Former bull rider finds farrier career

On the Farm Laurie Tonita says 90 percent of success farrier is showing up on time and being friendly

SASKATOON — Laurie Tonita has a dust allergy to thank for a rewarding 34-year career as a farrier.

Tonita moved to Saskatoon from his home town of Assiniboia, Sask., after graduating high school to take a cabinet-making course.

After a year of working as a cabinet maker he discovered he was allergic to oak dust and had to make a career change.

His roommate was a farrier and he said there was a shortage of them in the province, so Tonita enrolled in a four-month course in Olds, Alta.

He graduated in 1984 and has been working on horse hoofs ever since. It has been a rewarding career.

“It’s a good living. We bought and paid for our acreage from the horseshoeing business,” said Tonita.

He charges $55 for a basic trim and $165 for shoes. Tonita averages 10 horses a day, 60 percent of which are trims and the remainder shoes. Trims take about 20 minutes and shoes another 40 minutes.

His overhead consists of a small trailer filled with about $3,000 worth of tools such as a forge, an anvil, hammers, hoof nippers, rasps and knives.

Tonita does most of his work within a 75-kilometre radius of Saskatoon, although he does go back to his home town of Assiniboia for two to three days every month.

He does a lot of work at the Marquis Downs racetrack in Saskatoon and at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

His wife, Shelley, believes he developed his passion for animals when he was a bull rider on the rodeo circuit in his 20s.

He enjoys the physical aspect of the job, meeting all sorts of characters and the craftsmanship of the ancient occupation.

“There’s no machine that will ever replace them,” she said.

Alice Gaucher has been a customer of Tonita’s for the past decade and has him out to her acreage every six or seven weeks to work on her horses.

She said he is prompt, courteous and patient with her animals.

Gaucher has used other farriers in the past but they would trim the hoofs too short or at an incorrect angle.

“You can see when they walk off they are ouchy, they walk like they’re on egg shells,” she said.

But that isn’t the case when Tonita finishes with her animals.

“These guys never walk sore after he’s done,” she said.

Tonita said 90 percent of being a successful farrier boils down to showing up on time and being friendly with the customers.

It is a physically demanding job that requires monthly trips to a massage therapist and plenty of stretching. Most guys only last about 10 years in the job.

And it can be a hazardous career.

“If something does go wrong, you can get into a terrible wreck and you’d be done,” he said.

Tonita doesn’t worry about getting kicked; the danger comes from unclipped horseshoe nails.

A crooked pinky finger on his left hand is testament to what can happen when a spirited horse starts jumping around before a protruding nail can be clipped.

Tonita’s finger was pinned to the horse hoof until the agitated animal threw him to the ground, stepped on his shoulder and ripped his pinky open.

He has another scar on his leg where he received 30 stitches after a horse slammed his foot down and drove a nail through his leg, slicing open an artery.

“Fly season is bad. They’re kicking and stomping their feet,” said Tonita.

At 58 years old he is starting to contemplate retirement. About 15 years ago, he started up a side business of supplying fellow farriers with their tools of the trade.

He has about 100 clients, 20 of which are full-time farriers operating in the province and the remainder either part-time farriers or people who own horses and want to do their own trimming and shoeing.

The plan is to eventually cut back on the farrier work and focus more on the supply business.

In the meantime, Tonita continues to derive pleasure out of working with the horses and their owners, like the six-year-old girl who always leaves him a thank-you note along with a loonie or toonie for taking care of her horse.

“I always take the notes home and pin them up on my bulletin board because it kind of makes your day,” he said.

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