The Western Canadian Farrier Association held its first annual “Raising the Bar” Prince Albert Farrier Competition at a two-day event in June, at the Red River Roping and Riding Club Arena. Renowned farrier Hank McEwan was judge and clinician.
McEwan is known as the father of Canadian farriery. He began his career in 1948 in Medicine Hat and currently resides in British Columbia where he has been an educator and farrier for over 62 years. He played a vital role in the development of the Canadian Farrier Team where he worked as manager and coach. McEwan has been involved with the WCFA and AFA since their inception and has been inducted into the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame in Kentucky. He continues to work part time as instructor at Kwantlen College in Langley, B. C.
“It is such a pleasure to have Hank here,” said Paula Morch who along with her husband Dave was instrumental in organizing the Prince Albert event. “Hank has a lot of experience and has taught over 700 students.”
The event was made possible with collaborative efforts of WCFA, volunteers and the many local sponsors.
Nine competitors, three women and six men, participated in the attempt to earn the first Prince Albert farrier title and receive the bronze statue.
McEwan began the competition by giving competitors his perspective on what he was looking for. Day two included a workshop where McEwan demonstrated types of shoemaking skills and explained how they are made to support the horse’s weight properly.
Competitors first had to trim, measure and clean a pair of horses’ hooves in 15 minutes. As McEwan judged, they continued to cut flat iron and make the shoes based on their measurements. Approximately 60 minutes were allotted for this, depending on the division, after which McEwan would check the measurements and fitting. Competitors then nailed on the shoe. There were two levels of competition. Division 2 competitors were allotted 30 minutes in the forging category and 75 minutes in the shoeing category. In the forging category, they had to do a lateral extension with quarter-inch clips on a hind shoe. In shoeing they either shod front or hind, in a hot process with one-quarter clips on hind, seven nails on front and six on hind. In the Division 3 forging category participants made a fullered straight bar shoe in 30 minutes. The shoeing class competitors used three-eighth-inch-thick and three-quarter- inch-wide plain stamped flat iron and had to shoe the front and hind foot on the same side. The front had a rocker toe with toe clip, and hind had quarter-inch clipped, safed with lateral support with a time limit of 70 minutes.
“It is very exciting to see this happen in Saskatchewan,” said Jason Wrubleski, certified journeyman farrier from Edmonton and president of the Western Canadian Farrier Association. “This level of competition is a great way for fellow farriers to improve their skills and share their knowledge.”
Although the majority of the farriers in the competition had years of experience, it also welcomed those new to the industry such as 20-year-old Melisa Bernard of Edmonton who graduated from the farrier program at Olds Ag College in Alberta in 2008, and apprentices with Wrubleski.
Each competitor was required to have their own free-standing workstation including a fire extinguisher, 20-pound propane tank, tools and horse holder.
Britta Mohr of Alberta, formerly a welder in Germany, likes her new home of four years. After completing the farrier program at Olds Ag College in 2009, she now apprentices with a certified journeyman farrier. Other competitors were Conor Fay of Sudbury, Ontario (farrier for 14 years); Gerd Martin (17-year farrier) of Indian Head; Trevor Tuplin of Beechy (17 years); Todd Bailey of Saskatoon (20 years) and both Dave (six years’ experience) and Paula Morch (10 years’ experience) of Shellbrook.
Mohr placed first in the Division 2 competition while Bernard placed second and Morch third. Division 3 saw Wrubleski place first, Martin second and Tuplin third. Overall point champion was Britta Mohr.
The art of being a farrier is an age-old profession that has been lost over time. 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 affected by 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.
“Two main causes of a lame horse in Saskatchewan are navicular syndrome and laminitis,” said Paula Morch, explaining that horses are used much differently now than in pioneer years. “Horses today tend to have less physical exercise and are able to free-range more often leading to overeating.”
Being a farrier is a labour-intensive occupation requiring physical strength with the majority of the work performed in a stooped 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, carry as well as handle a fidgety horse. Farriers strive to improve the standards within the industry, defining, maintaining and improving the quality of craftsmanship and quality of service within the profession.