James Findler went to Kwantlen’s nine-week horshoeing program in 1982 with the hope of being able to trim the hooves on his grandparents’ horses a little better.
He didn’t realize it would start his career as one of the best farriers in the world, winning the World Shoeing Championship in 1993, the World Forging Shoemaking Championship in 1996 and becoming the first North American to have the world’s best shod foot in 2005. Findler was inducted into the Horshoeing Hall of Fame in 2012, and was a winning member of team shoeing competitions for years.
Growing up in residential Tsawwassen doesn’t seem like the most auspicious start for a man who would excel in a field defined by rural exactitude. But he had spent his childhood riding his grandparents’ horses in Langley, and for years had trimmed their hooves without training.
Going to horseshoeing school “was something I hadn’t even thought of,” he said. But he found that he liked the challenge, the techincality of the trade.
You had to “learn about all the different anatomy, differences in types of horses and types of shoeing,” he said. “It’s a whole realm of things you need to know. You just never stop learning.”
Many farriers would attend Kwantlen’s program and never go back, spending their lives in fields or in barns working on horses. Not Findler.
“I knew you didn’t know enough after nine weeks,” he said. “For me, if you’re going to be doing it, you need to know a lot. And the more you know, the easier your job becomes.”
He continued his education at Kwantlen, learning about different shoes and different techniques. He also started participating in contests.
“The contests I think really bring up the level of craftsmanship, workmanship. And it’s totally beneficial to the horses, because their farriers are improving by going here and learning.”
His first one was at Kwantlen in the 1980s. Contestants participated in a clinic with an international farrier, learnt how to make a particular shoe, and then were given an hour to recreate it.
“Oh, you’re nervous,” Findler said. “You don’t know what to expect really or what to do.
“It took years to figure all that out.”
But he did. He began participating in horseshoeing contests around the world, especially in the World Championships which took place annualy at the Calgary Stampede. It was there that he won the World Shoeing Championship in 1993 and the World Forging Shoemaking Championship in 1996.
For the 1996 Championships, Findler remembers the announcers calling out the winners. Starting from sixth place, the announcers called name after name, none of them Findler’s.
“They got to third place and I grabbed my tools and I was leaving the building. I just couldn’t deal with it. I was upset,” he said. “I got out back and they came running after me. ‘You need to stick around.’”
In 2012, Findler was inducted into the International Horsehoeing Hall of Fame.
It “came out of nowhere,” he said.
“I remember working in Vancouver, getting this phone call that I was inducted. Many of my friends play jokes on me,” he laughed, “so I thought I gotta play along … But it was true.”
Now, at 53 years old, Findler is starting to slow down. He’s shoeing fewer horses than he used to, and hasn’t participated in a contest for several years.
“It takes a lot of energy,” he said.
“You have to train to do it, so you’re not only doing your everyday work but you’re also shoeing these draft horses and different carriage horses and hunter horses.”
He might do more, maybe going down to Kentucky for the leisurely contest he’s won several times. Or he may leave it to his son, who went to school in the States to be a farrier in 2012.
Although he loves the contests, it’s not what he’s most proud of in his career as a farrier.
There was a long pause as he thought about what his proudest moment might be, the wind rustling the leaves of the trees on his Langley farm.
“Just being able to make a living out of this, you know,” he said finally. “It’s been good. Been a good living.
“I’m blessed, I’ve been busy. Since ‘82 it’s been — I’ve never had a quiet year. It’s been as many horses as you wanted to do, and as much work as you wanted.”