Competitors at the Canadian National Farriers Championship will be relying on skills and proficiency – despite the fact a good luck symbol is the main tool of their trade.
Kristian Rathlou, a Brantford farrier with 15 years in the industry, says the best horseshoe makers Canada has to offer will be at the Ancaster Fairgrounds next week – April 9 to April 11 – to show off their blacksmithing, horseshoe making and creativity.
The Ontario Farriers Association is hosting the competition as part of its annual convention. Competitors will be coming from all over the country.
“We don’t often get the (competition) this far south, so it’s kind of a treat,” Rathlou says. “The rarity is part of the reason we’d love to get people out to see the competition.”
Rathlou, 37, operates Vulcan Farrier and services an equine client base that stretches from Cambridge to Port Dover, generally trying to stay within an hour of his home base on Powerline Road, just northeast of Brantford’s city limits.
Although it’s not a trade that is top of mind for people outside the horse world, Rathlou says the OFA is growing its ranks and working to improve the skills of farriers.
“We don’t know the actual number of tradesmen and women in Ontario – I’ve heard it’s thousands,” he says. “There are hundreds of thousands of horses around, so there has to be that many to service them. The (Ontario) association tends to run around 150 (membership).”
Bringing a trade that is so rooted in the past into modern times has been a challenge, but Rathlou is hopeful the association will continue to expand.
“It’s a bit disappointing there isn’t a higher membership, but some people get complacent in their skills and don’t care about new technology or research,” Rathlou says. “If you want to have more in your career, you have to further your education. That is what the association is all about.”
Before the OFA’s formation, farriery were a solitary career.
“There are still some founding members from when the association was formed in 1980,” Rathlou says. “It’s interesting to talk to them about what it was like before the association.
“There was no such thing as a colleague. When you ran into another farrier at a barn you gave each other the stare and hoped there weren’t nails in your tires when you left.”
Like any professional association, the OFA has helped farriers connect with each other for mutual benefit.
“Before the (OFA), everyone was afraid someone else would learn their secrets,” Rathlou says. “But what happens when there is no sharing of ideas is that it becomes difficult to improve your own skills.
“That’s why the competition part of the convention is so great. It’s amazing how much you can learn just standing around and watching. And when we learn new skills, it’s the horses that benefit.”
On Thursday, April 9, and Friday April 10, there will be a novice competition for day-to-day farrier work and an intermediate competition for those working on their certification in the industry.
But the open competition on those same days is where Rathlou believes that those interested in horses – or even just the general public – will get to enjoy a show.
“The competition is pretty exciting, especially for the open competition with the farriers trying to get a place on the Canadian Farriers Team,” Rathlou says. “Yes, we have a Canadian Farriers Team. They will be competing in England this year. This won’t just be a competition, this will be an extremely high-level competition. It’s going to be fun and competitive to watch.
“People will see forging, live shoeing on horses. They will see the whole process as some of our great-grandparents would have seen it.”
Attending the competition at the Ancaster Fairgrounds as a spectator is free of charge. Those in the industry interested in taking part in some of the convention workshops can pay to sit in.
More information on the OFA convention and Canadian National Farriers Championship is available on the Facebook page www.Facebook.com/OntarioFarriers.