Farrier finds the perfect fit for local celebrities
By: Tammy Rollie
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 12:08 pm
A local blacksmith spends his days working with some odd personalities, but his efforts have paid dividends with a special honour.
Marshall Iles shod his share of celebrities, bringing him face to face with some unusual characters; some of who were the best show horses in the circuit.
“Throughout my career there has been some standout horses,” said Iles, who lives south of Okotoks. “There are some that are absolutely miserable, but very talented.”
Iles worked with hundreds of show and high-level performance horses owned by such big names as John Anderson and Jonathan Asselin.
Not all horses appreciate his care and concern, however. Some would rather eat and sleep while others like to get the better of their riders.
One such horse was John Anderson’s hanoverian Superman, which set a six bar record at Spruce Meadows and won the bar three times.
“If someone (Superman) knew was riding him he would wait until you weren’t paying attention and would duck out from underneath you,” he said. “There were very few people who could ride him well. He was well trained, but barely broke.”
Iles recalled a day Superman got the best of one unsuspecting rider.
“There was this one Aussie kid working at the bar who thought he could ride anything with hair on it,” he said. “I said, ‘You might want to fasten your seat belt,’ but he said he knew what he was doing. That horse got him out of his jock strap in five seconds flat.”
Iles has worked with horses for more than 30 years, 25 of them at Spruce Meadows. Now he owns his own blacksmithing company Unicorn Forge.
Iles’ hard work has not gone unnoticed. He was inducted into the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame, located at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, last month along with Pennsylvania farrier Dean Pearson.
The hall of fame was established in 1992 to honour farriers around the world who made significant contributions to the profession and left a permanent positive impression on their peers and clients. Peers, trainers, vets, horse owners, friends and family members can nominate farrier for the hall.
“There is a bunch of guys on that list that were past world champions that were my mentors,” said Iles. “It’s great to be on that list with these guys.”
Iles grew up around horses and in his teens tagged along with the farriers his parents hired to shoe their horses. Among them was top horseshoer Donn Whenham.
Iles enrolled in the Advanced Farrier Science Program at Olds College and found himself working for Whenham.
Whenham established the World Championship Blacksmith Competition at the Calgary Stampede in 1980 and following his retirement Iles took over organizing the event.
“I stepped in doing a lot of the show horses he was doing at the time,” he said. “I had a front row seat for the best in the world for 30 years. It was exposure to the best guys in the world in my chosen profession.”
Today, Iles looks after about 400 horses in a dozen barns south of Calgary and still finds every day a learning experience.
“I’ve been at if for 30 years and every day something comes up that I didn’t know before,” he said. “Every horse is an individual.”
Four-time Canadian Horseshoeing Champion Nathan Powell knows Iles well, having been in the business for 20 years, competed with Iles and even attended the same program at Olds College 18 years later.
“When I came into the business he had a very successful business, was shoeing some of the best horses in the Calgary area and he definitely made an example of business to try to strive for,” he said. “At that time he was the guy. When he went to the competitions he was the one getting the ribbons.”
Powell said for someone who devoted himself unselfishly to the industry and worked hard to improve the trade it was only a matter of time before he would be inducted into the hall of fame.
“In my mind there was no questions that he was going to get there,” he said. “It was just a matter of when.”
Iles is well known in the horse circuit. He spoke at the Horse Care Summit and is a judge at the World Horseshoeing Classic in Lexington, Kentucky later this month.
In addition to his volunteer work, Iles dedicates most days to providing hoof care to horses, including the draft horses that take visitors around Heritage Park.
Iles said about 30 per cent of horses require basic maintenance such as trimming and shoes to protect their front hooves while the other 65 per cent are suffering from bruises, splits, abscesses and other conditions, especially working horses.
Iles said he will continue caring for horses and that nothing will change despite his name being on the wall of fame.
“From my perspective it was nice to be recognized in that regard but I don’t believe we’ve seen the best in the world yet,” he said.