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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hoofcare World Landmark: Edgar's E. P. Stern & Co. in Yalding, England

On the map of an old village called Yalding in Kent, England, it just says "The Forge".

Farriers all over the world recognize this building. It is a landmark in its village and it is a landmark in the world of farriers. For more than 60 years, farriers have passed through this place, whether for a day or two or a year or two or more, in the case of the dozens of apprentices who were trained here.

 This is the home and forge of "E.P. Stern Co., Farrier and General Smith", the Stern family of farriers in Yalding, a village in Kent, England, just south of London. This amazing photo of the ancient building is by British photographer Elsie Bell, who sells prints and cards of this image. Visit to order this beautiful photo for your own.

In marketing, they call it "top of mind" recognition. Think: Goodyear rubber...GE nippers...Farriers Formula hoof supplement...Rolex watches. When a brand name defines a class of products -- iPhone, iPad, Ariat, Jeep, Kleenex, Equilox, Hoofjack -- that's when you know it's "top of mind".

And it's where you want to be in the minds of potential customers. Getting "top of mind" status isn't something you can buy or rent or put on your Wish List. You have to earn it. And in the case of people, you have to be a little larger than life, and have a name to match. Or, maybe being "top of mind" makes you that way.

It's a funny thing about first names. In the context of rock 'n roll, all you have to say is "Bruce", and Springsteen starts singing Born in the USA in your head.  But say "Bruce" to an American event rider, and they see Bruce Davidson.

Say it to a farrier and they'll hear Bruce Daniels winding up to tell a story.

The farrier world has had only one Bruce. There was only ever one Edward. One Burney. One Seamus, One Buster. One Emil. One Jack. And today we have only one Doug. One Grant. One Danny. One Ada. One Billy. One Myron. One Victor. One Simon. One Gunnar. One Austin.

A lace curtain. A sign with old-fashioned lettering. What photographer could pass up this photo opportunity? (Josephine Clark photo)

Are there other farriers with these first names? Of course, and many of them have reputations of greatness as well, but they'll also have last names until the legends fade, and some never will.

When icons have common first names like Steve or Jim or Bob, it can mean they earn a nickname to make a one-word designation possible, or people use the last name. You only need to say "Pethick", "Duckett", "Teichman", "Trnka" or "Skraz" at a hoofcare event and people are tuned into the conversation. These well-known farriers lost their common first names when they went top-of-mind.

Plenty of farriers named Edgar are hard at work around the world as I write this, but it will be a while before one can go by only his first name. And if I'm successful at my mission of keeping some legends alive, they might want to think about changing their names.

The Sterns' home and forge sits right on the street in Yalding. It's on the Grade II Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest in Great Britain. That means it's old. Very old. And important.

Today's photos show the imprint of the farrier world's "Edgar" not on the profession, but on his own forge and the village that seems to be built around it. Edgar died in 2006, but I'd say he's quite alive in his town and in his forge, where it looks like little has changed since his passing.

Actually, little has changed since I was there 25 years ago, come to think of it. I'm sure a lot has changed but the stage was set a long time ago, and it's as if things were nailed permanently into place, even if they're not.

Just as first-name-only "Edward" did in Scotland, Edgar brought the world to his tiny town and, in turn, put it on the map--the world map of farriery, that is (which I intend to draw someday). In the case of both men, they could have been just as famous, perhaps, if they'd stayed home and let the world come to them, because the world did seek them out.

But the late 20th century opened the gates to international travel, and like all curious people with the means and time to do it, they went out to see what was going on. And before they knew it, they had frequent flyer accounts and bulging mileage totals and a waiting list of houseguests.

I'll never forget Edgar saying, "When you come to England, you will stay with us." He must have said that to thousands of people. And a lot of us took him up on it. Maybe, like me, they were just doing as they were told, with no idea what lay ahead of them when they arrived.

When I tumbled into Yalding for the first time, I joined visiting farriers from South Africa and New Zealand. I immediately noticed that Edgar became "Mr. Stern" in most situations. I remember how his clients deferred to his judgment and that we could drive into a stableyard without anyone interrupting him except to give a wave or a nod.

Have you ever smelled hops? Hops are grown in Kent, and Edgar made sure I had a good whiff of the basic ingredient of beer and ale. I can smell it now but remember his tales of the impoverished Londoners who had trekked to Kent in the old days to have a few weeks of fresh air as they worked as hop-pickers. Years later I discovered Alfred Munnings' series of paintings of hop-pickers. I immediately recognized the scenes, as they'd already been painted in my mind by Edgar Stern. Munnings filled in the colors. (Image: Hop Pickers; the Costume Picture by Alfred J. Munnings, circa 1930. He painted much more than just racehorses.)

That's right: A man who had his sons lined up back at the forge with dozens of horses to shoe and farm calls to make and half a dozen apprentices needing guidance could stop what he was doing to be my tourguide.

On my visit, he wanted to erase how impressed I'd been by the Clydesdales in Scotland and I think he took me to see every Shire horse south of London, including the magnificent team of the Whitbread brewery. And, at many farms, he drove right up to the stable, walked right into the stall, and lifted a foot for me to see the shoe. Even on farms where he wasn't the farrier. That's clout.

Through the marvel of the Internet, I'm able to create for you a slide show of the forge, post-Edgar. These photos were taken by a local photographer, Josephine Clark and feature Edgar's grandson, Dan, whose dedication to his family's heritage, and the memory of his grandfather, inspired me to write this post.

Click the "play" icon (triangle) to start the slide show.

One of my favorite moments in my farrier life took place in this forge. I was standing in the forge, horses and farriers were doing their dance around me as I watched, wide-eyed. I'd never been in a forge with so many farriers working. And then the strangest thing happened.

Mrs. Stern appeared at the doorway. Hammers stopped in mid-air. Bent backs straightened. Apprentices and ponies breathed sighs of relief. The men clustered around Mrs. Stern and for a few moments there was silence. Silence, except for the gentle tinkling of teaspoons against china cups. They stood there, sipping tea.

For a few minutes, the forge had gone from what was surely orchestrated group labor (but looked and sounded like chaos) to a refined moment of civilized behavior. Big fingers barely fit through the handles of the cups. I wondered if each had his own cup--they were all different. Was a new apprentice assigned a cup? Was one of them for guests? What if you took the wrong cup?

Up until that moment, I had been a coffee drinker. I was traveling around with a jar of instant coffee and politely refused the tea offered me from one end of the United Kingdom to the other, explaining that I was an American and Americans drink coffee, not tea. Thanks, but no thanks.

But at that moment, had I refused a cup of tea, I would have missed being part of that scene (or worse, offended Mrs. Stern), so I took a cup tenuously, hoping I could feign its merits politely to my wonderful hostess.

To my surprise, it tasted wonderful, like no tea I'd ever had in America.

After that day, the jar of instant coffee stayed in my suitcase, and when I left, Mrs. Stern packed some of her teabags in a little envelope for me. And I've been drinking tea every since.

Mrs. Stern is quoted in a town history article as describing her family's lifestyle this way: “Here we live and breathe horses. The only holidays we have are when Edgar is competing in events in other parts of the country. Days off are spent at race meetings.”

Edgar Stern at work, courtesey of the Yalding historical web site
What that article failed to mention is that some people can stay home, and the world will come to them. Mrs. Stern made sure they'd come back, too, by making people feel at home in an ancient house with a staircase so steep, every American who has ever visited has a tale to tell of navigating it with suitcase in tow.

It has been said that, in England, whenever you see a farrier in his forge, the chances are that Edgar Stern in one way or another has imprinted the techniques of that man's profession.

They don't say anything about journalists who were influenced by him, but I do, every chance I get.

--Fran Jurga

 Thanks and more information about this article:

Slide show photos kindly loaned by Josephine Clark

Edgar had references on his resume as local as a little girl with a pony in his little village and as global as the Queen of England, who awarded him the British Empire Medal for his service to Thoroughbred racehorses. He did everything a farrier of his generation could do, and was often either the first to do it or on the committee that governed it.  Please read the Yalding village's historical biography of Edgar Stern.

Click here to read Hoofcare & Lameness's farewell on learning of the death of Mr. Edgar Stern MBE, FWCF in 2006.

Special thanks to Josephine Clark, Tony Kremer of Yalding History, Elsie Bell and Dan Stern. Many thanks to the entire Stern family for their hospitality and friendship over the years.

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 © Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. You only need to ask. 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,, 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  
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