From early experimenting with breeding Allen F-1 by Albert Dement of Wartrace, Tenn., to today’s Tennessee Walking Horse, the breed has come of age and has become one of the greatest horses for show and pleasure.

By the 1920s the Tennessee Walking Horse was a distinguishable type of horse with a gait, which could not be confused with other breeds; it was a saddle horse without the hard trot. In 1932 when the Tennessee Valley Authority began producing electricity during the Great Depression, people began to use that power to have lighted night shows.

The Breeder’s Association was formed April 27, 1935, in Lewisburg, Tenn., and a short four years later on July 15, 1939, the National Celebration was created. Now that the walking horse was gaining popularity and drawing horsemen from outside the Middle Tennessee area, breeders and owners needed a way to market their horses.

The first and most famous of the auction sales was the Murray Farm Sale held in Lewisburg, Tenn. That sale made its appearance in 1938 at Murray Farm owned by the late Jimmy Joe Murray, a master promoter of the breed. A year later Murray gave Harold Wise his start in the business. For almost 50 years this sale was a mirror to the growing value and status of the walking horse. Under the guidance and promotion of Murray, wealthy owners, movie stars and celebrities added the walking horse to their list of prized possessions. The walking horse became big business and barns appeared all over the Middle Tennessee area.

As you peruse the early issues of sales catalogs, the average price per horse was probably around $400 and entries were in the dozens. By the 1960s, that average had increased to over $1,000 with over a hundred entries. Today, prices average from $5,000 to in excess of $10,000 for top selling entries. The numbers likewise increased to hundreds of horses in each sale.

More and more new people entered the walking horse world; there were more shows and more horses than ever before. The 1940s saw the introduction of Merry Go Boy, who bred the more animated motion into colts, and Midnight Sun, who supplied the power needed for the more enhanced gait. In 1948 a Virginian purchased Merry Go Boy for $55,000, the most ever paid for a walking horse at that time. Studs fees for Midnight Sun were $50, up from $10 paid in pre-war times.

Sam Gibbons, Ben Howell and Charlie Lowery purchased Murray Farm in 1947 after the death of Jimmy Joe Murray. Lowery got out of the business in 1949 and in 1950 and Harold Wise joined Gibbons to lease and operate Murray Farms Auction Sales. They continued this partnership for five years. When Sam Gibbons departed, Harold Wise began a partnership with Jack Warren. They reopened Murray Farms with semiannual sales. Wise bought Warren out and became the owner of Murray Farms in 1961. The auction again claimed new ownership and management when it was sold to S.W. Beech of Belfast, Tenn., and Pete Yokley of Pulaski, Tenn. The motto became “ Keep Tennessee Green – Bring Money!” “The Old Reliable” became the showcase for the finest prospects, breeding stallions and broodmares in the business. The Beech and Yokley team then bought The Sale of Showring Champions from Vic Thompson in 1963.

The sale also brought couples together. S.W. Beech and Margaret Ann met there as did his son, Ray and his wife, Jean.

Pete Yokley died in 1979 and as a result of settling the estate, Ray Beech and Jim Blackburn each acquired a one-quarter share in the sales. By 1985, S.W. Beech died. His son, Ray, then bought Jim Blackman’s interest in the sale and became the sole owner of Murray Farm.

Among the greats to go through the sale was Doc’s High Tribute, who had a bid of $184,000. Triple Threat sold in the 1960s for $48,000. Buddy Black rode him through the sale and received the highest bid for a horse sold at auction. Ebony Threat A also attained the highest price paid for a horse at auction with a final bid of $125,000. Centennial Delight brought $36,000, Go Boy’s Royal Heir, $27,500, Delight’s Go Boy $26,500, Big Shot Rocket $21,500 and Delight’s Constructor $36,500.

The 99th sale of 1991 received 150 entries with the top 5 horses averaging $14,360 and the top 10 bringing and average of $9,225. The sale had expanded to a five-six day sale with in excess of 500 horses reviewed. They were housed in 278 stalls over the sale term.

In February 1997, Murray Farm was closed and sold for development, bringing an end to a most illustrious era in the sales of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

The 1950s heralded a flood of colts primarily by Midnight Sun, who now earned his owners $100,000 per year. His offspring dominated the market. Breeders and owners rushed to breed and buy the colts.

Spectators were screaming for the animated action and speed he showed in the show ring. As the market was flooded, there was an effort to control the breeding by eliminating artificial insemination, but it was to no avail.

Harlinsdale Farm of Franklin, Tenn., decided to introduce its first annual production sale in 1955. They promoted Midnight Sun, Sun’s Delight and Pride’s Gold Coin. The first sale offered approximately 75 young colts. Harlinsdale responded to requests from breeders and in 1958, their customers were invited to join in the sale doubling their numbers.

After expansion due to the increasing popularity of the Tennessee Walking Horse and the stallions of Harlinsdale, it moved to a multi-day sale in the 1960’s. The festivities included a circus tent, bleachers, folding chairs and food sold by local charities. The 1960s witnessed the purchase of Ebony Masterpiece for $17,000 and later the purchase of Magic Marker for $300,000. Billy Hale purchased both.

Pride of Midnight and Sun’s Delight sold well for four-five years followed by Spirit of Midnight and Midnight Mack K production. Those were very good years.

By 1973 Harlinsdale joined Charlie Bobo’s sale at the “Sellabration” grounds on 41A in Shelbyville. Tenn. Twenty-two years later, in 1995, Harlinsdale managed their own sale and included Hugh Branch, Charles Gleghorn and Robert Keenan. By 2000 they joined Pedigo and Landrum and have sold with them for the past three years.

“Many great stallions have called Harlinsdale home,” said Bill Harlin. “Pride’s Fashion and Pride’s Beam had a big impact on the industry. Midnight Mack K. had natural ability, was good-looking and well rounded with stamina and style. The blood of Pride of Midnight runs through Generator, Dark Spirit, Pride’s Genius and Pride’s Gold Coin. We’re proud that we spread good genetics through the industry.”

Sales began to spring up in other areas of the South. The Porter Rodgers Stable Auction Sale at the Searcy Walking Horse Show in Jackson, Miss., attracted the attention of horse lovers from throughout the Southeast. Auctioneer Mabrun Magnusson called for the entries and George Livingstone handled ground duties. In 1967 the annual sale offered 24 horses and the quality of the horses and prices paid soon established it as a major sale.

Dr. Ralph Baney of Kansas City, Mo., started the Mid-West Walking Horse Sale. Mr. Pete Yokley and Mr. Herb McLean “got the show on the road” for buyers from 15 states. An amazing fact of these sales was the very low number of no sales. A few years later, Dr. Baney extended a fall sale to be held during the American Royal Horse Show. Dr. Baney’s dedication was evident when he sent a private plane to Shelbyville for Vic Thompson, Tommy Fouche and David Howard to attend the sale. Many buyers came for pleasure horses and became converts for the walking horse. This non-Tennessee sale did much to promote the horse outside the Middle Tennessee birthplace.

The Annual Trainer’s Show Sale had its debut in 1972. Sales chairman Ronnie Spears was delighted with the response of sellers and buyers alike. Auctioneers Benvis Beachboard and Herb McClain handled the gavel at the Nashville Ellington Center. Outstanding entries in 1973 were Ace’s Black Baron; Ebony’s High Society sold for $7,500, and Poppycock for $3,500. Other colts over the $3,000 mark were Joy Delight and Quarterback’s Key Play. The top five averaged $6,670 for the two-day sale with 104 horses going through. Billy Gray’s Triple Crown Sale kicked off in 1974. The new sale in Lewisburg, Tenn., was conducted in a professional manner and veteran auctioneer Pete Yokley held the gavel with his usual style. Hilda Gray and Sam Yarbrough attended to the administrative details. Forty horses, trained by Gray, attracted national interest as top prices were paid. The top ten entries averaged $15,385. A record-breaking price was paid for Delight’s Tramp who topped the scales at $60,000. S.W. Beech and Billy Hale brought home the entry.

Dave Burgess and his wife purchased Ebony’s Prime Cut for $45,000. Ebony’s Frank John brought the third highest price of $114,000. But most impressive was the overall average price of all entries at $6,500.

The famous GLL Sugarloaf Farms Production Sale presented colts by Carbon Copy, Scatman, Ace’s Sensation, C.C. Trademark and Master Copy.

Wiser Farms has been well-known as a premier auction sale for many years. Originally built by George Lennox for his stallion Perfection’s Carbon Copy, the sale barn known as Wiser Farm offered its first sale in 1974. At that time, a young man named Tommy Grider served as ring man while attending college at East Kentucky University. He performed these duties during the Trainer’s Show Sale, Fun Show Sale, the Celebration Sale and a Broodmare Production Sale. These periodic sales served to promote not only the walking horse, but also its owners and breeders.

Grider became close to co-owner Joe Van Clayton of Arab. Ala., and Dr. Lambert, who was also involved with the sales promotion and later managed the operation. By the 1980s Grider assumed a managerial position with Wiser. Although he eventually opened a successful realty company, Wiser Farm was also deep in his soul.

Twelve years ago, in March of 1991, Tommy Grider and family purchased Wiser Farm. He remembers, ”I was at a show in Kentucky, but the fact that Wiser Farm was on the market just stayed on my mind. There were so many memories and traditions associated with that place.” The weather in Kentucky was inclement and snow covered. Travel to Shelbyville was impossible.

Wheels were set in motion when Grider called the broker at 9 a.m. that March morning. The farm was priced and by 1 p.m. that same day, his dream had come true. He now turned his attentions to selecting partners for this new endeavor. As quickly as he had sealed the deal on the purchase, he chose two people who would complement his plans. “I felt I needed a trainer, one who was well respected and known by his peers. I chose Jimmy McConnell. I then needed a person with a well-known stallion who would understand the business. That was an easy choice of Dr. Andrew Sisk who owned Delight of Pride. The partnership was complete.”

Over the past 12 years, Wiser grew from six days of sales a year to the present 15 sale days a year; over 2,000 horses passed through their doors in 2002.

Grider is quick to give credit to his staff and consignors. “I am a firm believer that any entity is as strong as people allow it to be. The prime component in our business has been the support and trust of the consignors -- lose that and you go backwards. I have always instilled one thought in my fine staff; each and every consignor regardless of their status, all pay the same fee and all deserve the very best effort we can show to sell their horses for the best price available” He also noted that many future champions have been sold through the Wiser sale. Perhaps the highest selling horse that has ever sold was Ebony’s Senator for $190,000! The Golden Sovereign was sold as a yearling four years ago and is now worth a half million dollars!

He added, “My hat’s off to the Breeder’s Association for their excellent marketing program. I feel we have only tapped a small segment of the potential market.”

There were many other fine auctions, including Shadow Valley Farms (now Sand Creek Farms), Horse Sales LP, Smokey Mountain Sales and assorted auctions throughout the United States. It is a fine testament to the ever-growing popularity of this versatile breed.

This year during the Celebration, take time to visit the many sales and select your next champion! You never know, you might be a part of a historical moment!