Putting the best foot forward
PHOTO COURTESY WAYNE MURRAY
A stack of used horseshoes sit amongst the metal-working equipment in Wayne Murray’s Rigaud workshop.
Very few traditional trades are still practiced nowadays as automation and manufacturing have replaced most of everything that used to be made by hand. With a few exceptions, most old-school crafts have been reduced to artisan work. The farrier, that specialised blacksmith who makes and fits horseshoes, is one of those even fewer time-honoured trades that have withstood the test of time and the advent of industrialisation. Rigaud artisan Wayne Murray has been a farrier and blacksmith for over four decades, and there is no shortage of work for him in this area that favours horseback riding and other horse-related sports and activities.
"The official term for us, when we're talking about horses, is 'farrier' but the old traditional term is 'blacksmith'," Murray said. "That’s an old term, because in older times, blacksmiths used to do all the metalwork, and, of course, they also shod all the horses."
Even though the craft hasn't changed much in the past few hundred years, the tools of the trade have evolved significantly. Murray used to make his own horseshoes, but most of the horseshoes used nowadays are made in modern factories. "Technology is coming into play. We have better tools now, and shoes coming from different factories are very well made. So there is no reason to make them from scratch anymore."
Murray says some farriers still enjoy making their own horseshoes but there’s no reason to make them by hand now. "It's so time-consuming. China is getting in the game of making shoes now, but most of the shoes we use now are coming from Holland. Some of the ones I use are German-made."
The work itself hasn't changed much, according to Murray. It's all still very physical. "I bend down for every foot I pick up, and every shoe I hammer on, fit on and nail down. Now, sometimes, there are some glue applications, but it's rare." Shoeing the horse is not something that can be automated or outsourced abroad. "You'll never see a horse lie down on a line with a robot that will come up and nail the shoe on the horse's foot," laughs Murray. "It's all hands-on."
His clients vary, from trail horseback riders to riding schools and polo players. The form of shoes will change depending on the riding discipline. "We have different types of shoes. So I pick the one that fits the horse best, set it up, and nail it on. The shoe depends on what you’re doing with the horse. There are different shoes if you are talking about a polo horse, a barrel racing horse, or a jumper."
The Vaudreuil-Soulanges area has a significant horse population and it’s an important hub for horse-related activities. The demand keeps Murray busy and he has many returning customers. "I have some horses that I have been shoeing for over 20 years. There is this one horse that I've been working on who is 34 years old and his owner is still riding him a couple hours on the trail every day."
Murray did general metalwork for a long time even though he has not done any for about 10 years now, since the horseshoe business keeps him too busy. "Some of my work you might have seen. I've done work for The Willow, Mon Village and Rube’s restaurant where I made the big grate with all the horseshoes around it in the fireplace." Murray also built several outdoor railings for The Willow. The metal crest above the fireplace at the Whitlock Golf Club is also his creation. He also designed and worked on a number of pieces for private homeowners. Even though he's given up metalworking to concentrate more fully on shoeing horses, he talks about picking up metalworking again down the road. If your horse is in need of new shoes, you can reach Murray at (450) 451-6137, and if you're lucky, you might be able to convince him to do some metalworking for your home too.