By Mitzi Oxford

There is a famous quote in the Academy award winning movie Titanic, ‘It’s been 84 years and I can still smell the fresh paint. It was the Ship of Dreams. It was, it really was.”

The smell of freshly painted barns on the Celebration grounds, the taste of the famous Optimist Club donuts, the touch of a flowing mane, the sounds of a four-beat organ rhythm, the announcers call to a class and the sight of the traditional white flag horse at the beginning each night of classes, are all a delight for the senses. 
For generations of families in the walking horse industry, riding and showing have created dreams come true through dads and granddads, sisters and brothers and children who’ve continued the tradition. Some go all the way back 15 years before the Titanic sank to the Paschal family. 

Chalmas Paschal was a Rutherford County farmer and walking horse breeder. His entries were numerous at many shows in Middle Tennessee. He had two sons, Sam and Donald. They were trainers and exhibitors who later took a place in walking horse history. Between the Paschal brothers, they won five World Grand Championships in the 1950s and 60s. 

That feat has only been duplicated twice since the Celebration began, by brothers Jimmy and Jackie McConnell and by Allan Callaway and his sons, Bill and John Allan. Rare air indeed.

Through the years the Bobos, the Webbs, the Groovers, the Tillets, the Edwards, the McConnells, the Dericksons and the Callaways are just a few of the many families whether through ownership, training or showing have fulfilled dreams and thrilled fans in the walking horse world. 

Enter the Harney family

There are so many memories made in the walking horse industry it would be hard to count all the ways. Your first horse, your first show, your first blue ribbon and seeing your children and grandchildren compete in the Celebration, all fulfill big dreams. So, it is for the Harney family who enjoy a long history in the walking horse business.

“In the mid-1930s, my granddaddy raised pleasure walking horses and was one of the first owners to hire a trainer. He had a black mare, but back then everyone wanted a horse with spots or distinctive coloring. When he was able to sell her for a decent price to a family in Texas, he was really excited,” said John Harney.
That black mare was named Merry Walker. She was the only mare to foal two world grand champions, Go Boy’s Shadow in 1955 and 1956, and Rodgers Perfection in 1959. Merry Walker herself was sired by the great Merry Boy, whose monumental impact on the Tennessee Walking Horse breed is evidenced through the offspring of his daughters. Merry Walker is one of five Merry Boy mares who produced six horses that won the World Grand Championship nine times.  

John’s father Jack was also in the business, raising broodmares and colts on his farm in Murfreesboro. John followed in their footsteps as the third generation of Harney horsemen. One of the highlights of his career was winning the 15.2 & Under World Grand Championship title on Delight’s Crackerjack. 

John met his wife Debbie when she worked for the Voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse magazine. She put together his advertisements. She must have done a stellar job. They’ve been married for 45 years. The Harney’s had two children, Jaclyn and Justin, both grew up riding and showing world class walking horses.
“Riding and showing was such a big part of my life growing up. One of my favorite memories was winning three championships at the Celebration on Good Evening. He was hyper and loved going into that big ring,” explained Jaclyn Harney Williams, “The last time I showed Good Evening he was 19 years old, he’s now 31 and living the good life at my parents’ farm.”

Her brother Justin also grew up showing horses. His first world championship title was on his pony Royal’s Dark Bum in 2002. It was only the beginning. Later Justin won two world championship titles on Jazz Eclipse. Last year he took the blue in the Owner-Amateur Two-Year-Old Stallions class on Walk The Lime. This year, trainer Clay Sanderson will be showing the award-winning stud at the Celebration.

Justin will be in the lineup during this year’s TWHNC in the Owner-Amateur Four-Year-Old Stallions class on Primo. He will also be showing Franchesca in the Two-Year-Old filly class.

Winning at love and in the show ring

In many respects, a generational family love for horses is in the genes and mirrors the progeny that comes from world-class sires and dams from the very beginning of the breed. While each generation may have its differences, times change and people adapt, but one thing that seems to remain consistent is love.
Not only did both Jaclyn and Justin frequently find their way into the winner’s circle, but they also eventually found love through the walking horse business, just like their dad John. 

Jaclyn and Chad Williams met through the horse business and later married in 2005.

“Chad’s family wasn’t in the horse business, but he and Buddy Mason were best friends growing up. Buddy’s dad was horse trainer David Mason. Every day they got off the school bus together at David Mason’s Stables,” Jaclyn said, “Chad loved being at the barn and helping David when he could.”

Of course, David would go down in Celebration history for guiding The Super Stock to the World Grand Championship in 1977. From there Chad went to work for the Bill Bobo Stables and then opened his own barn in 1996.

As a trainer, Chad ran a successful training business for many years with several world grand championships, including Roll The Gold, Rocky Mountain Sky and He’s Vida Blue, to name a few.

Meanwhile, her brother, Justin, met Rebekah Smith through the horse business, and they married 10 years ago. They will be celebrating their anniversary a week after the Celebration.

The Smith family

Rebekah’s dad, Jimmy Smith, and her grandfather, John, had both been in the walking horse business. In 1996, her dad bought Coin’s Clown from her grandfather to campaign for the Juvenile 11 & Under title. Their first show resulted in her first world championship. They would repeat that accomplishment again in 1997 and 1998.

“It was my first world championship win and there’s just nothing else like it,” Rebekah explained.

Her dad Jimmy guided the same horse to his first world championship in the Classic Horse competition. The Smith family also had a stable of winners including World Champion Jose’s Vengeance, World Champion One Bad Hombre and World Champion and World Grand Champion Folsom Prison Blues. Like Good Evening, Folsom Prison Blues in now living a good life on the Smith family farm. His story doesn’t stop there.
“We raised his first offspring, Roseanne Cash, and she won the Two-Year-Old filly class in 2014.”

Building different kinds of dreams

There is some irony in the fact that the Harney, Smith and Williams families have taken similar paths in the last 20 years. 

John Harney desired to pursue a different direction from training horses to better provide for his family. His entrance into the real estate profession came with much help and encouragement from his own father, Jack. After getting his license in 1984, John joined his father in business. 

“My dad was a great mentor to me, giving me a big leg up in the understanding of the business until his death in 1987,” John said. “Then Bob Parks gave me a tremendous opportunity to come to his company in 1989 where I started to solely concentrate on commercial and real estate development.”

John’s son Justin is the owner of Harney Homes specializing in both single family and townhome construction. Justin’s sister Jaclyn is a successful residential real estate agent with Parks Realty and utilizes her interior design degree in assisting with selections for Harney Homes.

Jaclyn decided to step away from showing after her husband Chad quit training horses and to spend more time with her children.  

Chad is now in the insurance business, but still judges a few shows, most recently the Columbia Spring Jubilee. The Williams will also be cheering on her brother and nephew during the Celebration.

The Harney legacy

The Williams’ 16-year-old daughter, London, showed horses for several years until starting cheerleading and their son Hagen, like his father Chad, is really into golf. At 11 years old he came in second at Augusta National’s Drive, Chip and Putt competition prior to the Master’s this year,” said Jaclyn.

Then there are the two sons of Rebekah and Justin. Jonah, at two-years-old, already loves going to the barn and cheering on his big brother at shows. Seven-year-old Jack is carrying on the family’s winning ways in the show ring. He has enjoyed an undefeated show season with wins at the FAST Spring Showcase, Spring Fun Show and the Marshall County Horseman’s Association. He will be making his Celebration debut on The Ultimate Honor, competing in the Youth Pony World Grand Championship.

His grandparents are excited about the 5th generation representing the family and enjoying walking horses. Between the Smith and Harney generations, they most certainly will have a big cheering section.

“We are all so proud of Jack and his determination in riding and showing The Ultimate Honor this season. Our prayer is that they will show at the Celebration to the best of their ability and have a wonderful time carrying on the greatest tradition at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration,” said John.

“I don’t think you see many families stay in the walking horse business as long as ours. It says a lot about our dedication to the breed,” explained Rebekah. 

If the surest way to make dreams come true is to live them, the Harney, Smith and Williams families have succeeded like World Grand Champions!