OWNER, THE VILLAGE SMITHY
FARRIER, IRON WORKER, CRAFTSMAN
Have anvil, will travel. Shoeing horses and teaching the profession in the old way has taken Albertan Sean Elliot all over North America. But Headwaters is now where his tools, and dedication (“it will take me three lifetimes to learn everything I need to know,” he believes) and Quarter horse Hemi now call home. And it’s not just the big open spaces and trails that lured him here, but the independent, entrepreneurial spirit of our cottage industries and arts scene as well.
What do you think of it out here?
I love it here. I always tell people I traded the mountains for maple trees. People usually migrate the other direction… they ask me, how come you came this way? And I joke that mountains got in the way of my view.
But it’s more than that. The fact that Ontario has the most entrepreneurial businesses per capita in Canada is important. I like the arts, and it’s a wealth of arts here, all the arts are represented. I also like the cottage industries in my personal life, and it all bodes well for me, because the way I treat my job is a craft. The way I do my job is the same way it was done a hundred years ago.
Does everybody who does it approach it that way?
No. My tagline for my company is “pride in craftsmanship”, and I take it very seriously.
I get it. You’re not hammering something into a piece of wood, it’s a living animal.
I’m a certified journeyman farrier through the American Farriers Association. And it’s not a requirement in the business, it’s an option. You don’t have to have it. You could buy the tools and hang a shingle out tomorrow and go for it.
So… not everyone does the best by the horses?
You’d be shocked. A lot of my work is specialty, or therapeutic work. I have regular horses that stay sound, that I see every six weeks or so… but when the horses are lame, I’m called in. We did a foot surgery in the barn with two vets, on a foot chancre, and I was part of the surgery, in addition to building a therapeutic support shoe as part of the recovery.
That’s all custom made…
Everything I build is custom-made. My clients joke that their horses wear Guccis. When I said that I approached my job the way it was done a hundred years ago, it’s this: I don’t have pre-manufactured shoes in my truck. My shoes come out of the back of my truck in straight sticks of steel, and I make them from scratch.
Do you ride?
Yes, I do. I have one horse, he’s named Hemi. I had him out West, I worked cows with him, he was one of my all-stars. I had a farm in Carstairs, maybe 40 minutes from Calgary.
Is there a favourite trail?
Yes, where there’s no people. (Laughs) I don’t show or anything… he’s my peace of mind, it’s just him and I. That’s what I like to do.
Are there a lot of people like that up here?
I don’t know, because when I’m riding I don’t run into a lot of people. I try to ride by myself.
How about a favourite spot up here, where you’ll park the truck, or get up to and just look around?
Yeah, I do. Up in Mono Cliffs, where it overlooks the Escarpment. My favourite time to go is to the second or third week in September, and it’s the colours. There’s absolutely every colour that a maple could be in the Escarpment.
Let’s shift gears: what’s the vibe like up here, people-wise? Different than most places?
It’s more personable. I really enjoy the markets, the farmers markets, they seem to be everywhere.
Favourite place to eat?
Believe it or not, Kelly’s Corner. A family run greasy spoon, five bucks for breakfast, fresh hot coffee, nothing fancy just solid. It’s another cottage industry, a family-run business.
So besides horseshoes and farrier services…
I do iron work. Handles, heavy iron handles, latches, all commissioned work. Slam latches, gate latches… the big one that gets a lot of attention is a medieval helmet that I built in 2004 for the 25th anniversary of the World Championship Blacksmith Competition, when I competed. It’s a period piece built with 700 to 900 AD methods.
My iron work, that’s my therapeutic time.
That, and riding Hemi.
Yep. Him, too.
Find Sean and his story at thevillagesmithy.weebly.com