Bob Skradzio at one of his last farrier clinics, at Skidmore College's equestrian center in Saratoga Springs, New York. Notice the size of his hands. That's a big anvil; it just looks small under his hands.
Bob Skradzio died today in a hospital near his home in Ambler, Pennsylvania. He suffered a stroke on Monday.
A funeral will be held on Thursday, February 25th at 10 a.m. at the Jarrettown United Methodist Church, 1460 Limekiln Pike, Dresher, Pennsylvania, with a viewing on Wednesday evening from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Ciaravelli Funeral Home, Condolences may be made at a memorial page for Bob at www.ciavarellifuneralhomes.com.
If you didn't know Bob, you certainly had plenty of chances. He shod horses in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area for more than 60 years and lived for most of his adult life in Ambler. He is probably one of the most famous farriers in America, but is equally famous for his unique personality and genuine interest in people as he is for his outstanding skill as a horseman and as a horseshoer.
Bob began an apprenticeship as a horseshoer in Philadelphia while he was in high school. He worked after school and on weekends and finished his apprenticeship in 1946. Philadelphia had large stables of work horses used for delivery, that were shod by contract; horseshoers were in great demand in the wealthy suburbs on weekends. "I was a rich man, when I was a very young man," Bob used to recall. "No one was making the kind of money that I was making back then."
Out in the foxhunting and horse-showing suburbs, Bob built up a loyal clientele, some of whom he kept for decades. He trained many apprentices, including his son Bob Jr., Ron Palmer, and others. Bob and Ron worked to bring the American Farrier's Association Convention to Valley Forge, PA in 1982.
I think Bob must have given more educational clinics than any other farrier in North America. During the 1990s, he worked on weekends with St Croix Forge, giving low-key presentations all over the country. His goal was not to directly sell shoes (Bob wasn't good at commercials) as much as to bring horseshoers into the fold, and to show them that going to clinics was not a threat. It worked because Bob could and would talk to everyone in the room. Maybe he'd never see them again, but they'd never forget him. Clint Carlson believed it was good for business to send Bob Skradzio as his company's first clinician out to the remote parts of the country, and he was right: As far as I know, Bob never showed a slide, didn't have a laptop and didn't know what PowerPoint is. He used his hands and his head and the tools from his box. It worked.
The last official event I did with Bob was one of our Hoofcare@Saratoga Tuesdays. I made sure Bob was the headliner; Mike Wildenstein took second billing, with a wink. When Bob saw Jim Santore's beautiful shoeing shop at Skidmore College's equestrian center, his eyes lit up. He could work there all day. And he did; the farriers who showed up that day had a treat. And then there was a talk that night at the Parting Glass. He just kept going.
You can double click on this image to see an enlarged picture of two of Bob's most famous assets: his hands. These hands were on the Hoofcare & Lameness/St Croix Forge wall calendar one year; many farriers told me they saved this picture. This is an ad from one of Bob's last farrier clinics.
Bob was the "booth magnet" at the Hoofcare & Lameness booth at the American Farrier's Association Convention for many years. People would line up to shake his hand or to remind him of the one time they had met (of course he remembered). He stood there to help the magazine, maybe, but he did mostly because he knew that a lot of people traveled a long way, spent a lot of money and they might not get to meet and shake hands with the famous farriers. But he'd be there and he'd talk to them as long as they wanted. He understood the shy ones and the quiet ones who didn't know anyone. And it gave him something to do. Bob didn't like hanging around with nothing to do.
Bob has a done-it-all resume. He served on the AFA board, was president of the Pennsylvania Guild, represented the USA--not once, not twice, but three times!--on the North American Horseshoeing Team in international competition, he won all the contests a farrier could win, and showed up for a few extra ones, too. I remember fondly when he competed in the raceplating and crab-eating contest at the Preakness the one time that was held, not because he plated racehorses but he thought it was worth a shot. Another time, he and Bruce Daniels re-created the scene of Norman Rockwell's toe-and-heel contest painting and went at it welding toe and heel calks on a hot September day. Just for the fun of it.
Bob Skradzio had a home life too. His wonderful wife Alene often traveled with him. He has three daughters and his son, Bobby Jr., is a horseshoer who actually employed Bob the past few years. Many people marvel that Bob was the former father-in-law of farrier Dave Duckett, who still lives down the road from him. Bob has a beautiful, classic home and collected sports cars. When I took him through the car museum in Saratoga, they quickly learned that he could be giving the tours. "I used to have one of them..." he said over and over. "I never should of sold it."
Bob was inducted into the Horseshoers' Hall of Fame in 1997 alongside Dr Doug Butler and the late Eddie Watson. I'm sure that he succeeded at everything he attempted to do in his profession, but his very best skill was in encouraging people to stick with it: keep trying, he'd say. You'll get there, what do you need to know? I know this first-hand because he's been coaching me for years. His support and encouragement have made a huge difference in my life. His friendship meant the world to me.
It's great to be good at what you do, or even to be the best. I'm sure that meant a lot to Bob. But how much more does it mean when so many people say spontaneously, "Oh! I will never forget that guy!" and really, truly mean it? How much more meaningful to be a legend for the humanity and the humor you brought to your profession and the horse world around you?
© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site, www.hoofcare.com, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.