By Sadie Fowler 

Rising Star Ranch breeding manager David Williams wears many hats in the world of Tennessee Walking Horse breeding. His intellect, passion and desire make him a resourceful asset to the breed and its future.

Williams currently manages 22 different stallions at Rising Star, which also provides breeding services for many different breeds of horses. He’s also in his second term as president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association.

“I am a very personable person who is truly interested in what others do,” Williams said. “If you ask me a question, prepare for the truth as I see believe ... My greatest joy is when good things happen to good people.” 

A native of Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, Williams has been married to his beautiful wife Teresa for 30 years. They have three children; Bevin Anne Orlando Williams is a lawyer in Columbia, Tennessee; David Walton Williams, Jr. is a welder in Eagleville, Tennessee; and Buie MacAlester Williams is currently a sophomore at MTSU studying finance. 

Williams, a busy man who values his family and work above all, is a Christian and attends World Outreach Church. On his rare downtime, he also likes to fish and enjoys raising German Rottweilers, which he calls his own “personal Secret Service and the most loyal dogs they’ve ever raised.” However, horses take up most of his time.

“Most of my time is spent at the barn caring for the horses,” he said. “It is my vocation and my avocation.”
Featured in a Q&A style interview with Walking Horse Report’s Sadie Fowler, Williams shares insight into his life and his perspective on the Tennessee Walking Horse breeding industry.

Fowler: Let’s start with the basics. Describe to me your personality.

Williams: I have somewhat OCD tendencies and things need to be in a certain order. My greatest joy is when good things happen to good people. I can be emotional at times with some saying “I’m hot headed,” which I don’t see. Sometimes I just have reached my fill and I overflow. I don’t socialize much or “hang out” much with others. I spend most of my free time with my family. 

Fowler: What do you love about your job and why do you do what you do?

The daily interaction with the horses is a huge benefit to what I do. The exposure I have daily to so many different horses gets me very in tune to what is going on with horses physically and mentally. I definitely love what I do to a fault. Many times, I overdue it and spend too much time at the barn and have to be reminded I do have a home to go to. I, like many others, feel when I am at the barn all’s right in the world.

How did you get where you are now? Tell me where your knowledge and passion comes from as well as who has influenced your path. 

My first exposure to Tennessee Walking Horses came through my father. My father was Dr. J.O. Williams — he was a family physician. His good friend and colleague Dr. Roy Harmon, who had been involved in showing Tennessee Walking Horses for years, “infected” my father with the “bug.” That virus spread to me and my younger brother Tommy. We begin showing out of Jack Warren’s barn in Spring Hill, Tennessee and as many do my father had to build his own barn, which he did in Mount Pleasant. 

Our trainers over the years at that barn included Jack Littrell, Howard Adkinson, Jimmy Holder, Wayne Dean, and Larry Derryberry. I have shown horses out of many other barns including Billy and Tim Gray, Joe Fleming, Ralph Hensley, Bill Bobo, Ronal Young, and many others. Some of my top favorite horses to show were Magic’s Calico Boy who I won the 1978 Walking Pony World Grand Championship, Ebony’s Corvette, Bronze’s Bittersweet, Delight’s Confusion, and Wilson Dean’s Boss Man among many other “less than famous” horses we showed. We enjoyed them all.

I didn’t have much interaction with horses during my early college years. I studied chemistry and was involved in the industrial chemical business working as a shift worker in the manufacturing process and also in the lab.

At one point, my brother Lee Williams, who was a very good friend with Steve Smith, wanted to get back involved with showing yearlings so he purchased one from Steve and “we” (meaning I) showed yearlings. That progressed to selling yearlings and running Locust Hill Farms for Dr. Andrew Sisk. I had a very enjoyable time working for Dr. Sisk while I was also working in the chemical industry. We sold many record-selling yearlings at Wiser Farm during the mid to late 90s.

This progressed to working from the stallion end of the breed and I went to work at Twin Hills owned by Hoil Walker. There I stood many top horses including WGC The Touch, reserve WGC Pride’s Pattern and what I consider one of the top spotted breeding horses of all time, Spotted Alen Again.

Fowler: How did your career progress from there?

Williams: From there I was hired by Blackhawk Farms in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Working for the Smiths, I stood Pusher’s Black Hawk and Generator’s Showboat, All American Cash (who I still manage today), Olympic’s Energizer, among many others.

Then I went for my first “tour of duty” at Rising Star Ranch. We carried many of the same horses I had at Blackhawk and added others to the list such as WGC Electrifying, Colors In General, Motown Motion, and others and were developing a very good breeding line-up. I then got a call form Waterfall Farms, owned by Bill Johnson, to come and manage the stallions owned by the Johnsons. They included greats like He’s Puttin’ On The Ritz, JFK, Generator’s Santana, Jose’ Jose’, Lined With Cash, The Titleist, Gen’s Black Gin and many others.

When Waterfall went through some financial difficulties I was able to move back to Rising Star with a great line-up of stallions and combine them with the top line-up of stallions Rising Star had acquired to manage after I departed, which included The Stonecutter, Ted Williams and WGC Main Power. We’ve added other great young stallions to that line up including WGC Gen’s Black Maverick, WGC I Am Jose’, WGC Walk Time Charlie and WGC Arm’s Deal For Real, WGC He’s Slim Shady, WGC Watch It Now, WGC Line Item Veto, WGC Lined Up At The Ritz and Res. WC Blue Blooded Bandit. We have a great program here and try to offer the best stallions and service we can provide.

In my time I believe I have been part of the breeding management for well over 250 different stallions and have interacted with the owners of thousands of mares. Over the years, I have been involved in caring and breeding 14 different “Big Stake” winners.

Who have been your greatest influences?

My great influences in the reproductive side have been the many vets I interact with daily. They include Dr. Krista Gilliam, Dr. Richard Wilhelm, Dr. Randy Baker, Dr. Jim Baum, Dr. Steve Mullins and the many I deal over the phone that aren’t local.

My greatest influence in breeding horses is easily Steve Beech. Steve taught me more about the breeding of horses and horse folks in general than anyone could learn anywhere. For that I will always be grateful.

Have you always known this is what you wanted to do or was there ever a time you thought of doing something different?

Animal Husbandry has always had my interest. Even before horses and dogs I raised aquarium fish, so the biological process has always intrigued me. I enjoy the promoting part of stallions and showcasing their attributes whether they be physical, on their pedigree, or their show ring accomplishments. At one time, I was contacted by a thoroughbred farm in Lexington to become a part of their staff, but Tennessee Walking Horses and the history I have with the breed is hard to walk away from. 

My father wanted one of his sons to be a doctor but sitting in school has never had my interest as much as learning by doing and for some reason that won’t get you a medical license.

Fowler: What do you like most about Rising Star?

Frank and Debbie Eichler are wonderful people to work for. All of the owners of the stallions I currently manage are outstanding folks. The farm was built by Herb McJunkin with the help of architects from Texas A&M so the layout is quite efficient and easy to work in. The seasonal changes that I see each day on the farm are beautiful to watch.

Fowler: Describe your role with TWHBEA. Pros? Cons?

Williams: I’m in my second term as president and I have also served the Breeders’ operating division as vice president for a few years. A pro of being involved is being able to help drive the conversation on what our registry can best do to serve our members. Sometimes when you don’t have people involved that are actually doing the day to day things of raising and registering horses you can miss what their experiences are and their needs to improve their experience. 

A con currently is that many things TWHBEA did in the past are done by other inter-breed entities. Now the show rules and governance is done by the HIO’s, and some do this very well and provide great venues for our exhibitor’s. But many horse people do forget that TWHBEA has no authority over the show ring or the HIOs. When they have an issue, they still often address that issue to TWHBEA. 

We try and forward them to the party to which they need to speak, but it was somewhat easier to solve problems with horse enthusiasts and government regulatory entities when we could speak with one voice instead of many. That is the nature of the beast today, but I do see more of a positive environment of working together among the Breeders’, Trainers’ Association, Owners’ Association and The Celebration.

Fowler: What is your favorite thing about the Tennessee Walking Horse? It’s best attribute, in your opinion.

Williams: A Tennessee Walking Horse’s attitude and gentleness and wanting to please is greater than I have seen in many other breeds, though there are exceptions to the rule. They are definitely pleasurable to work with.

Fowler: How would you label the current status of the breed registry? Where have we been and where are we headed? Is there anything as it relates to this that walking horse folks often misunderstand?

Our breed registry survives and thrives on our breeders’ production of Tennessee Walking Horses. During the early 2000s — with the downturn in the economy, coupled by the horse slaughter legislation causing many processing houses to shut their doors and the cloud of impending Horse Protection Act rulemaking — a “Perfect Storm” was created. That drove many of our traditional breeders out of business and into other areas. 

Raising a calf was more profitable than raising a colt at that time. The national economy has taken a great turn for the better. It took a few years but the impact of the slaughter legislation has passed somewhat. Currently, the focus on rulemaking changes concerning our show horses have somewhat subsided. 

We are now seeing a return to breeding multiple numbers of mares by individuals. Many breeders are able to sell their foals at weaning without having to carry them another year to sell as yearlings. The demand has increased on the production we have. Current trends show a better foreseeable future for our breed and breed registry TWHBEA.

Tell me a few of your favorite bloodlines and why are they your favorites?

Each bloodline has its many different attributes. My goal is to breed for a well-balanced horse and not all stallions are good choices for all mares. I always had a fondness for Ebony’s Sun Lady and the grandsons she produced. Though I never got to stand one I feel her influence put a great backend on horses and that is something that you have a difficulty training. 

For me, an over striding back-end is the most important part when looking at a young horse to buy. In addition to a great back end a show horse must be able to hold his high and erect. If a young horse cannot naturally put his head in the right place it will be difficult teaching him to. Many combination of bloodlines can get you the desired result. It’s just matching them up properly to increase your odds at success.

Fowler: Is there a less common or underutilized bloodline out there? (Like a hidden gem if you will)

Williams: He was such a phenomenal show horse but had a somewhat obscure pedigree on his dam’s side that many of us horse breeders weren’t intrigued by The Black Night Shade. His sire Posion was a top stallion but his dam’s side was hard to sell to established breeders. 

We were wrong. He produced many top show horses early on and his broodmares are very sought after. They are literally impossible to find for sale. I’m glad to be standing his son He’s Slim Shady today.

What are your favorite bloodline crosses? Least favorite? Why?

Favorite? Jose’ Jose’ bred to a Generator mare is hard to beat (I Am Jose’ being a product of that cross). I believe there are more show horses bred this way than any other bloodline cross. Lined With Cash, bred to a He’s Puttin On The Ritz mare, is another. But I run across great results when a stallion is matched to a complimenting mare in terms of physical and pedigree attributes. I base most of my data on what the typical stereotype of that pedigree is. Even though your individual may differ from the stereotype. I treat it like the stereotype. My results usually prove me right.

Least favorite? Even though I thought Seve was a phenomenal show horse some of his mares I deal with can be delicately put as “difficult to deal with.” Pushover mares can get the same moniker. You combine the two; I’d rather breed alligators.

What are people in the business of breeding currently doing right? Is there something they could be doing differently?

They are more informed. Information leads to better results. We have gone from the word of mouth mentoring era to being able to quantify the results of certain crosses and duplicating the successful matings. Data collection, such as what the IPEDS program at TWHBEA provides, and other data disseminating programs, such as the Stallion Report and Progeny Search of the Walking Horse Report, makes those successful crosses easily identifiable.

Fowler: What am I not asking that readers of this stallion issue might want or need to know?

The horse business is on a tremendous upswing. As of late we see more and more foals being bought and sold before weaning time and at record prices. There is a demand on all walking horses no matter what they are used for. I get as many calls from field trial and pleasure riding people looking for that perfect horse as I do those looking for that top show ring prospect. 

The down turn in our breed’s production has created a supply and demand scenario we haven’t seen in a very long time. If you had an interest in breeding horses now would be the time to start. The landscape is very fertile. 

Even though that sounds like a great sales ploy by someone who makes his living breeding horses, I can assure you it is the truth.