Sunday, September 2, 2012

Farriers demonstrate ancient craft at PNE

Photo by eHow

Every year we enjoy the PNE, with the animal barns as our first stop. We always learn new things. This year, as we wandered through the Agrodome, we saw a sign that read "Baa Baa Blacksmith." Two members of the Western Canadian Farrier's Association were making horseshoes in the traditional way.

Using tongs, the farriers removed a piece of red-hot rebar from the forge, then laid it on an anvil for shaping. Pounding their mallets in tandem, they sounded out a rhythm like that of percussion players in the same band. More heating, more hammering. As the cycle repeated, the metal was slowly transformed into a horse shoe.

Besides chaps, neither used protective clothing or gloves, although both wore glasses. "You get used to the heat," said the woman.

Horseshoes are made of different materials in a variety of styles and types, according to purpose. Race horses are shod with light aluminum shoes that promote speed but wear out quickly.

Work horses wear thick heavy steel shoes with anti-skid shaping front and back. Shoes for draft horses can weigh from 3 to 6 pounds each. "Horses like these." The farrier pointed to the nearby team of Clydes, eating in their stalls after a workout.

Specialties don't end there. In situations where horses are supposed to slip, the shoe can be designed to work "like a skateboard," the demonstrator explained. And various kinds of therapeutic shoes can be created to provide relief for horses with foot pain.

Today a wide range of horseshoes are factory-made, and many of the older styles are no longer in use. Still, even the most arcane tradutional skills of horse-shoe making are kept alive by farrier competitions. In Canada, these are held at the Calgary Stampede. Those wanting to train as farriers can earn their diplomas at Olds College in Alberta.

According to Equisearch, shoeing horses has a long history, going back almost as far as domesticating them. On the steppes of Asia, riders wrapped leather coverings around the hooves of their animals, and Roman hoses were fitted with sandals similar to those worn by their owners.

European horses began wearing with nailed-on metal shoes in the sixth or seventh century. In the UK, the Worshipful Company of Farriers descends from a Guild formed in the Middle Ages. It dates back to 1356.

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