When a work accident took Chad Johnstone’s life almost a year ago, touching tributes to the 38-year-old farrier immediately poured in from family, friends, colleagues and clients. And they came from across Saskatchewan and beyond.
“He knew everybody and everybody knew him,” says wife Marla Holdstock. “He’d help anybody out and people wanted to give back.”
Gerd Martin found a way for those who mourned Chad’s loss to do just that. A fellow farrier from Qu’Appelle, Sask., Martin set out to organize a memorial farrier competition as part of this past summer’s 2015 Weyburn Agricultural Society Fair. Johnstone was president of the Ag Society when he passed away.
“I’d organized contests before and realized there was a bit of a void in Saskatchewan,” Martin says. “After Chad died I thought it would be a nice tribute to him and a way to make people aware of what farriers are.”
The Ag Society worked on logistics while Marla and the Johnstone family found 24 sponsors from the community, the province and beyond. Martin organized access to demo horses, the required gas and coke forges, and a judge. He put the word out to a relatively small community of farriers and attracted 11 contestants from across the Prairies and one from France. They took part in novice, intermediate and open categories.
For two mornings, judge Steve Dixon from Maple Ridge B.C. watched as the contestants forged a pair of horseshoes to his specifications in a given amount of time. In the afternoons the farriers really drew the crowds when they showed off their skills at live- shoeing. The farriers trimmed the horse’s feet, cut the steel, forged a shoe and nailed it on, again in a given amount of time. The event attracted both those who came specifically to see the contest, but many who were passing through the fair grounds.
“You fill a tent with smoke and horses and fire and you’re going to attract a crowd,” Martin laughs, saying the Western Canadian Farriers Association was happy to sponsor the judge because there are not many contests in Canada held in such a public venue.
While the farrier competition attracted sponsors and a crowd to the memorial, the Holdstock and Johnstone families were able to collect donated items and organize an auction that raised $16,000, the proceeds put toward a scholarship endowment for students attending the farrier program at Olds College in Alberta, where Chad had gone to school.
“My goal for the scholarship was to get to where it was a permanent endowment,” says Marla. “I thought it might take two or three years.” But between the auction and donations from a South Country Equipment Bar-B-Q and the Brokenshell 4-H Club fundraiser, it happened in one summer.
“We can begin to pay out to a student this fall because we could create two funds, one to pay out right away and the other to collect the interest that will keep it alive as a lifetime endowment at the college.”
The primary criteria to apply for the scholarship is that a student be from Saskatchewan and excel in the program. If there are no applicants who meet the criteria, it will be opened up to others.
Both Marla Holdstock and Gerd Martin are confident the farrier competition in Weyburn will be bigger and better next year. “So many people were interested and asked a lot of questions,” Marla says. “The old-timers were impressed to see the young guys hot-shoeing. And if some young person wants to do this, he might be inspired seeing this contest. Good farriers are hard to find and this creates awareness of a trade that’s out there and in demand.”