Oli Aman Jodha from Wayanad got a horse named Aman Chand as a gift from her mother when she was three years old, the happiest memory she has till date. A few years later, when she was eight years old, a farrier from Tamil Nadu was brought to fix a horseshoe for Aman. However, the shoe was not a perfect fit and the horse ended up bleeding. This was so unbearable for little Oli that she decided to learn horseshoe-making and now, at the age of 14, she is the first female farrier in India.
Oli fixes shoes for about 20 horses a month, travelling across the country. Most of her customers are in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan as unfortunately, she gets the least encouragement from her home state of Kerala.
Apart from horses, she's also an expert on bees. She is presently a resource person for apiculture at the Swaminathan Research Foundation, Wayanad, and National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Hyderabad.
A love for the equine
Oli's mother, Amiya Taj, was estranged from her father when Oli was still an infant. Her mother struggled to bring her up, but Oli, even as a small child, was keen to earn a living.
"I'm a first standard dropout. Due to many circumstances, I was not able to continue schooling. I studied at home and wrote exams at school," Oli narrates her story.
When she was eight years old, she started learning horseshoe-making from one of her family friends, Sukumaran, who is also a forest guard. Seeing her interest in the profession, her mother took her to Nepal to learn horseshoe fixing. "We spent a few months in Nepal, where farrier Thaj taught me the art of making it. It was a gurukul system there, and I stayed with them and learnt it," Oli said.
When she returned, she was an expert farrier. By the age of 12, she started practising regularly. She relocated to Hyderabad in 2018 as she was called as a resource person at the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj. That is when she extensively started fixing horseshoes, as the place had plenty of horses.
"A good farrier will know the size of the shoe by looking at the horse. It is work that needs to be done compassionately, only then the shoes will be perfect for the horses," Oli says.
She uses anvil, hammer, nipper, cutter and tongs like a blacksmith. "Unlike oxen, the shoe is fixed in the horse's leg when it's in a standing position, so sometimes, I will have to bear its weight. I should also make sure that I don't make any wrong moves that can hurt the animal," Oli says.
Once she get an assignment, she travels to the place, stays there with the horse, and fixes custom-made shoes. "Usually, my mother and a family friend accompany us in such travels," she says. Sadly, she had to sell her horse, but she has added his name to her own - that's how she became Oli Aman.
Oli made headlines in 2018 for being a beekeeper. She's been in love with bees and honey since she was a three-year-old, she says.
"I learned beekeeping from my grandfather and mother. My mother's family has done this for many generations," Oli says. In 2017, she got the Thenmithra Award from a farmers' association for her excellence in beekeeping. She was also awarded for inventing a honeybee transferring machine at a rural innovators' meet organised by the Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) and the Community Agrobiodiversity Centre (CABC) of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).
It was after the Thenmithra Award, when she completed her seventh standard, that she got an invitation from the Govt. Vocational Higher Secondary School in Ambalavayal in Wayand to do bee farming, and continue her education at the school. "I installed beehives in schools along with some of my friends. But some of my teachers wanted the project to be named in some other student's name and I complained about it. Following this, I had to face a lot of harassment from a few of the teachers. They alleged that I was mentally ill and even locked me up in school once," Oli recalls.
Once again, she dropped out from school, and is now planning to write her 10th exams next year, having registered under the National Institute of Open Schooling.
Oli's aim is to become an equine veterinarian.
Oli has had more than her share of hardships throughout her 14 years, but that has not stopped her from pursuing her dreams. Coming from a conservative Muslim family, she and her mother had to face a lot of challenges.
"We never got support from our relatives. Though my grandparents support us emotionally, they have their limits. But we are confident as we are ready to work hard," Oli says.
She is deeply grateful to her mother as Amiya doesn't impose any restrictions on Oli."My mother never told me to continue regular education. She taught me to do what I love. She taught me to fly and grab hold of my ambitions. She never set standards for me. She asked me to be self-sufficient, to find out what I needed. Let all parents encourage their kids to be independent, don't force your dreams on them. Let them chase their own dreams," Oli says.