Silver and spurs Handcrafted spurs turns into a handy business for Gilkerson
Sheridan – When Marc Gilkerson handcrafted his first pair of spurs in 1994, he was making something that would allow him to continue competing in the sport he loves.
“I was in rodeo and rode bareback horses in the PRCA,” explains the Sheridan cowboy. “I had a horse mash me in the chutes, and it smashed my spur into my heel. I never could get my spur to fit right again, so I decided to make my own.”
That first pair of spurs was a simple design.
Gilkerson shoed horses in his spare time, so he used a couple of old rasps that he crafted into a pair of spurs he could use for bareback riding.
“I really liked how they turned out, and it was a lot of fun to make something,” he explains. “People started noticing them and would ask me to make them a pair. That was how I got started making things out of metal.”
Looking at that first pair of spurs reminds Gilkerson of how much he has progressed over the years.
“At the time, I thought they turned out really well, but now, I think they are pretty crude-looking,” he says with a chuckle. “They were made with an old buzz box welder and a file. I didn’t have a lot of tools then.”
Gilkerson adds, “Sometimes, I think about taking them to the shop and cleaning them up, but then, I decide I should just leave them the way they are.”
Since then, Gilkerson has become more intricate with his designs.
“I didn’t receive much formal training. Mostly, I just learned as I went,” he says. “My late wife Sherri was training cow horses in Arizona with Jim Paul, Sr. and Jimmie Paul. I found out one day Jim made bits and spurs, so I started going to his shop every afternoon, after we finished riding, to make bits and spurs.”
“I learned a lot from Jim on balance, feel and just how to make a good bit,” Gilkerson continues. “At the time, we had someone put the silver on and engrave them for us. Then, I decided I wanted to go to engraving school, so Jim went with me. We both spent five days in Alpine, Texas learning the basics of engraving.”
Armed with more tools and knowledge, Gilkerson’s metal working process changed.
“With the first pair of spurs, I made the band and cut out the shank, put it together and welded the shank to the band. Trying to get that shank perfect on the band was probably the hardest part of the process,” he explains.
“Now, all my spurs are one piece. I start with a half-inch piece of iron, split it and open it up, and then I shape it,” Gilkerson explains. “It is a totally different process than what I started with.”
“I have bought a lot of tools to use since then, and there is always something new I want to get,” Gilkerson continues. “The more I make, the more I figure things out and want to make them better. To do that, I have to buy a little bit better tools than what I have.
He notes, “I just started casting silver, so I bought a bowl, flux, wax and sand. I watched a YouTube video, and started casting rings.”
Gilkerson makes round and square rings that are quite popular with his customers.
He also makes bracelets, earrings and concho necklaces from domed silver he solders together. Most of the jewelry he makes can be finished in a few hours.
More complicated items like bits and spurs take longer to create. Depending upon the design, it can take anywhere from a few days to a week.
“I really like to engrave, so I like making spurs the most. I can make a pair in a couple days, but bits take longer because they have to be balanced,” he explains. “I hand file the back side of the bit and the part that is against the cheek of the horse. Sometimes, it takes a week or two to get everything set and balanced correctly.”
On the competition circuit
Gilkerson designed different bits while competing in national reined cow horse events with Sherri, who passed away in 2006. One bit was used in the AQHA world cow horse competition, and Gilkerson split third and fourth place with it.
“It was a Fresno shank spade bit that I showed in. I kept it on my TV stand for months. I liked the design, but I wanted to make it a little differently. That’s how I came up with what I call the new Fresno shank,” he notes.
When he showed in the Sun Circuit in Arizona, it was with a spade bit he created with a nice shank.
“I wanted to make it with a one-piece mouth piece, and it took me a couple days, but I pounded this mouth piece out and put in the shank,” he says. “I was carrying it down a hall, and a guy who sells bits through his online store called me into his store and bought it from me.”
“I wanted to show with it first, and I ended up winning the amateur cow horse event that weekend,” Gilkerson adds.
Gilkerson no longer shows horses, but he is still involved with rodeo. He also welcomed a son, Rio, last year with his wife Lauren.
For the last nine years, Gilkerson has mentored youth while working as the rodeo coach at Sheridan Community College.
“It is fun to watch kids come to school here and progress, get better and move on,” he says.
Last year, his men’s team won the Central Rocky Mountain region, which happened for the first time in school history. One of his students, Zeke Thurston, also won the world last year in the bronc riding event.
“I love rodeo. It’s something I hold close to my heart,” he says.
“One of the cool things I have made is a unique pair of spurs for a Ty Curuchet fundraiser. He was hurt judging at Chris LeDoux Days last summer. I really silvered them up, and they sold for $3,600,” he says.
Love for the work
“I just enjoy making things,” he continues. “I get a lot of satisfaction making something from nothing.”
Gilkerson also enjoys the challenge of improving his skills.
“I want to get better, and I spend more time drawing out designs and on detail,” he says. “I like the work of Stewart Williamson, Troy Flaherty and Gary Williamson. They are top of the line, so I study what they make and pay particular attention to the different ways they shade things.
“My goal is to be as good as they are,” Gilkerson adds.
Currently, Gilkerson sells his custom-made items through his Facebook page, Gilk Silver. He has sold items as far away as New York City, Texas and Canada.
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.