Last time around we introduced you to The Old Girl 900, and shared a timeline which gave an overview of where the Oman-native 900 Turbo began its life, where it ended up, and the trips it made along the way. This time we’re going to shift our focus to the owner and creator of The Old Girl 900, Kirsty Farnfield.
Here’s some quick info just to give you an idea of what’s in store: like The Old Girl, Kirsty has lived in several different countries, was the first female ferrier in history to earn the “Best Student” award, and was involved in an unfortunate crash while behind the wheel of her Astra show car. Intriguing, isn’t it?
So, Kirsty, what would you like the people to know about yourself? Give us a biography of sorts.
[I was] born in United Kingdom, and at that time my dad had a used, beige Saab 96, which he parted with for a used, brown 900 GL 3-door hatch with steel wheels and metal trims. [We] moved to Oman when I was 3, and Dad got a used, beige 900GLS 4-door sedan with Inca alloy wheels and a spoiler. The Saab dealer gave me a silver, plastic 900 Turbo model as a gift, and I still have it. When I was 5, Dad bought The Old Girl.
When I was 8 we moved countries. The Old Girl [was] flown back to UK, and Granddad cared for her while we were abroad, so we could use her when on leave in the UK. Granddad got the GL to use. I joined my sister in boarding school in the UK, and Dad posted to Turkey, where we joined during school holidays. There were no Saabs in Turkey, so we had to have a crappy Ford Taunus made under license there.
After three years in Turkey we moved to Cairo in Egypt. Dad bought a Land Rover Discovery V8i 3-door model in beige, and exported it to Egypt. This Disco was officially the first one in Egypt, as it hadn’t even been launched there yet.
After Egypt Dad was posted to Syria, [with a] bachelor status as wives and kids were not allowed. This was before stuff went bad there. We brought the discovery back to the UK, and Dad built the new garage to house both the Disco and The Old Girl side by side.
That’s quite an eventful upbringing. Moving forward, what did you do after you graduated from boarding school?
I went to agricultural college in Warwickshire, which is also when I got my first car. It was a Land Rover 1969 series IIA SWB (88”) with a 2.25 liter petrol [engine] with a Weber carb, Salisbury axle & works registration. She was called Erica.
I was 1 of 3 students to graduate with distinction that year, and the first girl in history to win “Best Student” award for a Farrier’s course. It had also included modules on benchwork, welding and vehicle maintenance which was handy, as well as the blacksmithing, tool making, etcetera.
Sorry to interrupt, but you trained to be a blacksmith? That’s awesome! Did you ever get to put the training into practice?
I trained as a carrier so that involves blacksmithing, but is relating to horses rather than decorative metalwork. So, all Farriers are blacksmiths, but not all blacksmiths are farriers. *wink*
Unfortunately, despite graduating top of my class and being first girl to get that award for a farriery course, you still then needed to get a 4-year apprenticeship, and, very long story short, despite a couple of years trying and, unfortunately, several instances of outright sexism – like “piss off, you’re a girl” was literally said to me – I had to give up on that and pursued a different career with horses.
I can still weld, make tools, can do basic blacksmithing, annealing, normalizing, hardening and tempering tools, I can make usable balanced horseshoes, I can remove shoes, trim a hoof correctly, and clench up (finishing off), but in the UK I can’t legally nail on a shoe.
I’ve done plenty of trimming which is legal, and the skills have come in useful over the years. I still have my tools and the tools I made, and they’re still good and useful.
I’ll say! I wish I could weld. My neighbor makes it look easy, and I’d like to learn, but I rarely have time to dedicate without feeling like I should be doing something else, like getting paid. It’s quite unfortunate that you had to suffer that nonsense, especially when you had performed so well. Would you say things are different today, in that regard?
Yes, things have improved a lot, but female apprentices and farriers are still less than 1% of the group as a whole. It’s hard to get into even for guys and even if you’re overqualified. In other countries, like the USA, I could legally set up as a farrier with no training at all, but in the UK it’s been tightly regulated for centuries. Laws regarding unqualified shoeing of horses dates back to the 1600s.
I worked with horses both in the UK and fit a while over in America. I was in Colorado, working as a stud manager with shire horses. In the UK I worked variously as a competition groom, stable manager, stud manager, general farm manager, estate manager, shepherd, riding instructor, examiner & NVQ assessor in horse care and management.
After a redundancy I started my own car detailing/valeting business. That’s what I was doing when I became disabled. Honestly, I don’t want to get into the complexities of my disability as it’s pretty long winded, but I have chronic pain and fatigue, and can’t really walk more than a few steps any more. I use a wheelchair nowadays.
As someone whose main tool is a keyboard, I’m very intrigued by your farrier skill set. I take it that being disabled restricts the work you can do. By all means, please explain your condition. Perhaps your story can inspire other folks in similar positions to overcome the obstacles they face.
Trying to make a long story short; I was in a car accident in my Mk3 Vauxhall Astra show car. I was stopped at a red light at the time when a boy racer smashed into me, writing my car off.
It triggered a condition called fibromyalgia, which is still not well understood and still being researched. It’s an autoimmune disease that may be carried genetically, but has to be triggered by something, most commonly a car accident, surgery or major infection. The body goes into healing mode, but then gets carried away and won’t stop. It starts attacking its own nervous system.
Fibromyalgia erodes the myelin sheath coating on the nerves—imagine a car wiring loom with the insulation falling off all the wires, short circuiting all over the place. So because the nervous system controls everything in the body, a whole shit ton of stuff goes wrong.
But you can still be disabled and kickass. Matt pimped my wheelchair for me!
Here’s a quick video showing off Kirsty’s modified wheelchair, which now has its own stereo system (props to Matt!):
As Porky Pig would say, “That’s all, folks!” In the next installation of The Old Girl 900, we’ll take dig into other projects completed by Kirsty’s partner, Matt, including his Nissan 200SX S13, a few of their Saabs, an Audi A4 wagon, Kirsty’s old Mk3 Astra, aka the Scrap Heap Challenge II GLSRi, which was pieced together from over 40 donor cars. So, as always, stay tuned!