Some people are given the ability and talent needed to work, train, and guide a horse to greatness. These people spend countless and often times thankless hours as they prepare the horse entrusted to them for the show ring. For 35 years, Don Milligan dedicated his time and talent toward developing champion Tennessee Walking Horses. Some of the great horses who made their mark in history under Don's skilled direction include Ebony's Black Hawk E., Ebony's Frank John, Pride's Miss Jane, Ebony's Cover Girl, Kerchie's Ebony Boy, Threat's Cargo, Senator's Emperor, Pride's Delight H H, Another Masterplan, Delight's Winter Hawk, Premier's Countess, Pusher's Doing Time, Jet's Mona Lisa, Centennial Delight, Hytone Shaker, Gen's April Showers, Generator's Gunsmoke, Crimson Parader, Hawk's American Made, Knight Bummer, Beam's High Tide, Collector's Misty Blue, Generator's Fantasia, Gen's Valentine Lady and Design's Lady Di.

Don's association with horses started at an early age. He was raised on a farm in the capital of the walking horse industry, Shelbyville, Tennessee. He also recalls his father, the late D.W. Milligan, telling him stories about working with legendary trainer and horseman, Winston Wiser. Still, even with this small exposure to the horse industry, Don never dreamed that he would one day be a part of it until he started working with C.A. Bobo and realized he enjoyed working with horses.

The achievements Don made throughout his career serve as proof of the effort and devotion he has shown toward each horse placed under his guidance.

In 1966 Don was job searching. His search led him to legendary trainer C.A. Bobo. Don started working for Bobo and continued to do so for the next six years. He learned a great deal from Bobo, including just how much determination and endurance would be needed if he planned to pursue this type of career. Both of these attributes were tested during Milligan's employment.

An example of this was when Bobo would have Milligan ride colts bareback during the initial training process. This experience was one of the "most unforgettable," according to Don, he encountered during his humble beginning.

Although the job was tough, it had its moments of reward and celebration. One such moment came when Bobo rode to win the most coveted title in the industry, the World Grand Championship, atop Sensational Shadow. For Don, working with the World Grand Champion and being part of the team that prepared him for his victory was almost as exciting as riding under the spotlight.

Don's next achievement was not in the horse industry, but it was definitely an important one. In December, 1971 he married Elaine Cartwright, who has always been - and still is - by his side with support and encourgement

The next transition for Don's career occurred when he began training alongside professional horseman Billy Gray. Gray would be one of the most influential figures Milligan would be exposed to during the early part of his career. Milligan worked with Gray until 1977. It was during this time Milligan achieved a monumental goal - his first Celebration blue ribbon. This goal was achieved in Three-Year-Old Geldings class with Kerchie's Ebony Boy as Don skillfully guided the talented gelding to his inaugural win and gave the industry a taste of what he could do as a trainer and rider.

Don's next step in his training career was to go out on his own. With the knowledge and experience earned from working with Bobo and Gray, Don began shaping the future of many of the industry's leading horses.

One of these horses was noted sire of Black Vengeance and Out On Parole and talented performer as well, Pusher's Doing Time. Pusher's Doing Time was placed under Milligan's guidance just before he turned four by owner, Walt Chism. Chism was almost ready to give up on his Pusher stallion but that all changed when Don Milligan entered the picture. He worked with Pusher's Doing Time and prepared him for the wins he achieved at Cornersville and McMinnville. Shortly after this, the mighty stallion was faced with several health problems and soon was suffering from an eye condition that was destroying his pupil in one eye. Doctors at the University of Tennessee declared Pusher's Doing Time was being completely blind in one eye. This tragic blow would end Doing Time's show ring career. Well almost.

Just when everyone had almost given up on Doing Time, Walt Chism took him back to Don. The only catch, Chism never told Don he was blind in one eye. Not long after this Chism asked Don if he thought the horse could see out of both eyes; Don's response was yes. This stunned Chism and the doctors, who now wished to reexamine him.

The new test results proved Don right Pusher's Doing Time could now show again. The combination of talented rider and talented horse proved to be a lethal one. Don and Doing Time went on to become leading competitors in the aged stallion ranks. In fact, Don measured Doing Time's back stride to be a whopping 13 feet! This figure alone was an example of the natural talent possessed by the competitive team. "He (Don) made Pusher's Doing Time. I give him full credit for all of Doing Time's success," stated Walt Chism.

Don enjoyed trips to the winner's circle at the Celebration aboard several horses. After winning the Three-Year-Old Geldings World Championship in 1976, he returned to win the same class in 1981 with Another Masterplan.

One of Milligan's favorite and most noted horses was the great Beam's High Tide. The Milligan/High Tide combination was definitely a powerful one. Together they swept through the open ranks across Tennessee. The pair started their blue ribbon campaign in the two-year-old open competition winning such shows as Fayetteville, Eagleville, and Lewisburg. Following an impressive season of wins, the pair went on to place third in a competitive two-year-old world championship class at the Celebration.

Many of the championship wins credited to Milligan came from his preparation of amateur riders and their mounts. One of the most notable was that of Centennial Delight in 1989. Wayne Putnam rode the well-trained horse to the win in the Amateur Stake at the Celebration, a high honor and coveted reward for both the rider and the trainer.

The 1997 Celebration was quite a year for Don and the Durwood Stewart family. Milligan prepared Collector's Misty Blue and Gen's Valentine Lady for their world championship honors with Rhonda Stewart. He also readied Generator's Fantasia for a reserve win with Stewart that year.

The beautiful and skilled Crimson Parader started his world championship career with Milligan, who started the strawberry roan horse and showed him in the open two-, three-, and four-year-old ranks, as well as preparing him for amateur competition.

Numerous world champion horses would spend time during their show ring career under Don Milligan's guidance and care. Milligan's skills as a trainer are not only recognized by his customers, but by his peers as well. Expert horsemen like Billy Gray and Bill Bobo both have nothing but praise and admiration for Don. To be acknowledged by one's fellow horsemen is a great compliment, one Don Milligan has earned.

Another talent Milligan shares with the walking horse industry is that of his fair and knowledgeable judging. He has successfully judged major shows across the south including Wartrace, Pulaski, Jackson, Fayetteville and the International, to name a few.

Although Milligan no longer trains walking horses, he is still very involved with the industry. In August, he will judge the popular Belfast, Tennessee, horse show. Following that, Milligan will take on the high honor and duty of judging the Celebration.

For Milligan, judging the Celebration is great accomplishment as well as a great responsibility. Many seek the position of judging the "world's greatest horse show," but few ever get the opportunity.

"It is something that I have always wanted to do," states Milligan, concerning judging the Celebration. "It is a privilege, and I am really looking forward to it," he continues.

During his 35 years in the horse business, Don has enjoyed success in nearly every facet of the industry. Blue ribbon or no ribbon Milligan bases a win not on the judge's decision, but on whether or not he and the horse have made their best effort.

For Don the greatest reward and enjoyment for him in the business is not tricolor acclaim, but the experience of bringing a colt along and watching the progress of it as it continues its career. "It's kind of like raising a kid," comments Milligan.

If that is true, Don Milligan has been quite a father.

Don and Elaine have a wonderful daughter, April, who teaches at Thomas Intermediate in Shelbyville and has just completed her Masters from Middle Tennessee State University.

Today, Don manages Quail Valley Hunt Club, a hunt preserve in Bedford County, Tennessee. Here, Milligan gives groups of approximately 25 people the chance to experience the thrills and enjoyment found in hunting. Milligan, an avid hunter himself, will no doubt show his new field of interest the same dedication and commitment that he showed the walking horse industry.