And you thought designer dogs were getting expensive.
According to a 2010 study by Equine Canada, it costs the average horse owner $2,700 a year to keep a horse. Vet bills, feed and grooming can add up quickly.
The study suggests there is $29 billion invested in the Canadian horse industry. There are an estimated 963,500 horses from coast to coast, translating to one full-time job for every 32 horses. The horse industry contributes as much as $19 billion to the Canadian economy, up $5 billion from 2003.
Considering the size and scope of the industry, Canadians have very few options when it comes to one of the industry's primary occupations. The farrier, or blacksmith, is one of the most critical contributors to the health and welfare of horses. Yet unless you live in Western Canada, formal training in the art can be hard to come by.
Luckily for horse owners in the Lower Mainland, Kwantlen Polytechnic University's Cloverdale campus offers a foundation program for would-be farriers to eventually become a qualified blacksmith.
The B.C. chapter of the Canadian Welders Association hosted a blacksmith demonstration there last Saturday.
As instructor Gerard Laverty put the final nail in place of a horseshoe he created, he couldn't help but laugh when he described his own profession.
"People are still shocked that blacksmiths still exist," said Laverty, "but there is a strong recreational market out there."
Laverty compares it to the tire industry. Sooner or later, wear and tear means you're going to need to replace what you're riding on. A horse is no different.
That's where Kwantlen's farrier program comes into play. After spending nine months under the guidance of instructors like Laverty, farriers then go out and apprentice under someone who can continue to guide the process.
"You need to spend about three years working under someone who has that watchful eye. It's critical to develop that good judgment," he said.
The key is patience and understanding, he added. Horses and their shoes are rarely a simple fit. Hooves crack, slope and come in all different shapes and sizes. So matching a shoe means understanding the needs of a particular horse. Laverty says that's why so many people in the program have a strong horse background before they come to Kwantlen, including many women.
Aili Sundberg is a program assistant in the farrier program in Cloverdale. Her passion for horses started when she was seven.
"It's been a life-long passion - or an obsession," she said, laughing. "But I think you have to be passionate to do it well."
After graduating from the program in 2008, Sundberg headed back to her home in northern B.C. But a lack of training opportunities brought her back to the Surrey area, where she now works with new students looking for a career as a blacksmith. "I can't think of anything I'd rather do," she said.
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