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International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame inducts Oklahoma farrier Mark Milster

Mark Milster’s talent has taken him to England, Wales, Scotland, Japan, Brazil and Canada for competitions or clinics.
by Bryan Painter Modified: March 15, 2014 at 1:09 am •  Published: March 16, 2014

Horseshoes have shaped Mark Milster’s life.

On a recent morning, Milster of Goldsby reached to a shop shelf and with thick, grubby hands pulled from it a 3/8-by- 3/4-inch steel bar.

Over the next few minutes, the 48-year-old farrier used tongs to plunge the bar into the chunks of coke in the brick forge that heats “right close to 3,000 degrees.”

The third-generation farrier quickly withdrew the glowing bar and moved to an anvil. With Popeye forearms and swinging a self-made hammer, Milster forged the rod into a horseshoe shape.

The metal on metal clank continued and carried right out the shop door as Milster struck the pointed-end pritchel to create six nail holes.

Repeating the process, it didn’t take long before he had a finished pair of shoes for a horse’s front hooves.

Similarly, horseshoeing has shaped the life of this recent inductee into the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame, located in the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

But instead of hammers and other trade tools, it’s people, places and faith that have forged Milster‘s life.

The credentials and titles are as impressive as the finished pair of shoes. Milster won the Calgary Stampede World Championship Blacksmiths’ Competition in 2001. Two other times he finished second — a half-point behind the champion both years.

He won the National Forging and Shoeing Competition twice and has collected numerous other titles.

Milster’s talent has taken him to England, Wales, Scotland, Japan, Brazil and Canada for competitions or clinics. He’s also traveled to all but less than a half-dozen states in the contiguous United States. And although Milster continues to compete and conduct clinics, his occupation is serving as a farrier, mainly for show horses.

But it’s easier to look all that information up than to ask Milster about it.

Why? For the answer to that he turns to one of the many individuals who influenced him, the late Edward Martin, a Scottish farrier.

“He said, ‘The three hardest things to do was climb a fence that’s leaning toward you, kiss a girl that’s leaning away from you and talk about yourself,’” Milster said.

They talked, Milster listened

Like a horseshoe, Milster’s career path had a bend of sorts in it.

True, his grandfather Williams Friday was a blacksmith. Milster never knew him because while alone and shoeing a Clydesdale, it is thought that the horse’s hock caught him in the ribs, broke some ribs and punctured a lung.

His grandfather was found dead near the road, possibly having gone to try to flag someone down for help.

It’s also true that his father, William Mister, who took on the last name of a stepfather, was also a blacksmith.

So from his early teens, Mark Milster was working with his father whenever needed. The bend in his life came when Milster went to East Central University, playing football and studying criminal justice.

He’d been around horseshoeing all his life, but at the time he resented it and wanted to find something else. Friends were off having fun and Milster was working weekdays and weekends.

One day, while shoeing horses in Ada, Milster ran across a professor, Norman Hess. Milster took a break and they sat down on hay bales to talk. Milster thought he’d made a mistake in going to college. Instead, he should have followed his father’s urging to shoe horses and go to England to learn more about shoeing.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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