JUNE 1995 BACK ISSUE

Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 6/1/95; 10:00:00 AM.


Book Review: The Echo of Hoofbeats

A History of the Tennessee Walking Horse

by Bob Womack
Dabora, Inc., P.O. Box 1007, Shelbyville, Tennessee, 37160; Copyright 1994, Phone 615-684-8123, ISBN: none, LC Number: none; 3rd Edition, 512 pages, $29.95



This weighty book, with the Paulette picture of the great Midnight Sun on the cover, is written by Bob Womack, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University. It strikes me as the quintessential book for the Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH). The Bibliography is 7 pages long, the index is extensive and the Appendix lists the 115 horses selected by the Breeders' Association as foundation stock, with brief descriptions of each. At the end of Chapter XIII (The Celebration) is a list of all World Grand Champions 1939 through 1994. The last chapter, the best chapter, contains 5 interviews: (1) Bill Harlin of Harlinsdale Farm, owner of Midnight Sun, Sun's Delight, and Pride of Midnight, (2) Billy Hale, owner of Ebony Masterpiece and Ace's Sensation, (3) Steve Hill, trainer of Talk of the Town, (4) E.E. (Pluck) Miller, twice National Celebration judge, and owner of Miller's Wilson Allen, and (5) Mac Carter, owner of Delights' Bummin Around. These terrific interviews lend flavor to the details of historical insight packed into the book.

This book will confirm anybody's interest in Tennessee Walking Horses. It emphasizes that almost any rider can train a TWH at nominal expense to squash any fear of "falling off the horse." Gentle disposition, smooth gaits and easy riding prove especially good for old folks or for the grand kids. If a trot is tough on the back, with the TWH no posting is necessary. The overstride of the back foot slipping over the front track allows the horse to move evenly and gracefully. The rider experiences a rolling movement without wasted effort. All this is in the book. A thorough study of it will amplify your reasons for considering the ownership of a TWH and enable you to learn more about your horse's pedigree if you already own one.

Womack's book is a wealth of information on all the famous horses of the breed, past and present, especially Midnight Sun (formerly Joe Lewis Allen) who was "Foaled June 8, 1940, and Black as a Crow." He was purchased from John A. Hendrixson by Harlinsdale Farm for $4,400 in 1943. Stories of this horse are spread through the book. Although continuity is not the main attribute of the book, you can get a chronological view of the sport and industry as follows:

In 1914 Giovanni, the black stallion, was brought in from Kentucky for a conformation outcross. He brought durability and refined looks to the developing breed. He sired the dam of Merry Go Boy.

By 1920 the TWH was a distinguishable type whose precise gait was not to be confused with those of other breeds. Line breeding on Allan F-1 (Allen) had identified it as more than a saddle horse, without a hard trot. By 1930 they were beginning to appear in shows across the nation. When the Tennessee Valley Authority (Roosevelt's New Deal TVA) produced electricity designed to break up the Great Depression, attention was focused on the horse through lighted night shows in 1932.

The Breeders' Association was established April 27, 1935 in Lewisburg, Tennessee. The Charter of Incorporation for the TWH National Celebration was created July 15, 1939. The first Celebration, a three day show in Shelbyville, began September 7, 1939. The great trainer Floyd Carothers rode Strolling Jim to the first World Grand Championship.

By the mid 40's two great black stallions were making the breed famous as exciting show horses. Merry Go Boy was small, light, smooth, fast and graceful without apparent effort. He was moving the breeding world toward more animated motion. Midnight Sun was a huge horse who seemed to pound holes in the ground with untiring, relentless motion. He brought a power to the breed never before seen. The show ring duals of Midnight Sun, ridden by Fred Walker, and Merry Go Boy, ridden by Winston Wiser, who carried a grudge for losing Walker's mount, caused a frantic reaction in the crowd. They wanted to see the power and the speed.

By 1945 the gap between the traditional show horse (trained by Carothers, Hill, Green, Small and Wiser) and the "new idea" (extreme power and speed) was significant. The changes made for speed and artificiality to please the audience were remarkable. Victory in the show ring had its demands.

By 1947 the TWH industry was national in scope and the first breed publication, The Tennessee Walking Horse Magazine, was popular. In 1948 Merry Go Boy was purchased by a Virginian for $55,000, the most ever paid for a TWH up to that time. Stud fees for Midnight Sun were $50, representing a five fold increase compared to pre-war rates.

By 1952 the market was flooded and the Breeders' Board of Directors passed a regulation prohibiting artificial insemination-this was aimed at Harlinsdale Farm's Midnight Sun who was annually earning $100,000 for his owners. The monopoly on breeding by Midnight Sun was breaking the industry's back. Throughout the 1950s the industry disregarded the AI prohibition. The inability of the Association to enforce its own rules revealed inherent weakness.

Furthermore, regulatory agencies within the associations were hesitant to prescribe precise criteria by which gaits could be evaluated (the trend continues today.) Each judge is free to make a subjective analysis. The show horses were ridden for extreme animation and speed which got the fans to yelling frantically. Judges picked the crowd pleasers, these horses brought the most money in the market. The owners and breeders followed suit. It was at this time that the practice of "soring" horses began. Politics and economics ruled the breed.

By 1957 the industry bottomed out and Harlinsdale Farm sold Midnight Sun to the Livingstons, he stayed at the farm, however. Groomer Fred Laws called him "Pap," and he was the only person who ever groomed him. He was never turned out to paddock and was never turned loose from halter. Fred said: "Somebody had hold of him all his life." Horse and groom died within a year of each other. Midnight Sun died in 1965 at 25 years of age.

By 1961 Billy Hale paid $17,000 for Ebony Masterpiece as a five year old. He was turned out to paddock and lived 33 years. Later Hale also paid $300,000 for Magic Marker, who drowned...but he was insured.

In 1966 Harlinsdale Farm got Pride of Midnight. He was a "...horse that you don't need to fix (sore) that way, he does it (gets his foot up) naturally." As Bob Womack writes with such political correctness: "Training devices and training procedures change as the taste of spectators change." He adds that the development of the built up, sored show horse caused the Pleasure Walking Horse to be substantially ignored by the industry. His tactful rendition of the conflicts between the show and pleasure factions of the industry describes how politics and economics have affected the development of the breed in recent years. Pride of Midnight was a turning point toward shifting emphasis on the pleasure riding aspects of the TWH. He died at 18 years of age in 1979.

By December 1970, with the influence of Senator Warren Magnuson of Washington State, Congress passed The Horse Protection Act aimed at eliminating sored horses from across the country. The Humane Society of the United States put pressure on Congress through the American Horse Protection Association, and the US Department of Agriculture inherited the job of enforcing the Act.

By 1990 the National Horse Show Commission was finally formed in a move to solidify unity in the industry. The showpiece of the Walking Horse world is its National Celebration held each fall in Middle Tennessee (Nashville is 60 miles north) at Shelbyville, ten miles west of Wartrace, recognized as the "Cradle of the Walking Horse." There Albert Dement began experimenting with the breeding of Allan F-1 around 1909 which hurried the breed into existence. He made the running walk genetically transmittable. When riders experience the smooth, safe ride of their horses, they have him and countless others mentioned in this book to thank.

There are many more remarks worth quoting in the book but this one by B.A. Skipper, owner of Son of Midnight (sire of Ebony Masterpiece), written about the walk in 1949, is my favorite: "I like speed and will acknowledge my fault of over-riding my own horses. But the sooner we start tying them back and riding them in form, the sooner we will make progress-no horse can be over-ridden and stay in form."

This book is a weighty tome, but I have a bone to pick with the author and publisher, the book is hard to get. It has no ISBN (International Standard Book Number) number so you can't reference it and libraries don't carry it. My wife got it out of an advertisement in Voice magazine. I called the publisher, Dabora, Inc. in Shelbyville, where The Celebration is held, and they couldn't care less about ISBN number. Nor could Bob Womack, I guess, since John C. and Mary Miller left twenty million bucks to Bob's University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee for the erection of a state-of-the-art horse coliseum suitable for the International Championship. There is plenty of resource money for Walkers in Tennessee and they hold it closely, like their information.

Regardless, any serious Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) enthusiast will like this book. It is definitive and takes at least a good week to read. If you already have extensive knowledge of the breed, jump right in, but if you are a beginner, or just slow like me, skip the first 200 pages. I came back to them later, after the rest of the book got me involved in the learning process, and got more out of the detailed, but confusing, assortment of history and pedigrees.
- Bob Howdy


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