Sunday, May 15, 2022

History-loving and history-making American horseshoer Bill Miller dead at 96

History-loving and history-making horseshoer Bill Miller died today in Seattle, Washington. According to his close friend Dave Duckett, the 96-year-old had been moved to hospice care after being released from a Veterans Administration hospital for treatment of coronavirus. 

Bill Miller takes with him unsurpassed knowledge, countless experiences, and historic records of American horseshoeing; he was the profession's undisputed "history guy", and a great character who was known and recognized by many in the global farrier industry.

But Bill Miller didn’t just love horseshoeing history. He carried it with him, and wove it into every conversation, always with a twinkle in his eye.

Bill Miller with his longtime friend and fellow farrier instructor at the college level, Scott Simpson.

You're walking along a trail, climbing higher and higher. Whether your goal is the top of the ridge or the crest of your career, once in a while you feel the earth 
suddenly give way as a chunk of ground breaks loose beneath you. You stop, catch your balance, grab a tree branch.

Then you hear the stones and clods of dirt tumble down and down from the very place where you had just been standing. You hear an echo as each rock bounces down the cliff and hits the valley floor below. A piece of your trail is gone.

I heard the echo, and felt that tumble, this afternoon when Dave Duckett called to tell me that his dear friend and one of America's most genuine horseshoeing citizens died earlier today.

No formal information about Bill Miller's death or plans for a funeral have been announced as of Sunday night.

In July 2021, Jim Butler of Butler Horseshoeing School had Bill Miller as his guest on the school's Farrier Focus podcast. I hope you can just click on the "play" icon in this graphic to hear Bill’s wonderful voice. If the link does not work on your phone or computer, please click here to listen to the Bill Miller interview on Farrier Focus.

I believe Bill was born in 1927, which made him part of that Great Generation who fought in World War II. He served in the Navy aboard the USS New Jersey, which is now a museum in Camden, New Jersey. Dave Duckett said he once took Bill to visit his old ship. “There she is!” Bill exclaimed when he caught sight of the vessel. He was an honored visitor that day, and he took Dave directly to the gun he had manned. 

Dave was probably the farrier closest to Bill in his later years; they had weekly appointments for phone calls, and Dave was booked to fly out to visit Bill once the Covid restrictions had been cleared and he was out of the hospital. But it wasn’t to be.

Dave has kindly shared the news.

Dave would be the first to say that Bill was a lot more than just a mustache, but Bill’s facial hair was hard to miss, and always made him easy to remember. As big and red as it was, you could always still see his smile underneath it.

Among Bill's accomplishments early in life was studying horseshoeing in the special course at Michigan State University after he left the Navy. Thanks to a new program known as "The GI Bill", he studied under legendary Scottish champion horseshoer Jack MacAllan, who ran a special training course at the Michigan State, which was once widely known for its Percheron horse breeding program.

Bill Miller and his mustache received the American Farrier's Association's highest accolade, the Walt Taylor Award, in 2003; it was presented by Walt Taylor (left). (Hoofcare Publishing file photo)

Returning home after school, Bill earned his Illinois state shoeing license and started working the harness tracks. He later joined the International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers, served as its president, and remained a proud member for decades. He may well still be a member.

Bill was also an early, continuous, and very proud member of the American Farrier’s Association.

Interestingly, as a result of his experience in Illinois, Bill long championed the idea of government licensing for horseshoers. He stirred the pot of the controversial hot-button issue, but somehow continued to be held in high esteem by farriers on both sides of a debate that has never quite ended.

When I started Hoofcare & Lameness Journal in 1985, Bill made sure he was subscriber #1, and he always has been #1, even on the email newsletter list today.

At some point, Bill began collecting old books about horseshoeing. He also acquired collections of vintage periodicals like The Horseshoers Journal, American Blacksmith and Wheelwright, The International Horseshoer, and many more. He would sometimes let me borrow his treasures, like his old programs from conventions of the National Master Horseshoers Association. His library grew and grew and at the time of his death was probably one of the finest private collections of horseshoeing books in America.

For many years, Bill was a favorite subject for cartoonist Fred Kingwell, who seemed to have an uncanny knack for capturing Bill's expressions (and mustache).

Bill moved his family to Washington State in the 1970s to take a position as farrier instructor at Olympia Technical College (now South Puget Sound Community College). He didn’t just teach how to shoe a horse, he taught what it meant to him to be part of the horseshoeing tradition, even as he was transitioning to more modern techniques. His program was known for welcoming women, something he shared with his longtime friend and fellow teacher, J. Scott Simpson, in Montana.

Over the years, Bill received countless honors and prizes, judged international competitions, and made friends wherever he went. He loved to talk about his restored Model T Ford and his days spent rodeoing.

Bill Miller during a demonstration at an American Farrier's Association convention.

Bill Miller may never have officially retired; he just kept on shoeing for people, until ill health in recent years finally kept him indoors. But even then, he was a prolific correspondent on the subject of shoeing horses; his personality came right through the envelope each time a letter arrived. I’m sure we talked on the phone sometimes, but Bill has been my pen pal for the last 40 years. 

Bill was 96. He would have been 97 on June 15. He had three daughters and two sons. Twin daughters Jill and Laura were with Bill when he died.

It was an honor to know Bill Miller and hear his stories and opinions and laugh at his jokes. Condolences to his children, and grandchildren, and to his close friend, Pennsylvania farrier Dave Duckett, FWCF, who showed extraordinary care and effort to help his friend on the other side of the country, right up to the end.

So what do you do when you’re standing on that trail with the big hole? Some would just keep climbing and hiking, without a glance behind. Others would stop and do their best to fill in the gap, to mark the unstable ground, and make the trail whole again.

They would know that others will be coming up the trail behind them.

Bill Miller spent his life maintaining friendships that revolved around his love of shoeing horses. He made sure that his beloved trade of horseshoeing and his friends the horseshoers evolved, but most of all that its unique spirit survived. He didn't want farriers to forget where they came from, or to discount the hard work of people who built the profession for them, often against stiff odds and with great personal sacrifice.

But when a part of history is gone, the trail you follow will never be the same again. Listen for the echo of this legendary horseshoer, teacher, and most of all, friend. You're living and working on a trail cleared for you by Bill Miller and others like him. 

Will you honor them by leaving it even better than you found it?

Bill Miller's signature was unmistakable; he dotted the i's in his name with circles. Big circles.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; you are reading the online news for Hoofcare and Lameness Publishing. Please, no re-use of text or images without permission--please share links or use social media sharing instead. Do not copy and paste text or images--thank you! (Please ask if you would like to receive permission.)

In addition to reading directly online, you may also receive email "alerts" containing headlines and links(requires signup in box at top right of blog page).

The helpful "translator" tool in the right sidebar will convert this article (approximately) to the language of your choice.

To share this article on Facebook and other social media, click on the small symbols below the labels. Be sure to "like" the Hoofcare and Lameness Facebook page and click on "get notifications" under the page's "like" button to keep up with the hoof news on Facebook. Or, paste this article's address from the browser bar into your post.

Questions or problems with this site? Click here to send an email

Follow Hoofcare + Lameness on Twitter: @HoofBlog
Read this blog's headlines on the Hoofcare + Lameness Facebook Page
Enjoy images from via our Instagram account.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Hoofcare Publishing has not received any direct compensation for writing this post. Hoofcare Publishing has no material connection to third party brands, products, or services mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Hoofcare + Lameness is reader-supported. If you purchase items through links on this site, the company may possibly earn a small affiliate commission, at no cost to you.