"Bess' Free Spirit"

Our National Supreme Versatility Champion

Tennessee Walking Horse


Although we had no idea of how much pleasure he would offer us, Bess' Free Spirit captured our hearts when we set eyes upon him. Even though he was underweight and sporting showy ribs, his incredibly long mane, tail and forelock set him apart from all the other horses we had been considering in our quest for an eye-catching stallion. After contemplating Quarter Horses, Arabians and a Thoroughbred, palominos, blacks, chestnuts, and our favorite, paints, they all amazingly faded from memory as we experienced his smooth gait and boundless energy. Originally owners of grade horses and participants of trail rides, my husband, Lennie, and I knew nothing about Tennessee Walking Horses, except several detrimental fallacies commonly believed by the majority of the horse-related population in the South, such as "Tennessee Walkers can't run" or "you can't ride western on a Tennessee Walker." Spirit helped us to expel these misconceptions, while affording us hours and hours of enjoyment and new experiences.

After purchasing Spirit in June of '83 at nine years of age, we turned him out on 2100 acres with a small band of mares for almost a year since we lived in the city and didn't have a place to work him. Then, in April of '84, several things happened to shape Spirit's future. First, we moved to a place in the country where our surroundings were more conducive to horse-related activities. Second, we found a barn a couple of miles from us we were able to lease, & third, unfortunately, Lennie was in an accident which caused him to miss a couple of months of work. Fortunately, he used this time to establish a working relationship with Spirit, beginning a consistent schedule of daily riding &  introducing the spirited, unruly stallion to the concept of discipline & manners. Together they learned to back, park out, side pass and develop a rocking canter.

With one month's training behind them, Lennie & Spirit entered an open breed horse show under a Quarter Horse judge. Since we were having trouble putting weight on Spirit, he didn't place well in halter, but the duo's flawless performance left no doubt in the judge's mind that they deserved a ribbon in the trail class. This was our first horse show, and it felt really good to place over several dominating Quarter Horses. This small victory was significant in that it was the catalyst in Lennie's determination to further Spirit's show career.

The pair worked together every day after Lennie got off work, seven days a week, whether in freezing rain or blistering heat. This devotion paid off as they diligently worked on communication, and their specialty developed into winning trail classes. Spirit began to almost read Lennie's mind, and as he worked the obstacles, he seemed to be automatic, heeding the most discreet cues, such as lowering his head to appear as if he were "inspecting" an obstacle. Their first trail class blue ribbon was won at their first Tennessee Walking Horse Show, a TWHBEA Heyday in October of '84. At this point, we still knew nothing of what was expected of a pleasure horse in the Tennessee Walker world! We had no idea of how to shoe one or even braid them. Thanks to Sis Osborne, who was covering the Heyday, we were informed of the TWHBEA Versatility Program and, in February of '85, we nominated Spirit.

Meanwhile, we decided to find a solution for Spirit's showy ribs, and after several experiments, we finally hit pay dirt! Originally a light sorrel with a blonde mane and tail, we changed his feed and vitamin supplements and a beautiful, glossy, stream-lined chestnut emerged.

With his newly improved conformation, he started really turning heads! Spirit has an unusually beautiful, refined Arabian-type head, and together with his large, clear eyes, foot-long forelock and two and a half foot mane, the stallion commanded attention everywhere he went. He began the painfully slow process of earning his model points. Stallion classes at most shows are usually small, so 15 points were going to be a challenge, and a challenge they were, as they were the final points he lacked when he made his Championship. Equally as hard for Spirit were his pleasure points, since his previous owner had racked him for most of his life. The coming 11 yr old now had to be taught to slow down and walk under himself. With Lennie's consistent daily regimen coupled with unwavering patience, Spirit began to place in Tennessee Walker shows, and after acquiring their pleasure points, they progressed to reining practice in preparation for their barrel points. Competing in open shows for these points proved to be frustrating, since the competition was so tough, but the duo persisted and began to run times of 19 seconds! Most of the fun at these shows came from watching people's expressions as they discovered they were beaten by a Walking Horse! Spirit was thrilling to watch run poles, as he seemed to effortlessly fly around them, changing leads every other stride.

Keeping it a family affair -- Lennie on "Bess Free Spirit" winning 1st in western reining, and myself on my mare, "Cloud 9 Silvermine" winning 2nd in 1985.

By the end of 1985, his first year in the Versatility Program, the talented stallion had accomplished many of his owners' goals, and we decided to tackle yet another area - driving. We purchased an inexpensive harness and a small training cart, and after a couple of days of ground work with a halter and two lead ropes, Spirit's disposition, willingness and calm acceptance of any obstacle or task put before him gave us the confidence to harness him to the cart and take off! He was a perfect gentleman, and, after a few unsteady turns, quickly taught himself how to side pass between the shafts so that he could almost turn on a dime. A couple of weeks later, Spirit represented his breed in an evening Christmas parade in Baytown, Texas, where we decked him and his cart out in white Christmas lights. He looked like a scene out of The Electric Horseman!

During this time, Spirit was siring beautiful foals for us, many of which were inheriting his color and tendency towards exceptionally long manes and forelocks. In addition, he introduced our daughter, Krystal, to the comfortable world on a Tennessee Walker's back! In a lead-line class when she was two yrs old, we had an anxious moment as she literally fell asleep in the saddle and began to weave back and forth.

At home, Spirit proved to be a more trustworthy and reliable teacher than her Shetland pony, Winnie, who was prone to try any and every trick to get Krystal off her back. Spirit calmly walked around allowing the toddler hours of enjoyment. The only problem the two had in communicating was a confusion in Krystal's "gitty-up" command! She would hold the reins in the air above his neck and kick her legs as hard as she could, which must have felt something like a fluttering butterfly to the stallion, since he would immediately park out. The first time this happened, I was in the barn and hearing Krystal crying, came running while visualizing her lying in the dirt, trampled or worse!! Imagine my relief to see Spirit patiently parked out with the frustrated baby on his back who kept crying, "He won't gitty-up, Mommy!"

As well as he did with our baby, Spirit was equally as good to his babies. We halter broke all our foals by leading them behind their sire, and on days that we were short on time, Lennie would ride Spirit while ponying another of our horses. He also stood patiently for hours on three feet while Lennie learned to shoe and practiced on Spirit, sometimes pulling a shoe off and renailing it two or three times to make it perfect.

By the time 1986 rolled around, we hoped to wrap up Spirit's Supreme Championship, as all we lacked were a couple of pleasure points, all our jumping points, and, of course, those evasive model points. Equally elusive were the jumping points, since interest in Versatility classes in the South is not high. In addition to this impediment was the fact that neither horse nor rider knew anything about jumping, from attire to tactics. With the help of a jumping clinic in April, Lennie learned enough to master the basics, and soon, the team was sailing smoothly over two and three foot fences. Once again Spirit's disposition and willingness were the catalyst in yet another transition.

"Spirit" in the lead line class with Krystal, then about 3 years old.

Lennie and Spirit were well on their way to "Supremehood" when our show itinerary was cut short due to an impending addition to the family, a human addition this time! For three months, all shows were ruled out courtesy of morning sickness (that lasted all day!). Then in May, we took Spirit to the HWHA Spring Show in Houston, where he earned the show high point halter. Seemingly on a roll, Lennie and Spirit attended a gaited horse show in Coldsprings, Texas in July, competing against Missouri Foxtrotters, Paso Finos, Peruvian Pasos and other Tennessee Walkers, where he once again took home the show high point trophy. We were really proud of him at this show, as he exhibited his wonderful disposition and astounding stamina by ending a long, hard day's work in the scorching sun by carrying our three-year-old daughter and eight-year-old niece around the arena while we packed up. What a babysitter! Their giggling could be heard all over the show grounds as they struggled to stay in the saddle while reining him on a dime from one end of the arena to the other.

My increasing girth and discomfort negated any out-of-town shows, so we settled down and decided to enjoy pleasure riding. Meanwhile, we moved again, this time buying our own little farm, and really enjoyed riding in our new neighborhood. While pregnant with our first child, I had ridden a Quarter Horse, and was extremely uncomfortable at four months. This time, I was able to ride Spirit until I was eight months, when I finally got so heavy I could barely walk, much less ride! The nine pound boy was born November 8, and who do you think gave him his first ride? At four weeks of age, I stuffed the new baby in a papoose and Spirit carried us off into the sunset!

1986 turned out to be quite a year for Spirit, even though he didn't make many shows. He managed to claim HWHA high point awards in Model, Games, Versatility and two of his get claimed the High Point and Reserve High Point Weanling honors! In addition, one of his fillies, Classic Cinder, walked away with the HWHA Futurity Grand Championship. By this time, Spirit was only two model points and two jumping points away from his Supreme.

In April of '87, Spirit placed first out of eight horses to complete his jumping requirements at the HWHA Spring Playday. Then, a week later at an open show to benefit the SPCA, he placed first over five Tennessee Walkers in the preliminary halter class and came back in the championship against Arabians and Quarter Horses to earn his final model point. As the show management courteously announced his procurement of the Supreme Championship title, we reflected on the enjoyment and experience Bess' Free Spirit afforded us, along with all the disbelieving people whose opinions regarding Tennessee Walkers were changed when they experienced him.

We wholeheartedly applaud the versatility program, as it encourages people to train and show their horses in such a way that really shows what a beautiful, comfortable, versatile animal he really is!

P. O. Box 878
Hardin, Texas 77561

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