On July 23, legendary hunter and jumper shoer Jack Miller passed away at the age of 70 in Maryland — his last stop in a career that often kept him on the road.
Although he worked with various breeds and disciplines, Miller gained a reputation as a top shoer on the “A” level hunter and jumper show circuit. He has lectured around the world on many farrier topics, but especially on the shoeing of performance horses. He also showed the breadth of his talents by helping with shoe designs for several manufacturers.
Below, several of Miller’s colleagues share how the shoer impacted their lives and farriery.
The Gold Standard
I owe a lot of my career, especially on shoeing hunters and jumpers, to Jack.
He was like a brother to me and to many other farriers. Jack was one of those knights in shining armor. Back in the 1980s, I got hurt before a big horse show in Traders Point, Ind. Word got to Jack that my back was out. He came up from Georgia and did horses for me. When I got hurt again later, Jack and other guys did all the work and gave me the money they earned.
He was a demanding shoer. He taught me that if you shod a horse, watched that horse walk away and if it wasn’t right, you’d do it over — the whole damn horse. Never turn a horse away that wasn’t right. I learned that from Jack and I taught my students that lesson.
You never knew where you’d run into him. He was a vagabond, but Jack was the gold standard and he never needed a place to stay.
— Bob Peacock, Hamilton, Ohio
He Could Shoe Out Of A Shaving Kit
I first met Jack in 1974. For the high-end, traveling farrier, Jack invented a lot of ways to go, like portable shops. One of my favorite quotes about him was, “He could shoe out of a shaving kit.” It was amazing what he could do. He was entertaining, colorful and very inventive. There was a lot of wizardry in him, as Jack would say.
At one time he was in the top 2% of frequent fliers on Continental Airlines. He tried to shoe the most horses on both coasts. There are a lot of guys out there who go at it pretty hard, but I don’t think as hard as Jack. Greg Beiting told me about the times he would drop Jack off at the airport after a day of shoeing. Jack would get on a plane and get in first class without changing his clothes or showering.
They broke the mold on Jack. He was a one of a kind in this business.
— Tom Curl, Vero Beach, Fla.
Always Sharing Knowledge
Jack was the type of person that if you didn’t see him for 10 years and then would run into him, it would seem like a day didn’t go by.
Years ago I put on a shoeing clinic and competition and lost my shirt on it. Jack was the clinician and I bought his airfare to come in and do the clinic. After he left, I found $300 tucked between my anvil and its stand. I called Jack and asked if he left the money, to which he admitted he had.
Jack, knowing I lost money, said, “Don’t quit giving the knowledge that was given to you when other people need it. I’m just passing along the favor that was done for me.”
That was the kind of guy he was. He appreciated the knowledge that was given to him. He always tried to learn from others, whether it was the guy who was just starting out shoeing or someone who has been doing it for 100 years.
Jack didn’t look at shoeing as he was giving you something, but you were giving him something by allowing him to work on your horse. In return, he would give you everything he had.
— Jamie Guignon, New Haven, Mo.
A Natural Born Horseshoer
When I worked with Jack, he would be at the barn at 7 in the morning and shoe until 7 at night, 7 days a week. I always said he was a natural born horseshoer — it was what he lived for. I worked for a lot of grumpy horseshoers, but he wasn’t one of them.
He was amazing in what he could do. Jack Miller could do more with four open shoes than anyone I have ever seen. It was simple, but there was a trick in there.
He always preached the KISS method. He’d say to not get too creative because then you’d never know what was working for you and what wasn’t.
If you were ever at a show and saw a white rental car backed up to the barn, you knew Jack was there.
— Greg Beiting, Lexington, Ky.
An Impressive Problem Solver
Jack was an incredible horseman. He knew a lot about horses’ problems, what they are faced with trying to make it through the classes. When you were in a bind, you could call Jack and, by God, he would get that horse right.
I’ve seen the guys who can make the complicated shoes, but they didn’t have the horsemanship or the ability to apply what they made. Jack knew how to make the shoes that would solve the problems and he knew how to apply them.
Jack really impressed me one time at a show. We were watching a horse, talking about the job it had to do. He knew exactly how many feet were between each jump and how many strides that horse would take between jumps. When Jack was shoeing, he wanted to know those intricate details because he knew it was important for solving the problem.
You don’t learn that overnight. To me, that made him stand out beyond the shoers I knew doing that type of work. That is the man you want under your horse. It was a blessing to work with him and learn from him.
— Doyle Blagg, Collinsville, Texas
Happy To Be Among The Best
Jack once told me he wanted to be the best horseshoer in the U.S., but then he realized that just being able to put his tools down next to the other guys he respected and to earn their respect was enough for him. Jack said he was happy to be recognized by some of the best.
He was very humble and rarely criticized another farrier’s work. He always said that the other guy might have known something about the horse that he didn’t. He just sought to do good work, so much so that he developed that following of owners and trainers throughout the country.
Jack had a habit of saying “Hmm,” when he agreed with you, but you never knew if he was agreeing with you, if he was being critical or if he was just acknowledging the status quo. You had to really get him to open up before you’d find out what he really thought.
We became close friends and it was certainly my good fortune.
— Palmer Wilson, Marietta, Ga.
Serious About Shoeing
A few years after I got out of school, I wanted to learn how to shoe Tennessee Walking Horses. I heard about Jack Miller because he had been doing them for a few years. When he showed up, I asked about how I should go about learning about Tennessee Walkers, and Jack said, “I’m going right now to work with them, do you want to go?”
I told him that I had too many things to do. Jack said, “Well, you must not want to learn about them that bad.” Well, I climbed into his truck and came back 5 days later.
He was serious about shoeing. It is easy to say you want to do something, but it is different to actually do it.
Jack would want folks to know that although he sometimes got credit for innovating a new procedure or technique, but in reality, he learned some of them because he traveled across the country so much. He picked them up and maybe perfected them. He carried the information around. Jack wasn’t out to steal someone else’s thunder. He was a guy who wanted to show the world how to do things rather than trying to be the guy who came up with the idea.
— Chuck Milne, Burleson, Texas
Rarely does one person impact an entire industry as much as Jack did for our farrier industry. His fingerprints can be seen on every aspect from shoeing, shoes, equipment and products. Jack’s style, techniques, understanding and practical approach has guided successful careers in both shoeing and the show ring.
The number of farriers that owe him gratitude for providing the tools for success is only shadowed by the thousands of horses that would thank him for his touch. Our industry has lost an icon, but we are thankful for the road he paved.
— Scott Lampert, Lake Elmo, Minn.
A Lot Of Good For A Lot Of Horseshoers
I went to many clinics where Jack was the clinician. Everyone always walked away with something they learned from him. Jack did a lot of good for a lot of horseshoers. I can’t tell you how many free clinics he did.
You can learn to make shoes from just about anybody. The hard part is explaining and showing how you adapt that shoe to a horse’s foot. Do you lead it off, do you back it off? Jack would always teach you. He would be honest and never try to hide the answers. Jack was always willing to help. He was very good and very knowledgeable.