The Western Canadian Farrier Association held its third annual farrier competition May 25 through 27 at the Equilibrium Therapeutic Riding Arena at Gruenthal.
Farrier Iain Ritchie was judge and clinician for the weekend.
Ritchie, originally from Scotland, is an accomplished horseman and horse enthusiast. He embarked on his farrier career at a young age and by the time he was 20 he had earned his diploma of the Worshipful Company of Farriers (DWCF) upon completion of his studies at Hereford School of Farriery in England and after serving a four year-apprenticeship in Edinburgh, Scotland with a seventh generation farrier.
Ritchie currently resides in Pitt Meadows, B.C., where he works as a farrier and is also vice-president of the Western Canadian Farrier Association (WCFA) and writes columns for the association’s quarterly publication. He is dedicated to keeping his skills sharp and therefore competes in American Farriers Association competitions, World Champion Blacksmithing and is a three-time winner in team draft shoeing. He faithfully competes and places in the WCFA annual competition in Chilliwack, B.C. and also placed in the top five in individual competitions at Calgary in 2009.
“It is such a pleasure to have Iain here,” explains Paula Morch who, along with her husband Dave, was very instrumental in organizing the third annual event. “We are fortunate to have Iain share his skills and experience with our 12 competitors. He is an inspiration to us all.”
The event was made possible with the collaborative efforts of WCFA, volunteers and the many local sponsors. Emily Huculak and Bella Stuart, of the Rivers Edge Pony Club, assisted Ritchie with the judging sheets.
Ritchie kicked off the weekend with a draft shoeing demonstration at Avondale Farms Friday. He demonstrated shoe making skills and explained how shoes are made differently to complement the horse’s job. This demonstration enabled those in attendance to learn skills that can be carried forth to perfect their own shoe making and shoeing exercises.
Saturday, May 26 was the farrier competition with participants from Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Twelve competitors, one woman and 11 men, participated in the attempt to earn the farrier title and receive the bronze statue. Competitors were divided into three divisions with three competitors in division I, three in division II and six in division III.
The competitors started the day with an Eagle’s Eye warm-up class. Participants were given ten seconds to view and ‘eyeball’ a model of a horse’s hoof before proceeding with custom designing a shoe within a 30-minute time frame. Judging was based on selection of steel, nails and accuracy of fit. First place rankings went to Austin Unruh of Dewberry, Alta. in the Division I class, Patrick Cleaver of Oakbank, Man. in Division II and Stuart Lambert of McGregor, Man. in Division III.
Each division had a shoeing and two forging classes.
The shoeing class included the trimming of a pair of horse’s hooves. This was intriguing to watch as competitors stooped over the hoof and trimmed, measured and cleaned the hoof area for a maximum of 15 minutes. While Ritchie started to judge the trimming process, competitors went about measuring and cutting flat iron and making the shoes based on their measurements of the horses’ hooves. Approximately 70 minutes was allotted for this depending on the division.
Heating, pounding, shaping and filing continued as sweat and labour was poured into the project. Once the shoes were near completion, the competitor would size them up while smoke, scented with singed hair, billowed up from the hoof. Once the competitor was pleased with the final product, the judge was called upon, once again, to check the measurements and fitting. Once judged and accepted, competitors proceeded to nail the shoes within the remaining time frame.
To the untrained spectator it appeared that they would not get the job completed at the end of the time limit but, as time started to diminish, the competitors simply picked up their pace to get finished before the buzzer.
There were three levels of competition each with its own criteria. Division I competitors were allotted 60 minutes in the shoeing class and approximately 30 minutes in the forging class. The first forging class required the competitor to create a pair of toe clips front keg shoes and in the second forging class competitors had to make one three-eighths by three-quarter inch plain stamped toe clipped front and one plain stamped one-quarter clipped hind.
Division 2 competitors were allotted 40 minutes in the forging category and 70 minutes in the shoeing category. In the forging categories, participants had to do a lateral extension with quarter inch clips and six nails. In shoeing they either shod front or hind, in a hot process with a quarter inch clips on hind or plain stamped toe clipped front.
In the first Division 3 forging category participants made either a fullered straight bar shoe with eight E8 nails or a concave front G bar with seven ESL4 nails in 70 minutes. The shoeing class saw competitors using three-eighths inch thick and three-quarter inch wide plain stamped flat iron. The front had a toe clip and hind had quarter inch clipped, fullered hinds with six nails in a time limit of 70 minutes.
Horses were supplied by North Winds Pony Club, Rivers Edge Pony Club, Sunny Plain Stables and Equilibrium Therapeutic Riding Stable.
“This level of competition is a great way for fellow farriers to improve their skills and share their knowledge,” commented Stuart Lambert of McGregor, Man., who has been a professional farrier for over nine years. He also added this particular farrier competition has the right mix of professionals, contributing to the non-intimidating atmosphere.
Although the majority of the farriers in the competition had years of experience, it was also inclusive to those relatively new to the industry such as Austin Unruh of Dewberry, Alta., who has only been working as a farrier for over a year. He found the wealth of information, the friendship and hands-on experience to be invaluable.
Each competitor was required to have their own free-standing workstation including a fire extinguisher, 20-pound propane tank, tools and horse holder.
Loyalties run deep in horse ownerships and this can often be reflected in developing a firm clientele for a new farrier.
Competitors included veterans Laurie Tonita of Saskatoon with 28 years’ experience, Todd Bailey of Grandora with 21 years and Gerd Martin of Qu’Appelle with 17 years’ experience; as well as Stuart Lambert of McGregor, Man. with nine years, Dave Morch of Rosthern with eight years’ experience, Spencer Hazelwood of Olds, Alta. with six years, Greg Toronchuk of Onoway, Alta. with five years, Melisa Mastin of St. Michael, Alta. with four years, Patrick Cleaver of Oakbank, Man. with four years, Kurtis Hornman of Leduc, Alta. with three years, Glenn McCullough of Carmen, Man. with two years and Austin Unruh of Dewberry, Alta. with one year of experience. This year Paula Morch who has 12 years’ experience had dedicated her time to planning, preparing and organizing the event.
Overall Division I high point accumulator was Austin Unruh, Division II was Glenn McCullough and Division III was Gerd Martin. Gerd Martin also received the trophy for overall hi point accumulation.
The Sunday event that concluded the weekend activities was a hands-on clinic with Iain Ritchie.
“The event would not have been as successful if it wasn’t for the judge, competitors, sponsors, volunteers and horses,” commented Paula appreciatively, adding the WCFA strives to improve standards within the farrier industry by defining, maintaining and improving the quality of service within the profession. More information on the association can be obtained by visiting www.wcfa.ca.
The art of being a farrier is an age-old profession that has been lost over time, especially after the invention of vehicles and tractors. In the pioneer era, most blacksmiths shod horses as part of their work using an anvil, hammer and forge. Today, a farrier combines blacksmithing skills with being a specialist in equine hoof care, which includes the trimming and balancing of the horse’s hoof and the placing of shoes on the foot.
Horse’s hooves grow approximately three-eighths of an inch per month with growth being highly affected by the horse’s health, nutrition and exercise. The hooves need to be trimmed every six to eight weeks to prevent stress in their tendons, ligaments and hoof walls. Regular maintenance will provide a more sound horse for its intended use whether breeding, trail riding, competition or work.
Hoof trimming is vital to ensure the hoof retains proper orientation to the ground. If the horse is used for heavy loads, works on abrasive footing, requires traction or has pathological requirements, then shoes may be an option. Trail riding, jumping, competition, working on the land or just pleasure riding are such examples. Open communication between the owner and farrier is vital in ensuring that the horse meets optimum performance.
Farriers educated and trained at reputable colleges have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the horse, especially the feet and lower leg. The farrier must be able to recognize and differentiate between cause and effect of imbalance in gait. Shoes from a manufacturer are available in standard sizes and cannot be used as readily for pathological or corrective measures. Qualified, well-trained farriers tailor shoes derived from actual measurements of each hoof.
A forge, which consists of an open hearth made from a durable substance such as fire brick, is the most important piece of equipment for the farrier who makes custom shoes. Air is forced through burning coal or coke (not heating coal) by a blower fan to produce the desired heat to make the metal pliable.
Years ago, a hand pumped bellow system was used; today, an electrical powered rheostat is used to supply and control the flow of air to feed the fire. Most mobile farriers use propane heated forges as it heats the iron quickly, has fewer emissions and the equipment cools down fast allowing for easy transport. Propane forges also permit them to have more pieces in the fire at one time thus utilizing their optimal capacity and working capabilities.
A forge operating on coal produces a hotter, more consistent fire that can heat only a specific or desired area to work on. A good solid quality anvil is also an important piece of equipment as this is the surface which the iron is shaped on.
A variety of tools are used in the farrier industry including foot gauges to measure the angle of the hoof, sharp trimmers which enable the farrier to trim and shape the hoof to accept a shoe, tapes and rulers to measure the hoof and metal for shaping of the shoe and an anvil, vise, hammers, tongs and files used to shape the metal into a shoe. Farriers wear leather aprons and eye protection to prevent any sparks or metal fragments from injuring them as well as steel-toed boots to protect the feet from anything being dropped on them or from a horse stepping on their foot.
Being a farrier is a labour intensive occupation requiring physical strength with the majority of the work performed in a stoop or crouched position. In addition to holding and using hand tools and working simultaneously with both hands, the farrier must bend, twist, reach, grip, lift and carry as well as handle a fidgety horse.
Farriers and their associations strive to improve the standards within the farrier industry, defining, maintaining and improving the quality of craftsmanship and quality of service within the profession.