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The Biggest Little Horse in the Barn



Editor’s Note: Walking Horse Report is honored to share this tribute to a much-loved horse who belonged to the Medford Knowles family of Nettleton, Miss.

by Penne Warren

The last glimpse I had of him was as he came out the front door of the barn. He was by himself, as usual, often left to roam freely, heading anywhere he had the strength and the notion to venture. His official show name was Short Street, but he was Shorty to all who knew him. As I saw him I called to him from the back porch of my mother and father’s house, “Shorty!”.  Almost in the same step as I spoke to him, he spun around and headed  right back into the shadow of the opening to the long barn, the home he had known for over 40 years.

Shorty had a long and triumphant life, proudly carrying his rider to victory after victory in the show ring. Dressed in all the finery of a performance Tennessee Walking Horse…ribbons, fine English saddles, tail sets, glossy black painted hoofs with fresh shoes, his body  all washed and shined, his mane and tail brushed and combed to the  finest shimmer and softness, Shorty was a vision to see…ready to go to the horse show and make a show!  Many times I had seen my father and others that were privileged enough to have ridden Shorty, climb up on him and take off for the grand exhibition. And just as many times, Shorty had carried them to the show ring and given his rider and the crowd, no matter how big or how small the number, the thrill of seeing a walking horse perform the walk and the canter done by a master of his craft. The number of trophies and ribbons that Shorty accumulated over his lifetime is too high to count. The number of admirers he had was as great as the prizes he achieved.

Even though Shorty was not a grand size walking horse, he was tremendous in our eyes. As a matter of fact he was quite small for a walking horse and for a male horse on top of that. He portrayed what we called the Napoleon syndrome…big man in little britches. He displayed a big attitude, a high headedness so to speak. In his stall, he was the owner of and the captain of his ship. He would often bite into the air at us through the window to his stall but never would he actually bite us, it was just a play act he performed. Once we entered into his stall with him, he was as docile as a lamb. His attitude was always that of an equine with a generous level of pride and confidence. He carried himself as well and as pronounced as any other horse twice his size and stature. He would stand just as tall in the line-up during the judging of the horses and pose just as royally as any of his opponents. 

Shorty always showed admirably when put to the task, would show off to please his rider and the crowd, but he often “showed out” as well. He was of a mind to ride in the horse trailer alone.  He was that great and he was that important in his mind.  He would throw up his head, snort and kick when we tried to put another horse in the trailer with him. One time, he actually flipped upside down in protest. Pop had to unload the other horse, get another person to put that one on his horse trailer, and get Shorty back up and then head to the show.  Once there, Shorty did just what he was supposed to do…show and win. 

Many times, Shorty carried not only his rider faithfully but also our great flag. At horse shows throughout our country the American flag is proudly displayed by horse and rider. We could always count on Shorty. He carried his burden gracefully, seemingly with reverence as to what it was and for what it stood. Then as the rider guided him around the ring as the National Anthem was heard by all, his head would be set perfectly and he would be in perfect rhythm. As the rider parked him for the prayer he would stand like a statue, frozen at attention. As the crowd cheered and clapped as Shorty, the flag, and his rider left the show ring, Shorty would seem to burst with pride and satisfaction of a job well done.

Shorty is gone now. He lived to the ripe old age of 40 years, quite a long time for a horse. In his last days, he wasn’t as graceful as he once was. His coat and mane were not as shiny and sleek.  He had not been ridden for many years for fear that he might be injured by the weight of a rider. We spoiled him with range cubes and as much of the best hay as he could eat. As the other horses kept in the barn were fed, Shorty would have the lofty privilege of walking behind the wheelbarrow and eating out of it at his leisure. He would stop and stare at the horses inside the other stalls, raise his head and look as if he were sneering at them, saying, “ I am out here and you are in there”.

Many tears have been shed over Shorty and our loss of him, but the memory of tides of laughter that were loosed at his antics of running up and down our long barn hallway, playing with the pet goat, the cats, picking at the dogs, whinnying, biting into the thin air at any who would speak to him will carry us on. In his last days, many times we had to help him to stand as his body was stiff with age. Even at the lowest times, you could still see the pride in his eyes and feel the determination in his gait as he would take off in a burst of energy…like a firecracker. Shorty would, of course, as always go back to being himself, the biggest little horse in the barn.

Our beloved horse Shorty had been in the Knowles Stables for most of his 40 years of life. He came to us as an unruly, half-trained walking horse colt. With much love and patience, and dedicated training by my father, Medford Knowles, who is an honored member of the Walking Horse Hall of Fame, Shorty had become a mainstay at our stables in Nettleton, Miss. We will miss Shorty’s presence, his displays of character, and will remember him so that his name and legacy will live on forever.

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