Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Marshall "Buster" Conklin

Sir Isaac Newton, one of the world’s greatest scientists who formulated many of the laws of physics, once remarked in a letter to his rival Robert Hooke, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” He said he came up with his revolutionary ideas by thinking about them much of the time.

Each of us who stands upon the firm foundation of knowledge that we use to make a living and enjoy the bounties of life stand upon the shoulders of those pioneers who have gone before us.

June 13, 2011 a giant in the farrier world passed away. Marshall “Buster” Conklin of Horseheads, New York, was responsible for getting me interested in shoeing horses. He was very supportive of my desire to do this, even though it was during the late 50’s and early 60’s, a time when horse numbers were at an all time low and many thought it was foolish to pursue a career in farriery. I would like to give tribute to him and others who have been giants in our industry. I look forward to doing this at Cornell this fall.

Buster encouraged me to get good training and build on the foundation of the past. I looked for and learned time-tested principles that would benefit others as well as myself. I was given the opportunity by my teacher at Cal Poly, Ralph Hoover, to write about and teach horseshoeing soon after I got out of school and have been doing so ever since.

I continue to focus on those proven principles in our classes at Butler Professional Farrier School and in clinics. I have made it an ongoing project to collect them and assemble them into my several books. The methods of presenting the ideas are now unique to me as they have evolved over the last 47 years. See

Buster was also a cowboy – one of the good guys in the white hats. He was an accomplished calf roper and he lived the cowboy life. His wife Bernice was a wonderful complement to him. The Conklins are special people to me. Buster helped many students along the way as an instructor and resident farrier at the New York State Vet College. 

Buster Trimming My Rope Horse, Pepper McCue, 1959

Each of us should recognize and acknowledge the source of our motivation and knowledge that makes us what we are. Buster was a good and great man. He had both skill and character. Skill plus character equals competence. Competence inspires confidence.

I recently read Bruce Daniels new book Just Another Sunday on the Farm. In it he includes many of his experiences that tell the real story of what it was like to shoe horses 50 or more years ago. Being a self-employed farrier today is not really a lot different. What we do is very unique. It’s dangerous, you work with hot fire, sharp tools, unyielding steel, and you get real dirty – all the things your mother said you shouldn’t do! You wrestle animals 10 or more times your size and have no guaranteed benefits if you can’t work.

Lee Liles of Sulphur, Oklahoma has built a splendid museum that honors farriers of the past. I would hope everyone could someday see it. There are shoes and stories of the great farriers of yesteryear that you will find nowhere else. Visiting there gives you a real sense of the heritage we have as farriers. William Russell, a horseshoeing genius, is prominently featured in Lee’s museum.     

I wish to acknowledge with gratitude that we do truly stand upon the shoulders of giants. Isaac Newton didn’t originate this phrase, but rather it was theologian John of Salisbury. He said, “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

We owe much to those who have preceded us. They are the true Giants of our industry.

Doug and Buster, August 1983

  1. Keith ReynoldsJuly 30, 2011   

    HI Doug,

    I enjoyed your words about Buster in you letter that was read at Buster’s church service and your words here on your webstie.

    Buster and I shared many miles riding down the trails and on road trips.

    He always joked that I was his last student, guess I was, I was lucky, that I was home schooled, either at my farm or at his place. I was lucky that I live close and could stop and see him often. Also if I didn’t stop, we share phone calls almost every week. Either he was checking on me or I on him.

    I miss him a lot and think about him often. His tombstone is very special, his silent anvil sit a top of his stone.

    When his son Joe complete its, I will send you a picture of it, to share with all his friends.

    I look forward to meeting you in November at Cornell.


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