By Ann Bullard

By chance or by a lucky break. That might be the way one would describe Mona Dean getting into the Tennessee Walking Horse business. But whatever the cause, the Dean family’s generational commitment to the industry has been good for Mona, her granddaughter, Jordan, and the horses as a whole. The elder Dean grew up on a farm outside Raleigh. Her son, Proctor, credits Lizard Lick as the family home; Dean says Wendell might be a better description. The family raised tobacco and hogs, and had various mules and horses. "I started out riding mules back from the fields," Dean said, describing her first bareback ventures. "I walked out and someone let me ride back. I had wanted a pony from the time I could remember, and finally got one in the fifth grade."

Dean rode American Saddlebreds while attending Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. It wasn’t until she married that she had ‘that’ horse of her own. "I asked my husband [Proc Dean] to buy me a horse. It so happened that a man who worked for him had a show pleasure walking horse that his wife thought he was spending too much money on," she recalled. "He bought Jeffcoat’s Sir Sam, and showed as Mr. Citgo because we had a Citgo distributorship. They later bought Mike’s Golden Glow from Charles Bobo, remaining with Bobo until he moved to Tennessee in the early 1970s. When Dean was ready to step up a level, she found a good home for the horse. Her second mount was Image’s Sundust. After his death, they stepped up again.

The early 1980s brought a new star to the Deans when they purchased L.G. Edwards’s Prides Glory Be from Bud and Steve Dunn. They placed the gelding with David Polk in Clemmons, N.C. The combination worked, with Mona winning numerous classes in the Carolinas and Virginia and a reserve world championship in the Owner/Amateur Over 15.2 Hands in 1982. "He was my favorite horse until my granddaughter’s came along," Dean said. Critic’s Claim 2 Fame became the Deans’ next headliner, with David Polk riding him to a pair of Aged Geldings Reserve World Championships. Wanting to compete more on Tennessee’s center stage, the family joined Ronnie Spears at his famed stable in Tullahoma.

The mid-1990s found the Deans with their horses in Middle Tennessee. During that eight to 10-year period, Dean enjoyed top rides aboard Favorite’s Mak-Beth (now shown as Born Blonde) and Memory’s Hallelujah. Spears campaigned The Surgeon General (renamed Midnight’s Doctor) while his assistant trainer, Billy Boyd, drove Memory’s Hallelujah to the Lite-Shod Pleasure Driving World Championship.

Spears had nothing but kind words to say about the Dean family, with whom he remains close friends. He has watched Jordan grow up, and step into the role her grandmother relished. "I loved her and Proc both," Spears said with a smile in his voice. "Still do. Mona seems very quiet, but they both are a lot of fun."

Dean stepped back from showing soon after a show ring accident. Meanwhile, Jordan had begun lessons in the Carolinas with Nancy Elliott at Ballentine Farm not far from their home. She occasionally made the trip to Tennessee with her grandmother. "I put her on her first padded horse," Spears said, showing his pleasure in what the young lady has become and achieved. When it was time for Jordan to step up to her own horse, the Deans called on a young man they had known from the time he was a small child. "I first met Chad [Baucom] when he was six-years-old at a horse show where he fell off. He got back on and won," Mona Dean said. They purchased Down On Main Street, a gelding her grandmother calls "an ordinary horse."

"We bought a beginner horse to see if she was going to be interested in it," Baucom said. "She probably was as good a sport as I’ve ever seen. I think she showed two full seasons, earning only one blue. She was tickled to death every time she got a ribbon." Down On Main Street was a "pony-going horse" compared with Jordan’s next 17-hand mount. "She outgrew him and we bought JFK Again," Baucom said. "It was a big change for Jordan and it took a while to adjust. We all had big expectations and Jordan was disappointed that she didn’t win the first time. She did in 11 & Under the next year."

Dean, her husband, son, daughter-in-law, Amy and grandson, Carl, along with a host of friends cheered as Jordan rode the big gelding to reserve in one section of the 2007 Owner Amateur Youth 11 & Under Geldings qualifier. They lined up for pictures after her win in the division’s world grand championship.

Last season, the Deans stepped up again, adding three-year-old I’m Rocky Balboa to Jordan’s mounts. Baucom, his son, Tyler, and Rhonda Mosley won top ribbons aboard the gelding, with Mosley earning a reserve in the Owner Amateur Three-Year-Old Mares & Gelding class at the Celebration. Jordan experienced blue-ribbon rides at Morganton, N.C., and in the North Carolina State Championships at Asheville during the fall. "Jordan wasn’t old enough to show amateur at the Celebration," Baucom explained. I’m Rocky Balboa is something of a ‘family horse.’ Jordan’s brother claims partial ownership. Although basketball, not horses, is his sport, he is firmly attached to the charismatic gelding.

Jordan spoke of what sharing horses with her grandmother means to her. "Grandmona sort of got me started," the 13-year-old said, conceding that "at first I didn’t like it very much. After I got more confident, I really started enjoying it a lot. It’s made us really close; we can talk about horses for hours." She loves to ride and show, and says her newest mount "is really fast." Yet she has a serious side as well. Her goals: to become an English teacher and, in her dreams, to be aboard her horse making the final victory pass in the big oval on Saturday night.

Proctor Dean cheers from the sidelines. After falling off his first four times in the saddle, he decided being supportive was his role in the sport. "All my life, I never remember being without a walking horse," he said, putting his and similar families’ roles in the business in perspective. "We’ve enjoyed it, had some success and made a lot of friends. For every Bill Johnson, there are a couple of hundred owners like our family."

Folks like this are the backbone of the industry.