Editor's Note: The following personal essay was submitted by long-time Walking Horse exhibitor and enthusiast Dr. Tom Morgan.

This spring, three of my “hoss” heroes made their way to heaven (where Jesus is). I am keeping on, bearing up, going to the shows still with Mary Ann and our daughter Amy; but I am alone in my thoughts of these horse men who shared only what a horse can bring a man – love. It's a strange love, not emotional until you win or see your family members or your barn friends win after all the hard work. Yes, it's a different love than what you have for a pet – this is your stock and it carries with it more than just pride when they perform. Horses seem to satisfy a longing deep inside. They satisfy the time we wait plus the expense and training the horses endure and bring an inward smile when your trainer says they have the attitude of a champion. Not everyone understands this, but these three men did, and shared their love of the breed with me. I'll be there in Shelbyville next week. I just can't wait to sit on my new mount RINGMASTER as we make our way in the show ring.

I first met Ben Brogdon and Lynda one day in Dawson, Georgia. They were looking at their stock and always asking the trainer what was next in their program. Later, at shows when I saw Ben he would come over or look at me and call me “Hero”. I am still not sure why. But, he gave me his big smile when I smiled. We bragged on each other. Maybe we both needed it. I am still not sure why - except that maybe we “hoss” people are related in our DNA. We don't just see our mount; instead we see a God-created fierce, powerful beast under control (well, sometimes). We don't mind cleaning stalls and brushing dirt from their smooth coats. Like all of us horse people we will outlive our stock. We will laugh and anguish as we pull them out of fences and urge our kids to ride if they will. We are lucky, Ed Breedlove told me one time – if we get one of our kids or grandchild to stick with it like we have. The last time I saw Ben was at a fall show a couple years ago. Ben and I were talking about our love to ride when Ben raised his voice an octave like he would and said, “Yeah – I like to beat someone.” That was Ben, always striving to be the best. I told him that reminded me of the story Gary tells of Dr. Hill when he was talking to Wink Groover just before Wink passed. Dr. Hill said, “Just remember, Wink, when you are up there in heaven, I will be down here riding and I will have a better horse than you!” That love for the Tennessee Walking Horse. It is more than that. We connect to their big step and our spirits match, but I think it is still competition that keeps us in it to the end.

Bruce Dempsey was next to pass this spring. Bruce was my best “hoss” friend. We sat in the same box year after year at The Celebration and got in each other’s win pictures with our families. Very seldom did we not talk about our horses – every week in fact. We joined Piedmont First United Methodist Church about 25 years ago and the first thing the pastor said when they heard we raised horses was, “you have got to meet Bruce and Kaye Dempsey. They show champion horses!” That first meeting with them was all the preacher said and more. Through the years we all knew this chain smoker would succumb to lung cancer but none of us were ready when it came. There will always be something missing when I go to Shelbyville. Bruce was always talking about buying Kaye her next horse but mostly he loved to see his little colts run around in his pasture kicking sideways and being free. One time he went with me to Dawson when I took a colt we raised for training. After watching the first tentative pace-ride Bruce looked over to me and said, “It's a long way from I love you to I do!” That was Bruce.

Then I heard Ed Breedlove died. After our first Celebration in 1970, I picked out my favorite amateur rider. That was going to be me someday and I set the goal and never looked back. My first favorite rider was master showman Vic Thompson. I never saw an amateur set a horse like Mr. Vic. After him was Ed Breedlove. I made friends with Ed first by purchasing a horse from him. The two-year-old could not go to the next level in training but we stayed friends from then on. The last time I talked to Ed was after he won a big class last year at The Celebration. I bragged on his ride and told him what I liked about his ride, “How do ya do it Ed?” I asked. “Ahh,” he smiled and gave me his sort of sly look and said “Well, I got lucky!”

We are packing up the motor home and getting ready for the Fun Show next week. It won't be the same without Ben, Bruce and Ed. It just won't. I thought about these three last night as I was reading my REPORT. I still read it like I am having a quiz at the end of term. I won't be lonely. I won't allow myself as I throw my leg over my mount and try to get my posture erect as best as this 80 year frame will allow. I will think of these three! And, remember guys - when you are up there, I have a better “hoss” than you down here.