Joseph W. Hocker, a noted farrier who tended to many important racehorses for almost five decades, died in his hometown of Lexington, April 22. He was 74.
When Hocker was born in 1938, his late parents, Joseph and Sally, worked and lived at Leslie Combs II's storied Spendthrift Farm, where the younger Joseph developed a love for the horse and the sport of racing.
Upon his graduation from high school in the late 1950s, Hocker worked as an apprentice to well-known farrier John Madison, a friend of the family. He set out on his own in the 1960s and over the course of his career worked for many of the most eminent Thoroughbred farms in Kentucky, including Spendthrift, Juddmonte, Tom Gentry, and Payson Stud.
Hocker was sought after to work at top racetracks such as Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Gulfstream Park. The quality of his work kept him in demand. Sometimes a call would take him out of his native Kentucky, as far as Puerto Rico and South America.
He shod the likes of multiple champion Nashua; stakes-winner Excitable Lady; 1984 champion older female Princess Rooney; and 1988 champion 3-year-old male Risen Star.
Hocker passed his farrier skills along by mentoring others in the trade, including his son, the late Joseph R. Hocker.
His contributions to horseracing earned him induction into the Kentucky Black Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 alongside champion boxer Muhammed Ali, NFL great Frank Minnifield, and others.
His interest in horses went beyond his daily work as a farrier, however. For a time, Hocker co-owned the racehorse Sterlingprospector, served on the board of the Bluegrass Horseshoers Association, and spent more than nine years as the first African-American commissioner for the Kentucky Horse Park.
Hocker is fondly remembered for his storytelling. He was always ready to share tales of his youth, work, and the great horses he had known. In his retirement, Hocker shared his storytelling gift with his community at schools and senior centers, and by becoming a certified tourist agent and leading tours around Kentucky.
Hocker had a full life in his community as well serving Mt. Gilead Baptist Church as a deacon, usher, and choir member. He was a 33rd degree Mason and Grand High Priest of the Royal Arches.
He is survived by Polly Hocker, his wife of 51 years; children Amira Hocker Young and Lance Hocker; three grandchildren; and one great-grandson.