During the final month of 2008, the farrier industry lost two of its best-known members with the passing of Eddie Watson and Reggie Kester, who both succumbed to cancer.
Watson, a member of the International Horseshoeing Hall Of Fame and mentor and teacher to multiple generations of farriers and equine veterinarians, passed away Dec. 20. He was 81. Kester, owner/operator of the Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School in Ardmore, Okla., passed away Dec. 30. He was 64.
EDGAR L. WATSON, CJF
Tribute To A Legend
Eddie Watson set an extraordinary example for farriers worldwide to follow: “Be the best you can be.” His knowledge, insight and practicality regarding farriery were infamous, yet his methods were basic and simplistic. Eddie was a mentor, not only to farriers, but also to many veterinarians as well. He was certainly at the top of my list. I have asked 3 of my veterinary colleagues who worked closely with Eddie over the years to join me in writing a few words about their relationship with this exceptional man.
We, in both the veterinary profession and the farrier profession are all aware of Eddie Watson’s expertise in farriery. But he was also an accomplished horseman, blessed with an ability to teach and the ability to communicate. Individually, each one of these qualities could be considered legendary, but when you find a man that excels in all these qualities, that person should be considered a legend.
I last visited Eddie in August and during these visits, our conversation would invariably turn to farriery, as this was his passion and his life. I always came away amazed at his wisdom and I so enjoyed these discussions. For example, during that last visit, I asked him what he thought about hoof balance. He said, “I never use the term because I don’t know what it means. You just do what is necessary to each individual horse. But Doc, I know you veterinarians are very smart, so when you figure it out, you let me know and then I’ll tell you if you are right.” And so it was…
There was also a very humble side of Eddie Watson. Early on in his disease, he told me he had cancer and it was bad. He said, “Some people would say ‘why me?’ but I say ‘why not me?’ I have lived a wonderful life and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
He will be remembered.
—Stephen E. O’Grady, DVM, MRCVS, Northern Virginia Equine, Marshall, Va.
Genius As A Farrier
I first met Eddie when I came to Charlottesville, Va., from Massachusetts in the early 1960s. Over the years, he and I worked closely together at many leading Thoroughbred breeding and racing operations in addition to some of the best-known show stables. He proved to be as adept in corrective procedures for trimming a foal as he was in managing footcare in the ultimate performance horse.
EDGAR L. WATSON, CJF
Eddie was a genius as a farrier. Always the innovator, he was at the forefront in the adaptation and development of both aluminum and glue-on shoes for the racing and performance horse. Moreover, he has been credited with improvising the multiple applications of the heart bar shoe. He has shared all of these accomplishments with his colleagues and veterinarians alike.
Eddie always found time to be with his loving family. His son, David, is a most accomplished farrier in his own right, and will be carrying the torch as another great Watson within our midst.
—Daniel V. Flynn, VMD, Georgetown Equine Hospital, Charlottesville, Va.
Always Inquisitive And Innovative
As a young equine practitioner in the late 1960s, I was very fortunate to meet Eddie Watson and learn from him for over 40 years. He tolerated many stupid observations and questions from me and many others — always with direct answers that tried to educate us. He was a master at the basics and keeping farrier science simple.
When a new trend would come along he would cast a jaundiced eye, examine that trend and utilize what was practical and sensible. Eddie always wanted to learn even after he developed cancer. His mind was always inquisitive and innovative.
His farrier work made the job of many equine practitioners much easier and we learned so much. When glue-on technology was developed, Eddie was very enthused by its application and very quickly simplified the process. He developed so many uses for glue-on technology and was very proud of these innovations, teaching these techniques all across the country.
As great a farrier and horseman as Eddie was, he was a better man, father, friend and citizen of his community. He will be missed not only by his family, but also by all of his colleagues that had the great fortune to know and work with him.
—Reynolds Cowles, DVM, Blue Ridge Equine Clinic, Free Union, Va.
Try Anything And See If It Works
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Eddie Watson for 34 years. I met Eddie when I moved to Charlottesville with my horse to begin working for Georgetown Equine Hospital as a veterinarian. Eddie offered to shoe my horse, which I knew was quite an honor coming from the premier farrier in the area. He was responsible for keeping my 3-day event horses sound, including a horse with severe navicular disease that would be lame without Eddie’s unique farriery.
If the event had a best-shod horse competition, my horse would always win. The farriers at the event would recognize the quality of the handmade shoes and ask who my farrier was. When I told them Eddie Watson, they said there was no need to look further.
I also had the privilege of working with Eddie on many horses with foot and limb problems. He educated me and many other equine veterinarians and farriers on approaches to correct various problems. As Eddie would say, we can try something and see if it works. His thought process was very unique and often different than mine coming from a veterinary background. He would explain his reasoning. I never questioned him, as he was usually right.
Eddie’s contribution to the horse world will be lasting by the number of people he touched along the way. At his memorial service, the funeral directors stopped counting when they got to 350 attendees. It was one of the most touching memorial services I’ve ever attended. He will be missed, but his legacy will go on for many, many years to come.
—Gregory Schmidt, DVM, Keswick Equine Clinic, Gordonsville, Va
Following are tributes to Watson and to Kester, written by equine veterinarians and farriers who knew them well. Our thanks to Stephen O’Grady, DVM, for gathering the Eddie Watson Tributes and to Bob Smith, owner and operator of the Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, in Plymouth, Calif., for bringing together the tributes to Kester.
REGGIE KESTER, CJF
An Inspiration And Driving Force
The members and families of the American Farrier’s Education Council (AFEC) would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Reggie Kester for their loss.
Reggie was the founder and owner of the Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School in Ardmore, Okla. Reggie, with his wife Marcella, started with a dream in 1975 and with hard work, dedication and sacrifice created one of the leading farrier schools in America.
Reggie was intensely proud of his school and the thousands of men and women he trained over the years. When his students and horseshoeing school were attacked, Reggie defended them as he would his own children.
Reggie was the driving force behind the formation of the AFEC. His belief in the importance of horseshoeing schools required that he act when schools were criticized. Reggie and Marcella made contact with every school and welcomed the owners of those schools to Oklahoma City to form the AFEC.
REGGIE KESTER, CJF
From that first meeting, Reggie and Marcella treated all as family. His kindness, integrity and leadership as the first AFEC President will be missed.
If the number of lives he touched judges the greatness of a man, then Reggie Kester is indeed a great man.
—Bob Smith, Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, Plymouth, Calif.for the Members of AFEC
Generous And Dedicated
When I think of Reggie Kester, I think of laughter. He was serious and competitive in his day-to-day life, but always seemed to look to the lighter side of things. Quick with a smile, he was friendly to everyone, especially little kids. He was dedicated to the farrier profession and had the ability to disagree without alienating those he disagreed with.
We had a lot of fun through the years and I’m proud to have called him a friend. He will be missed.
— Mike Edwards, CJF
Valued Friend, Respected Colleague
Reggie was a valued friend, respected colleague and someone who loved what he was doing. Reggie started his school 11 years after I taught my first class in 1964 in Bozeman, Mont. I’m very glad our family had the opportunity to visit him several years ago and could tell him personally how much we appreciated him.
Of course, we believe his success in life was due to the woman behind the man. Marcella is an outstanding person who has given Reggie terrific support. When we visited their home, we immediately realized it was designed with Marcella and their whole family in mind, for it is warm and inviting. We always think the best of a man who is proud of his grandchildren and enjoys being with them! And Reggie was that kind of man.
We were also impressed that even the way they have their farrier supply store set up is very unique in how it welcomes customers inside to “sit a spell” and enjoy visiting, as well as buying.
Reggie has been a stalwart contributor to farrier education and has always wanted what is best for a student’s learning opportunities. It’s been good to see how he has involved his family in running their school and business. We wish Marcella and Regan the best as they add to Reggie’s legacy.
—Doug Butler, PhD, Crawford, Neb.
Respect And Admiration
On Jan. 3, 2009, I went to the funeral of Reggie Kester, horseshoer, teacher and one of the best family men I have ever known. My wife and I have been proud to call Reggie and Marcella friends these many years.
Even though we were competitors, he never treated me as one. He treated me as a friend. With our wives we went to meetings. out to dinner together and visited back and forth occasionally.
The number of horseshoers who showed up to say good-bye to Reggie is a testament to the respect and admiration in which he was held in our profession. There must have been over a hundred horseshoers there to say goodbye.
The line of cars and pickups going from the church out to the cemetery was miles long. What a sight it was.
He continues to live on in our hearts and wherever horseshoers gather.
— Jack Roth, DVM, Purcell, Okla.
Beyond The Classroom
I met Reggie and Marcella in November 1975. I enrolled in the third class at the newly established Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School.
We received great instruction in shoeing and forge work, but Reggie went beyond that by sharing things he had learned from his own experience to better prepare us as for our careers.
The memories of that time and the friendship that was formed with Reggie and Marcella didn’t end with the class. It spanned over a third of a century and is one of the most important friendships of my life. Reggie was always available over the years to give me advice if I ran into a shoeing problem or needed advice on life. He was a true friend.
Reggie will be greatly missed, but his influence will live on through his son, Regan, and others who are following in the footsteps of our profession.
—Nathan Hammett, CF 1975 Graduate of OSHA, Lafayette, Ga.
A Man Who Affected Many Lives
Reggie Kester was a long-time member, supporter and friend to the Oklahoma Farrier’s Association and to many of us personally.
One of the best things I ever did for myself was to attend Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School. The best thing Reggie and Marcella did for me was be my friends.
At the funeral I knew I wasn’t alone — it was standing room only. I was honored to be a pallbearer. On the way to the cemetery, we shared stories of how Reggie affected our lives.
I’ll remember Reggie’s chuckle, his riding his big rocking horse, his down-to-earth advice, his enthusiasm and his honesty.
We will miss seeing your face, Reggie, but you will always be with us.
—Gary Gloden, Sapulpa, Okla.