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Barron Witherspoon, Sr., Family and Horses: A Legacy

Editor’s Note: The following article is being reprinted with permission from the 2017 fall edition of Savory magazine.
by Linda Fox

Many are aware of Barron Witherspoon Sr.'s amazing climb from an entry level role in Field Advertising to his appointment as Global Vice President of Industry Affairs at Procter and Gamble. Many also know that he is an Ordained Minister who authored the book, The Fallacy of Affinity, describing his belief that diversity in Christian congregations and cross cultural worship is what God has planned all along. Many know how Barron gives back to the community through service on the Tuskegee University Board of Trustees and as Chairman of the National Board of Directors for INROADS Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on development and career preparation for talented, underserved youth. 

Many do not know that the Witherspoon name has been synonymous with great horses dating back to the 19th century. It seems that it was very advantageous for a slave to have a " feel" for horses. If he could recognize each horse's worth, individuality and ability and could train and develop that ability, his knowledge could earn him many privileges, including being able to leave the plantation for horse-related tasks.  Barron's great grandfather Andrew Witherspoon was just such a horseman. 

During this time a new breed of horse was being developed in middle Tennessee. A horse derived from the blood of the Narragansett and Canadian Pacer, Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Morgan and American Saddlebred. A horse who was intelligent, kind, gentle, surefooted and calm. A horse that could easily travel great distances in a day.  A horse with a special four beat gait who could carry his rider between four and seven miles an hour. A horse that the Plantation owner could ride in the fields all day and neither horse nor rider would be fatigued by nightfall.  A horse that would one day become the refined and elegant star of the show ring. A horse who could gather huge, adoring crowds to watch him perform his three gaits: the flat foot walk, the running walk and the canter in fierce competition. A horse who would one day generate the sale of nearly a quarter-million tickets to fans from more than forty states to watch the best of the best compete in a show called The Celebration. A horse who would carry the name of the very state he was conceived in, the Tennessee Walking Horse. 

The Witherspoon horse legacy began when Andrew taught his sons about horses, which included Barron’s maternal grandfather, also named Andrew. The young Andrew handed down his ability, philosophy and expertise with horses to his sons including Sam, Phil, Frank and Jay, Barron's uncles. The uncles were very actively and professionally involved in the Walking Horse business, well before it was fashionable for African Americans to work in any capacity other than grooms. They worked as a team, taking on the various tasks of training and management of the business which would become known as "Witherspoon Brothers Stables." Sam and Frank gained significant notoriety as trainers and Jay was their ground man. A ground man seldom actually rides, he is, however, well versed in and very knowledgeable of his breed or type of horse. He stays on the ground, studies a horse's behavior and movement and is able to recognize problems and make suggestions on shoeing, equipment, etc., to help that particular animal reach his full potential. Together the Witherspoons gained a reputation for making great horses from lesser quality colts and for being able to transform an older horse that other trainers might not be getting along with into showring champions. 

Having been born in New York and now growing up in Florida, Barron could hardly wait for each summer to arrive so he and all his cousins could meet "at home in Nashville." While the girls were in the kitchen gathering old family recipes and learning about secret ingredients, the boys went to the barn. Barron was always hanging around listening and watching as his uncles took an unbroken two-year-old colt and through nutrition, care, patience, understanding and training developed him into a fine and valuable showring competitor. In fact, many enthusiasts in the industry will remember great contenders such as "The Mighty Red Man", "Go Boy's Revenue", "Go Boy's Flying Cloud" and "Delight's Can Do" all who had their start with Witherspoon Brothers Stables. Barron soon began to realize that the horse legacy, that "feel" for horses that his great grandfather, Andrew, had instilled in his sons, so many years ago, was growing in his own heart. This was an animal that he loved, a place that he loved, a place that made him happy, a place that felt like home.

As the years passed and Barron's beautiful family grew, his various work and philanthropic efforts took them to several countries to live.  But, even then, the innate attraction and pull of the Walking Horse never diminished. After much thought, Barron came to the realization that his heart was not so much in the training of performance horses but in the raising of colts. He liked the idea of selecting top producing brood mares and then choosing which stallion that they would cross best with.  

His goal was to breed the most talented, promising colts possible and to provide those colts with the best nutrition and care available. He wanted his colts handled carefully and to be sound and strong in both body and mind. His plan was to breed colts that buyers wanted and trainers welcomed into their programs. He wanted his colts to be primed and ready to face and meet the challenges at hand.  He wanted them to be able to excel in the direction their natural talent and inclination took them whether it be trail or rail, plantation or performance.   

Barron set his plan in motion when he purchased some very special property in Williamsport, TN. which he promptly christened Witherspoon Meadows. At about the same time, a beautiful black stallion named "Genius' Black Shadow" sired by the great Pride's Genius, one of the industry's most prolific studs, was selected to sire the future colts. Ground was soon broken and the stables at Witherspoon Meadows were getting underway.

Making the stables a reality called for long commutes for Barron and the work was hard, tedious and spanned years. It, however, was a true labor of love and Barron never once wavered from his original plan. During this time, a few mares were bred and from these crossings several good colts emerged. One outstanding colt, "Parole Breaker", sired by World Grand Champion “Out On Parole”, enjoyed much showring success with Barron aboard. Like the Witherspoon men before him, Barron had found his niche in the Walking Horse World. 

The stables are completed and the farm has become a place of tranquil beauty. Happy and healthy mares and their foals revel in the peace and quiet of their large paddocks in the Maury County, Tennessee countryside.

Barron is currently showing a beautiful, talented bay gelding named Colorado Ritz in the amateur performance division to much acclaim. A gentleman who is especially gifted at teaching others the handling and training of colts and who has a wealth of knowledge, gained over many decades of working with Tennessee Walking Horses, can still be found on the old family farm now transformed into a beautiful Walking Horse facility. Barron's Eighty-year-old, Uncle Jay is there keeping a watchful eye on the daily happenings. 

Barron lives an extremely busy, fast paced, corporate life but he is never far away from the farm and horses, even if sometimes it is only in his heart. He, however, squeezes in every opportunity to visit Witherspoon Meadows.  Time is also spent traveling to various show venues, in several states, to meet his trainer and Colorado Ritz for competitions. In fact, just this past August, at the 2017 World Grand Championship Show, the Tennessee Walking National Celebration, Barron and Colorado Ritz had the honor of being chosen 5th in the world in their division by a panel of five judges. Barron has much support and love from a strong "horse show family," made up of like-minded friends he has met along the way, who also love, show and promote the great Tennessee Walking Horse. 

One day Barron plans to make his beloved Witherspoon Meadows his permanent home. To him, it isn't just about the horses and the land, it’s about the love, beliefs and values passed down through generations...It's about LEGACY. 

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