Calgary Stampede’s Blacksmith Classic competitors showed off that sometimes, the old ways are best.
Surrounded by shimmering waves of heat thrown out by the constantly fired forges, competitors in the Calgary Stampede’s Blacksmith Classic formed steel to their will as they harnessed their skills in the ancient craft. Despite technological advances in the field, the 15 entrants used tried-and-true methods passed down through the generations.
“I served my apprenticeship in Scotland with an older guy, who was humble, quiet, very basic. If I’m stuck on a problem, I always try to think of him, of what he would do. I always try to take the basic, simple approach,” says Iain Ritchie, a competitor from Pitt Meadows, B.C.
“Nowadays, there are all sorts of gimmicks and gadgets, and all sort of acrylics that we can use in our everyday work. But I always try to go back to what my old boss would do and how he would tackle it.”
The knowledge he gained during his 5-year apprenticeship with that seventh-generation farrier launched a career that has taken him across an ocean and to the top of his craft. Ritchie, the president of the Western Canadian Farriers Association, is a seven-time Canadian farrier champion and has placed numerous times at the Stampede.
Changes to the competition this year opened the door to a wider variety of entrants, said Riley Swanby, vice chair of the Blacksmith committee.
“We are really excited to give up-and-coming blacksmiths a chance to compete alongside some of our tried-and-true veterans,” said Swanby, a farrier from Crossfield, Alberta.
“Going up against competitors from across the country is a real opportunity for them to test their skills and find out where their strengths lie. They definitely pick up new knowledge and the vets are mentoring the newer farriers, even though this is a competition.”
Competitors from across Canada faced off in five classes over the course of the 3-day event. The first day was devoted to forging, with the remainder dedicated to shoeing challenges. Entrants crafted pieces such as a front heart bar shoe, completed a speed class in which they were told which type of shoe they had to make and given 15 minutes to do so, and shod a saddlehorse with two shoes in one hour.
Once the overall points from the classes were tallied, Colain Duret of Okotoks, Alberta. was declared the Champion with 214.1 points and received $7,500 for the win. Ritchie took Reserve Champion with 208.3 points and $3,000.
“I thought it was a great competition. It is stuff I do every day, so that helped me out,” said Duret, who has been a farrier for 14 years. “A typical day, I get up, I build my shoes for my horses, and then go out and shoe for the day.”
Before he got married and had children, the third-generation farrier would be in his shop honing his craft morning and night. And while his practice time might not be as long as it once was, his approach to his work hasn’t changed.
“I am pretty strict about doing the best job I can on every horse that I work with,” the 37-year-old said.