Farriers forge passion for trade

While he’s never smoked a day in his life, Hank McEwan coughs with the familiar wheeze of someone with the habit.

James Findler of Langley applies the finished horseshoe to hoof as he prepares in Pitt Meadows for the World Championship Blackksmiths’ Competition at the Calgary Stampede

James Findler of Langley applies the finished horseshoe to hoof as he prepares in Pitt Meadows for the World Championship Blackksmiths’ Competition at the Calgary Stampede

While he’s never smoked a day in his life, Hank McEwan coughs with the familiar wheeze of someone with the habit. As he stands on the fringe of the barn entrance, the 82-year-old watches intently as his former students frantically turn steel to horseshoe.

As the reigning Canadian farrier champion Iain Ritchie places horseshoe to hoof, a thick white smoke rises into the air. It is that smoke over the past 64 years that brings on McEwan’s coughing. It is that same smoke that drives his passion for his work.

“I’m still shoeing horses and I’m 82 and not doing too bad,” McEwan says as members of the 2012 Canadian Farrier Team wrap up their final preparations at Ritchie’s Pitt Meadows farm before heading to take part in the World Championship Blacksmiths’ Competition at the Calgary Stampede, starting today.

“I’m still staying on the right side of the grass, that’s the main thing.”

McEwan has spent a lifetime learning his trade and gladly passes it on to others. He left his home in Salmon Arm in 1948 and set off to California, where he started work as a farrier. He spent years plying his trade before he moved back to Canada and began teaching at Kwantlen College in the early 1980s.

James Findler of Langley, one member of this year’s Canadian team, was McEwan’s student in 1982.

For anyone in the business who has met Ritchie, if they are paying attention, they will have been his student.

McEwan revels at the chance to help, to pass on a piece of history that runs through his veins.

While he no longer teaches in the classroom, McEwan still has plenty to offer. He serves as a mentor to the team, offering insight and a wealth of knowledge that members hope can propel them to the top of the podium in Calgary.

“It really is an art,” McEwan. “So much goes into the iron work that goes into the shoes, and the labour that goes into it. These guys are all dedicated to their profession  and really top-notch farriers.

For Ritchie, success is evident in the his national title, his second in as many years. He also has a fifth-place finish at the Calgary Stampede, back in 2009.

As Ritchie finishes his final preparations, he notices a mistake. A small one – a millimetre by his own estimation – but a mistake nonetheless. It’s the precision in his work that drives Ritchie to constantly improve.

“I love it. It’s a passion of mine. It’s a hobby, it’s a job. It’s all wrapped into one,” says Ritchie, who grew up and learned the trade in Scotland before moving to Canada 14 years ago.

Ritchie,  along with Findler, Matt Kuechler and Nathan Powell make up Canada’s entry to this year’s championships in Calgary. All will gather under the enormous tents as six tonnes of burning coal and sheer determination will rearrange iron to horseshoe, all in the hopes of winning the overall title and sharing in some of the more than $50,000 in cash and prizes.

“It’s a hell of a camaraderie we have here. These are some of my best friends. Plus, I love the travel and taking my little brown leather bag of tools on the road with me. You learn all the time, your game’s improving and your everyday shoeing is improving.”

It’s the everyday shoeing that pays the bills for Ritchie. But like with any business, you’re only good as your last customer, and if they aren’t satisfied, word can spread quickly.

So Ritchie, like his other three teammates, knows there are no days off. Burning coals turn a muggy barn into an oversized sauna as smoke constantly wafts through the air. Hands and arms are scarred from previous days work. For one of the few industries that hasn’t been rendered obsolete by technology,  Ritchie  relies on his past to forge the future.

“You know, I could have fixed my mistake, it was quite evident to me. I just think next week in the championships there will be no time to fix it. You’ve got to get it right, right off the bat. But I’ll be ready for it next week, I’ll be up for the challenge.”

While the challenge is competing against more than 70 of the best farriers in the world, The competition is also about battling the elements, says Ritchie.

At an elevation of more than 3,500 feet, 100-degree temperatures combine with thin mountain air to make their job all that much more arduous.

Yet Ritchie wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a tough go, getting finished on time. It’s a real test of your fitness. There’s going to be 72 guys there competing, but there’s only going to be one winner. Only one guy’s going to get that reward. But, inside, it’s definitely rewarding knowing you left it all on that shop floor, you left nothing behind. It’s the usual cliches, but it’s true. You’re sweating, you’re so tired and so thirsty, but you just got to keep going.”

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A small memorial to Rich Goulet was started at Pitt Meadows Secondary after his recent death. (Neil Corbett/The News)
LETTER: Rename Pitt Meadows school gym in coach’s honour

Rich Goulet was considered one of the provinces best basketball coaches and died recently

Doug Nolin, a Maple Ridge senior, snapped this picture of his pet pigeons taking flight down by the old Albion ferry dock. “What a beautiful land we live in,” he said. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Chirp, chirp: Ridge senior captures pigeons taking flight

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Pamela Franklin captured this picture of a raccoon in Maple Ridge, “chilling” in her backyard, on her storage bin. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Lounging in the spring sun

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Debbie Noseworthy snapped a sunset picture the first day of daylight savings as seen from the dikes off 216th Street in Maple Ridge. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Sky on fire over Maple Ridge dikes

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Darlene Martin captured this ‘breathtaking’ view of a sunset and the Fraser River as taken from Osprey Village. (Special to The News)
SHARE: View from Osprey Village breathtaking

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read