All horses in the Tournament of Roses Parade must pass an inspection by the Official Horse Inspector. That person is Ada Gates Patton. The first and, for a long time, the only woman farrier in the United States and Canada.
By Cheryl Cabot
According to Gates and the dictionary, “A farrier is a man who works with iron and shoes horses. A man who fashions horse shoes and puts them on to horses’ feet. Also called a horseshoer and at the race track called a plater. Sometimes called a blacksmith.”
How did an East Coast debutant become a highly regarded racetrack farrier, the first woman to do so and, eventually the Official Tournament of Roses Parade Horse Inspector?
Ada Gates never expected to be a farrier in Southern California. Growing up in Long Island, New York, her older brother taught her how to ride at the age of four. Horses became her passion. She progressed through Shetland ponies, Welsh ponies, and a cow pony until her grandfather gave her a thoroughbred.
From the ages of four to 22, when she went off to college, Gates was riding horses in horse shows, fox hunting or riding in the woods. She even went to Foxcroft school, a girls’ college preparatory boarding school in Middleburg, Virginia, where she had to bring her own horse.
When she went off to college, she had no horses. After college she was an actor/singer/dancer in New York City. The long hours of practicing and dancing proved helpful later when she began to shoe horses. She had developed the strong back and leg muscles, necessary to work as a farrier.
“It was me and 49 guys”
After spending time in NYC, Gates took a road trip west with a friend. The car broke down in Vail, Colorado. Her friend went back home to New York, but Ada said, “Well, this is so nice. I’m going to stay out here. I’ve never been west of Hoboken.” So she stayed, and she bought a horse.
She could not, however, find anyone to shoe her horse. Gates saw an article in Western Horseman Magazine about horseshoeing school in Oklahoma, and she decided, “I’m going to go to this school, I’m going to learn how to shoe horses, them I’m going to shoe my horse and then I won’t have this problem anymore. Never dreaming what a horrible job it was. So, I went to the school and it was me and 49 guys. It was 1971.”
After graduating from Oklahoma Farrier’s School, she moved to Montrose, Colorado. She was the first woman in the country to be doing horseshoeing. She built up a good business, but she was only working on ranch horses. She wanted to continue in the profession, but she needed an apprenticeship and none of the men farriers wanted to take her on.
“Get out of here girlie”…off to California
Gates was homesick for her family on the East Coast, so she went back home, planning to work as a farrier there. As Gates says, “I got nowhere. I got rejected, rebuffed, and yelled at with hostility. Everywhere I went, ‘get out of here girlie, you ain’t riding in my truck. You want a test at Belmont Racetrack, you’ll never get a test, and if you do, you won’t pass.’ I was shocked. There was no way they wanted me near anything they were doing.” Depressed, Gates headed back to Colorado with no hope of continuing in the profession she loved. Then a long-time friend invited her to California.
“I came to California with my heels in the dirt. I did not want to come to California. It was the best thing I ever did! I met horseshoers here who, although they didn’t embrace me, they didn’t reject me. They allowed me to work with them and serve apprenticeships.”
Passed the test and became the only licensed woman in the U.S. and Canada
It was at this time Gates met Harry Patton, who became her mentor and eventually her husband. Patton was the head of the union for the racetracks in the Western United States. She asked Patton if he would help her learn what she needed to know to become a horseshoer at Santa Anita. He said “sure.”
Gates took the test and, after two tries, passed the test and in 1977 became the only woman in the United States and Canada, licensed to shoe thoroughbred racehorses.
Shoe the ‘hitting horses’
“So, I was in,” Gates said, “but now, would anybody hire me? No. These were trainers with huge, famous horses in their barns. They didn’t know me from Adam. But Harry trained me to fix ‘hitting horses.’” When racehorses go at their speed of 45 miles an hour, sometimes the front feet go back and hit the hind legs.
“What does the horse do when he gets hit? He stops running. Trainers are in the business of winning, so, begrudgingly, they hired me to shoe the hitting horses. Now, because we are a union, if you do one horse in a barn, you do all the horses in that barn. There is one horseshoer per barn.
“I started working for some very good trainers and worked on very, very good horses. I had a career beyond my wildest dreams. I shod some of the most famous, champion racehorses that ever set foot on a racetrack anywhere in the world, because many of them came for the Breeders Cup,” said Gates.
Before Gates went to the racetrack, she was shoeing many of the horses that shoers call “on the outside,” in other words, non-racecourse horses: horses in boarding stables and riding horses, show horses and jumpers.
Tournament of Roses Parade
During that time, she worked for a lady named Linda Klausner who gave Shetland pony rides and who was the Equestrian Chair of the Tournament of Roses Parade. One day Klausner said to Ada that they were having trouble with the Tournament of Roses Parade. Horses were coming in that were not properly shod and they were slipping on the pavement. They needed an inspector, and they wondered if Ada would take that job.
Gates took on the volunteer job and created all the specifications mandatory for the parade horses. Hydraulic fluid from the trucks and floats makes the six miles of pavement really slick. To prevent slipping, the horses are now required to have special studs put into the horseshoes made with tungsten carbide inside. The stud sticks out a little bit making it much safer for horse and rider. There is also a “road nail” which has a tungsten carbide tip which can be nailed into the shoe. The horses do not go in the parade without the special studs, or traction devices, as Gates calls them.
As the Official Horse Inspector for over twenty years, Gates inspects every horse, approximately 200 of them. She begins the inspections a few days before the parade, on December 28th at the Equestrian Center in Burbank, where many of the out-of-state horses are stabled. This allows the horses to be inspected before the Equestfest held on December 29.
A professional farrier, Bert Lee, has been the Tournament of Roses Parade horseshoer for decades. He brings his truck and all his equipment to the inspection with Gates in case some of the horses are not in compliance. If so, Lee shoes them properly. The majority of the horses come compliance ready, but occasionally, ‘one slips through the cracks,’ and has to be reshod.
In addition to being the Official Horse Inspector for the Tournament of Rose Parade, Gates runs the supply shop for farriers in Monrovia, “Harry Patton Horseshoeing Supplies,” started by her husband Harry Patton. There are thousands of horseshoes and other supplies for horseshoers. Ada continued to run the shop after Harry passed away in 2000.
The supply shop is “all for the hoof,” Ada says. “Nothing else. Just the foot.” The current shop at 223 West Maple Avenue, has been in Monrovia since 1980. It is always open Monday through Friday, and it has never been closed.
International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame
Both Ada and Harry were inducted into the “International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame in Recognition of Distinguished Accomplishments, Achievements and Contributions in Advancing the Farrier Industry.” They are the only married couple to be inducted.
Ada Gates Patton has taken a long circuitous route from the young debutante on Long Island through Colorado, Oklahoma and finally to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, picking up many “firsts” as she pursued her dream of being a farrier. She was the only woman in the Oklahoma Farrier College, the first, and for many years, the only woman certified as racetrack farrier; half of the only married duo to be honored by the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame and, finally, the woman farrier setting the standard for horses in the Tournament of Roses Parade as the Official Horse Inspector.
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