Hester A. ReaMay 18, 1933 – March 9, 2015
Hester Rea loved horses. Above all, she loved her family, her husband Jack, her children Wade, Teri and Buck (Jeri Lynn), her son-in-law Scott (Amanda), her grandchildren Jade, Jake, Silas, Rowan, Cassie and Madison, and all her extended Wyoming family.
But she also dearly loved a good horse, with good breeding, well-trained. She had the instinctive feel for what a horse is, what it will do – how it thinks – that only a born horsewomen can have. She and Jack raised some of the best registered Quarter Horses around, horses that were good for ranch work or for performing in the arena. She loved being there when the mares were foaling, loved watching the new colts get to their feet on their long wobbly legs, loved watching the colts grow into fleet, nimble-footed horses that won national prizes.
The Rea horses were so good that several were sold to a trainer in England, and shipped across the Atlantic on a Boeing 707, flying out of Calgary. Hester and Jack went along, turned the horses over to the new owner, saw a little of the English countryside, and came home. Other Rea horses went to Wales and Belgium. With her daughter Teri in the saddle, riding her horse Hobeau Bonanza, the Reas won the World Championship in the Amateur Trail Class at the World Quarter Horse Show in 1984, at a competition in Oklahoma City. “We took the world!” Hester said. And she did.
Hester was a tough woman in the very best sense of the word. She was strong. She never gave up, and she never gave in. She just kept goin’. Like her husband Jack, she had been shaped by Wyoming wind and weather, growing up on a large sheep & cattle ranch in the central part of the state. She could face the storm, whether arctic blasts sweeping in across the range, or the storms in her own life, in her own family. She had a rancher’s fatalism, a grim acceptance of just how hard life was, and a rancher’s eternal hope. She knew what it was like to step out in the morning to find dead calves, sheep savaged by coyotes, a horse that had broken its leg, a hay crop that had failed. She knew a ranchwoman’s hardships and a cowgirl’s triumphs, growing up on a wild stretch of Wyoming prairie. But nothing ever put her down for long. Troubles never got the best of her. She kept goin’.
Hester was born an Allemand, of French-Basque descent. The Basque are known for their amazing skills in managing livestock, their ability to drive a hard bargain, and their stubbornness. Hester had all the traits. But only to a point. If she cared for you and loved you, her opposition simply melted away. She would do anything for you. She didn’t take; she gave.
When her daughter Teri died much, much too young, when her son Wade was afflicted with MS, when her grandson Silas had cancer (but recovered from it), she grieved, she felt the loss, she held her family close, but she did not stop. She did not give in. She shook her head, took the bitter wind, and moved on. In their 80s, Jack and Hester rose with the first crack of light every morning to feed the horses, to check on the pregnant mares, to attend to the newborn foals. If the wind was howling, if it was the middle of a blizzard, if it was 20 below. They were out there with their horses, taking care. Tough, resolute, dedicated to the job.
But if Hester was tough – in the very best sense of the word – she was also joyful, and loving, and giving, and generous to a fault. She had high standards. She expected a lot from people. But she wanted people to succeed and prosper, and she was happy for them when they did. And she would always help. When you won, she enjoyed your victory with you.
Hester loved music, and she felt that all her children, and grandchildren in turn, should learn to play at least one musical instrument and, preferably, several. She was very…..encouraging. Some might say she pushed the kids and grandkids into their musical careers, and a shove from Hester Rea was a force to be reckoned with. But she pushed them the right direction. She paid for all their lessons, she made them practice, and she went to every recital. And they all became accomplished musicians. The instruments the Rea clan could pick up and play included violin, guitar, mandolin, clarinet, piano and percussion. There was a joyous sound, thanks to Grandma Rea. And her family knew she had guided them well. Grandma’s “push” was a gift of musical delight that would serve them all lifelong.
Hester also believed in people getting out of bed. She was known to call anytime of the day, not just in the morning, and ask, “Are you up yet?”- with the implication that if you weren’t up yet, you should be, and if you were up, you should be doing something productive. Those were Grandma’s “pep talks.” Hester believed in work. She felt it was good for the body, mind, and soul.
She was famous for her “Hesterisms,” bits of cowgirl wit and wisdom that she delivered with a twinkle in her eye. A couple of the family favorites (there were many) were: “We’re not bakin’ a cake, better get to spurrin’ and scratchin’,” and “This is your War Department calling. You’d better get to attention.”
She demanded a lot of people, too much, perhaps, sometimes. But she gave a lot, she worked hard, and she expected people to give a lot back. She forgot sometimes that not everyone was as strong and determined as she was; not everyone had grown up with the Wyoming wind in their face, and learned to love it. If Hester was strong, you had to be strong with her. You could be in trouble if you weren’t. But still, if you fell, she was there to get you back on your feet again.
Jack – Doc Rea – had a veterinary practice in Three Forks for 30 years, and he and Hester ranched on the Madison River, where their children were raised. When she and Jack moved to Helena from Three Forks in 2007, Hester brought 60 horses with her, stallions and mares. Yes, 60. She was a lover of horses. They purchased a ranch east of town where they continued to breed “poppin’ good colts” (a cowboy phrase), and managed the colts’ training. Jack set up his clinic in the barn, and clients came from all over Montana. He was, and is, one of the finest horse vets in the state. They had cut back in recent years to barely 20 head. But there were always horses in Hester’s life. They were her oxygen, her sunshine, the stream in which she swam.
The house they built on the Helena ranch was specially designed for their son Wade, whose MS had restricted him to a wheelchair. Hester’s life, and Jack’s, would be devoted to Wade until he passed away last summer. There would be no hospital or rest home for Wade. A mother would care for her son, at home. Strong. But loving.
In sunshine and in rain. We will miss her. We will love her always.
But we wonder, perhaps, if there isn’t a quick-reining Quarter Horse somewhere, clouds swirling around his feet, the green grass of heaven scenting his nostrils, glancing up at a firm, strong, joyful woman on his back, putting him through his paces. And the pony is saying to himself, in his horse way, this is a horsewoman…