-fueled forge she can set up in the back of a pick-up truck, she pounds horseshoes into shape and nails them to the hooves of horses that aren't always in the mood to cooperate. She spends a lot of time hunched over, filing ragged hooves into shape, angling them just so.
"It's a lot of work," Aspenwall said. "It's a lot of endurance."
Aspenwall ends her days with scrapes on her hands from the files she uses to shape the horses' hooves. The grime under her nails seems to be permanent at this point. But she loves the work.
In the beginning, becoming a blacksmith was as much about saving money as it was building a business. Aspenwall got her first horse when she was 9, and the herd on her family's Empire Township hobby farm grew over the years.
"Our family just kept accumulating horses," Aspenwall said.
These days, there are about 10 of the animals around the house, and the bill for the farrier was pretty big. Aspenwall figured if she learned to do the job herself the family could save some money. Now, she takes care of her family's horses as payment for boarding her own.
Aspenwall graduated from Farmington High School in 2008, though she never took a class at the school. She transferred from Rosemount High School after her sophomore year and started taking post-secondary classes immediately at Inver Hills Community College. She earned a high school diploma and her associate's degree simultaneously, then signed up for a 10-week course at the Minnesota School of Horseshoeing. She spent some time as an apprentice, then started her own business.
The horseshoeing classes included lessons on the anatomy of horses and on identifying problems with an animal's gait, as well as working with a hammer and anvil to shape a bar of iron into an appropriate shoe. Aspenwall said she'd gotten bored with traditional schooling. The horseshoeing classes provided a welcome break.
Aspenwall has always enjoyed working with her hands. In high school, she took classes in welding, small engines and woodworking. Working as a farrier fits right in. She makes many of the shoes she uses, and shapes any she doesn't to fit the horses she works with. She also uses her forge to make tools and other items. She hopes to build her own coal-fired forge soon.
At an age when many of her high school classmates are still figuring out college schedules, Aspenwall has both a full-time job and a growing business. And business has been good. She's got 30 regular clients in her second year -- about twice what she had in her first. Some of those have just one horse. Others have as many as 40.
Business tends to fluctuate with the seasons. This is a particularly busy time of year as people get their horses ready for the Dakota County Fair.
Aspenwall isn't sure just how much she wants her farrier business to grow. She enjoys the work, but it has its drawbacks. She'd like to have a family eventually, and spending months of a pregnancy hunched over a fidgety horse's hoof doesn't exactly sound appealing. Then there's the physical nature of the business. While it's a plus in many ways, an injury like a broken arm would mean she's out of business while she heals. You can always be a banker while your bones mend.
For now, though, Aspenwall enjoys her double life. She has people who know her only as a banker who are surprised when they find out about her night job, and people who are used to seeing her in jeans, a t-shirt and a leather apron who never expect she might spend her days in an office. Only a few people know both sides of her life.
"You don't find the banker-farrier combination ever," she said.