In November 2020, longtime Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team farrier Steve Teichman retired from the profession (check out the Chronicle’s March 18 & 15 issue for a Living Legend story on Teichman), and his protege Rebecca Ratte stepped into the role for several months this winter. This profile of Ratte was published in Untacked in the November/December 2020 issue prior to Teichman’s retirement.
Rebecca “Beck” Ratte remembers feeling highly dissatisfied with her life’s direction; an adventurist at heart, she’d started to feel trapped. Then she and her friends scored tickets to see the equestrian production Cavalia in San Diego.
As Ratte watched the opening act, she found herself thinking, “I could do this.”
“I thought, ‘I understand this kind of training.’ I just got really jazzed on it,” she says. “I had done gymnastics as a kid and always loved dance and had always kind of pictured myself in my head as a performer, as an actor. I wanted to pursue those artistic talents, and I had never gone for it, and this just seemed like a dream come true.”
That evening the group went to a bar with one of the acrobats from the show, and after a few shots and some encouraging words, Ratte found herself submitting a video. A week later, the company called her in for an audition.
“I walked in, and they handed me this little Andalusian cross gelding and said, ‘This is the horse that you would be using if you were to get the job,’ ” she recalls. “ ‘He’s quirky and a little difficult. You have 15 minutes. Show us what you’ve got.’ ”
Ratte had spent a few years working for Allen Clarke at Horsemanship Unlimited, and that experience served her well in the interview.
“I got really, really lucky that all the work I’d been doing in the past few years really came into play—the give and the release,” she says. “He really responded to that kind of riding, and he was fabulous for me. I wasn’t an amazing dressage rider at the time, but I knew the basics, and we were piaffing and passaging around and doing tempis, and the horse was phenomenal.”
Two weeks later she was performing a pas de deux in front of an audience.
“I was shaking the entire time,” she says. “You couldn’t see the whole audience, thank goodness, but you could see the first 10 rows, and you’re supposed to smile and be very serene, and I just was like having a panic attack. It was really bad, and of course everyone came to see me. It was maybe not great, but we did it.”
Two months later, she’d sold most of her belongings and moved to Australia with Cavalia.
No Challenge Too Great
Australia afforded Ratte the adventure she’d been seeking, and she explored many other countries on the worldwide tour too.
“The show in general, while yes it was this dream come true, it also proved to be very emotionally taxing,” she says. “It was physically taxing as well. It was a lot of long hours, and the mentality of a lot of the riders was very difficult to get on with—the constant drilling of the horses. There were times that I thought that I would leave, and it was not for me. Then you would step back, and you’d go, ‘If I don’t ride this horse then who’s going to take care of him?’ And you kind of always stayed. And of course the perks were great.”
Another American at Cavalia, Fairland Ferguson, took Ratte under her wing and introduced her to trick riding. But the Cavalia directors didn’t like Ratte using the show’s horses to learn those skills.
A chestnut stock horse named Gus opened the door for her to begin again. Unruly and unsuited for the show, the directors allowed Ratte to teach Gus dressage in order to sell him.
“The premise of the background and training I did was if you could teach a horse to learn, you can teach it anything,” she says. “So teaching it with the release of pressure, realistically you can teach it anything, as long as you can teach them to give to pressure.”
Unwilling to give up, Ratte asked her fellow cast members what skills a trick horse needed. As she taught Gus dressage, they also learned trick riding together.
“It just happened that [the directors] saw what I was doing and sort of let me keep going,” she recalls. “Then the head director showed up and was like, ‘OK, put him on stage. If you can show us the tricks then you can keep going. Otherwise he needs to be sold.’ And by grace, we got out there and were able to do a few really good passes. He had completely turned the corner and wasn’t going around like a crazy thing anymore, and we’d really bonded, and they let me keep trying.”
According to fellow performer Spencer Rose, that was a perfect example of Ratte’s dogged determination.
“There’s just no such thing as a challenge for her,” Rose says. “It’s crazy. So first she learns to trick ride with basically everyone saying no, and I’ll tell you, I was one of those people who were like, ‘I don’t think this is a great idea.’ She really earned my respect when she could trick ride, but she also became an acrobat in her late 20s, which is even more unheard of, and now she’s a farrier. She kind of makes her plan, and there’s nothing that’s going to stand in her way.”
Avoiding Being Stagnant
Trick riding was only the beginning of Ratte’s experimentation into the many facets of Cavalia, and eventually with its spin-off Odysseo, which she performed in for a year. She mastered new roles in Odysseo, first taking over a trampoline act for an injured colleague, then later performing in aerials.
“I’m super addicted to learning new things and pushing my skill sets, and you can see this as a pro; you can see this as a con,” she says. “I oftentimes take up things that people think I shouldn’t, not necessarily to prove them wrong, but because it’s like, ‘Well, why not?’ I want to see if I can do it. I never started doing aerials with the intention of doing it in the show. That wasn’t the intent, but I also am addicted to being really good at whatever it is I’m doing.”
Ratte was in awe of the aerialists: Not only were they expressing their femininity in the movements, but it required immense strength.
“I think moving your body and then learning how to move it in a graceful, controlled way is good for your life in general and is good for your confidence just walking down the street,” she says. “It’s this thing innately as humans we want to do. We want to be graceful and beautiful in the things that we do.”
Those skills translated into her riding, even if not in the most obvious ways.
“We want the movement between us and our horse to be graceful, and so I see the same connection between doing aerials and having that grace between me and the apparatus and having the grace between me and a horse over a fence or in a dressage movement. It’s the same thing,” she says. “I struggled honestly, and I think this is probably why I chose these things. Because the fluidity and the release of tension that you need in aerials is the same fluidity and release of tension that you need in riding.
“It was this challenge that I knew I could take into other aspects of my life,” she adds.
But after four years, Ratte felt like she was hitting a wall with Cavalia. Coupled with a growing desire to put down some roots and a Thoroughbred named Raz, who showed potential as an event horse, she decided to tender her resignation.
“I literally did every act,” she says. “It was exactly how I wanted to do the show, but it’s kind of like, I’ve done everything. What else can I do? And there wasn’t really anywhere else for me to go, and I don’t like being stagnant. It felt like I’d sort of reached that point, so I saw my opportunity to get back into the ‘real’ horse world. I found a really great little mutt in California, and I adopted her. And it was like, well, I guess this is it; I guess I’m leaving. I wanted to spend time with friends and create my own life.”
An Accidental Vocation
Ratte’s horse addiction started with My Little Pony and blossomed from there. Her parents introduced her to gymnastics, but she was more interested in petting the elderly horse behind the barbed wire fence nearby.
Coming from a military family, Ratte moved every year, which made it difficult to build a rapport with people in order to gain rides, but she made it work, trading labor for saddle time. Her competition opportunities were few and far between, but the thrill of galloping through fields led her to eventing. She wanted to take a working student position with Phyllis Dawson after high school graduation, but when her parents said they’d cut her off financially, she decided to attend Virginia Intermont College. There she majored in art and earned an associate’s degree in equine science.
Throughout college she bought and sold a few horses of her own and took on a few projects from others. After graduation she accepted a working student position at Mike and Emma Winter’s Wayfarer Eventing in Newnan, Georgia, where she could finally immerse herself in the competitive side.
“That was when I was finally able to try to start [going] somewhere,” she says. “I finally got a pretty OK Thoroughbred, and by OK I mean it didn’t stop every time I jumped it. It was the best one that I had. Sometimes you have to make the best one out of what you get. Life just is what it is. I’ve never really had the money to do it, but I always loved the training aspect of it and focused on that.”
She left the Winters when she met and married a military man shortly before he deployed, though they later separated. Ratte knew she needed to make a major change.
After a phone call with eventer Jennie Brannigan, Ratte moved to California for a position as Tamie Smith’s assistant. Ratte and Brannigan’s friendship blossomed out of a mutual dislike of one another while working for the Winters, and Ratte describes Brannigan as a catalyst for change in her life.
“It’s always been like, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ And she’s either been supportive, or she’s been like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll make a phone call for you,’ ” Ratte says. “It’s this really cosmic thing where she’s had this huge influence on where my life has gone. It is odd because I literally won’t talk to her for a year at a time, and then when I will it’ll be this big, huge deal. She’s been a great friend and support that way.”
Smith connected Ratte with the Clarke family, which led to a full-time position at their Horsemanship Unlimited. In addition to sport horse training, the Clarkes introduced Ratte to what ultimately became her vocation: shoeing horses.
“The family had the HITS Thermal [California] shoeing account, and I’d ride jumpers all morning, and then I’d shoe all afternoon,” Ratte says. “It was actually a really great way to learn the trade and the industry. They were meticulous, very talented farriers. I eventually found I was shoeing as much as I was riding, and I was running around with [my] head chopped off. You don’t even take your helmet off from one barn to the next trying to ride horses and work at different barns, and then I’d shoe, and I didn’t have to run around or scrape for $15 rides. I could make a flat rate and realized this was consistent, and I could do it, and I like it.”
Forging Her Path
Ratte was trying to decide between riding and shoeing when the opportunity with Cavalia arose in 2012. When she left the production after four years, she went to work with Australian show jumper Scott Keach in Ocala, Florida. Then three years ago, she began working with Steve Teichman, the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team farrier, basing in West Grove, Pennsylvania, and making trips south during the winter months.
“I’ve been shoeing for 48 years, and I’ve had probably 100 apprentices. This girl is a machine,” says Teichman. “She is the most organized, detailed, helpful, hardworking person I’ve ever had. There’s no question about it.”
Ratte gradually left her rider persona behind as she found she couldn’t reach her own high standards with eventing as her hobby. Though Ratte’s largely hung up her riding boots, she still pulls them out on occasion, especially if Brannigan asks for her assistance. In addition to introducing young horses like Amazing Anthem to their first cross-country fences on the ground, Ratte schools Brannigan’s upper-level horses Twilightslastgleam and Stella Artois.
“I trust her with any of my top horses,” says Brannigan. “She’s got a super feel on the flat and knows how to move them in their body. She’s cool because she can work with a really difficult horse, but at the same time I trust her to sit on the nicest horses as well.”
Ratte admits it’s odd to consider herself a “former event rider,” but she recognizes it was the right move.
“This job has evolved so much that to do it the way I needed to do and focus on it, kind of the last thing that I want to do at the end of the day is go try to perfect my halt transitions,” she says. “I enjoy horses so much that that’s not what I need from them anymore.”
Ratte’s personal client list includes upper-level eventers Brannigan, Buck Davidson, Lillian Heard, and Sara Kozumplik Murphy and Brian Murphy, but her roster also includes dressage horses and jumpers, as well as the occasional steeplechaser for Leslie Young. For her, the most satisfying part is finding ways to make lame horses more comfortable.
“I had a guy tell me that his vet bill’s been down since I started them a year ago,” she says. “[He said,] ‘I don’t do nearly as many injections since you’ve been shoeing these horses,’ and that’s really rewarding. You do make a difference; your job is important, and to think that what we do to these horses does matter and affects the entire body—sometimes that’s really overwhelming and scary, and other times I feel so grateful to have such an impact. It’s very rewarding.”
Teichman says Ratte has a unique ability in the profession.
“Things that we have worked with, and things that she has picked up, she has boiled down into a really great playbook. She’s smart that way and has a good strategy. I think that’s very important,” he says. “She’s not a tinkerer but someone who goes right at it and goes for the throat and knows how to solve problems. [She has] really good problem-solving skills.”
Ratte looks at a hoof in much the same way she would look at a hunk of clay waiting to become a sculpture.
“It’s absolutely artwork, and I get my artistic fix out of that on a regular basis,” she says. “It really keeps your mind working, and I think that the fact that I’m an artist allows me a lot more success in being able to see this balance and see this finished product. One of the things that was told to me is that you look at this hoof capsule, and you take away everything that doesn’t belong so that you can create that balanced hoof underneath. Mind you, you can’t always do that in one go, but that’s what I’m looking for—I can see that beautiful picture that I want to create, and then I just work towards creating that within the laws of what you can and cannot do with a hoof capsule. I think it absolutely lends to my success in this career.”
With a packed schedule of her own, Ratte only works for Teichman once a week, but the partnership has opened plenty of doors. She assisted at the eventing training camp prior to the 2019 Pan American Games (Peru) and worked at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L the past two years. Her “big claim to fame” in 2019 was tacking a shoe back on Oliver Townend’s winning mount Cooley Master Class.
“It was extremely intimidating to not be there with Steve, and that was like, this is an international opportunity, and I’ve got the team vet [Susan Johns] recommending me,” she says. “It was one of those, ‘All right time to put your big girl pants on and step up.’ Maybe it’s just a simple thing, just put the shoe back on, but I didn’t mess it up.”
Not Smiling And Nodding
Historically farriery was regarded as a man’s profession, and while more women are joining its ranks, Ratte experiences sexism and callous comments regularly.
“I’ve definitely run across plenty of men in barns, clients, owners, even other farriers or other professionals who, even if they think they’re joking, will make comments: ‘Well, girls can’t be farriers.’ ‘You’re too pretty to be a farrier.’ ‘Where’s the real farrier?’ ” she says. “I think generally speaking they’re not individuals that mean harm, but we are so calloused to the thought that comments like that are acceptable, that they just don’t think twice before saying it. And as women we have been conditioned to believe that those comments are acceptable, or that they are just trying to be funny, or that we should smile and nod even if inside we’re seething.”
Ratte has found that addressing it head on is the only way to change that mindset.
“Having an open discussion about it is really the only way to move forward and stop those sorts of interactions from happening,” she says. “I think in general a lot of men don’t mean any disrespect, but unfortunately they haven’t been educated in a world where there’s any difference.”
Ratte hopes to be the first female farrier to travel with the U.S. eventing team to the Olympics, but regardless of how far she goes in her career, she aims to encourage other women to consider the profession.
“The other stereotype if you are a woman in the industry is that you’re very tomboy or a very masculine woman, and I think that owning my femininity as a strength is something I want to continue to focus on throughout my life,” she says. “I think that women are so often taught that femininity is something to be tamped down, that we should be stronger; we should be tougher. We’re not accepting that the gentleness and the kindness and the caring are strengths.
“Also as someone who comes from the rider’s perspective—coming to this industry I bring a lot more to shoeing than just the mechanics of making a shoe and putting it on,” she says. “I think for too long it’s been a job where men want to bang around some steel, or say they can hang around the horse girls in the barn, or they heard you can make money at it, and I think the more women and the more farriers with riding backgrounds we can get involved in the industry, the better the care for the horses, and the future of shoeing in general really could advance.”
This article originally ran in the November/December 2020 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse Untacked.
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