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IRON WORKS



by Tanya Hopper

On Saturday, July 12, 2003, the nation's number one Plantation Stallion was laid to rest at his home at Bridlewood Farm. The loss of Iron Works was a very personal one, not only for his owners Randall and Gloria Dixon, but also for his Bridlewood family. He was considered by many to be the greatest Plantation horse in the industry, but it was his unique personality and uncanny ability to understand what was going on around him that captured the hearts of every person who was fortunate enough to meet him. "There was just something about him that captivated us. He was magical," says owner Gloria Dixon.

The beautiful stallion with the shining eyes, the coat of polished steel and mane and tail of shimmering silver touched the lives of countless people, walking horse and non-walking horse alike. Each year during the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Bridlewood Farm is flooded with visitors, many of them came specifically to see Iron and some were even reduced to tears upon looking at him. "What made him so special?" you might ask. Read on to find out.

On March 31, 1985, a smutty-looking sorrel colt was born a product of John and Betty Freeman's Freeman Foals in Lebanon, Tenn. Iron's breeder Betty Freeman said, "From the moment he was born, Iron Works exhibited a lovely personality, classic conformation, exquisite beauty and exceptional natural talent." Sired by the legendary 1962 World Grand Champion Ebony Masterpiece, and out of the great producing mare Bum's Little Dumplin, Iron had all the right ingredients to become a show ring champion.

Started under saddle by the renowned Shaw Twins, Iron was shown for the first time by Betty Freeman under the David Landrum Stables banner. As a four-year-old, Iron was trained and shown by Dick Myers during that time Dick and Betty decided they wanted to try Iron flat-shod. Little did they know what an impact this decision would make on Iron's future. This is where he would find his niche. In 1990, Iron was placed under the training direction of Ryan Vanatta, who would be the first person to show him in the Plantation division. The pair made an impression by winning the National Walking Horse Trainers' show as well as many others.

By 1991, Iron was returned to Dick Myers and the reunited team literally took the Plantation division by storm. Dick and Iron won 21 blue ribbons out of 26 showings including the International Plantation Grand Championship and capped off the season by claiming the 1991 Plantation Stallion World Championship. This team was suddenly a new sensation, creating excitement everywhere they showed and keeping spectators on the rail to watch their performances. "We showed him 26 times in '91 and most every time we went, he won us our gas money," chuckled Dick Myers. “When he was showing, people didn't go get a hot dog, I can tell you that.”

Myers remembers one particular occasion when Joe Webb held a riding camp in the Celebration's Calsonic Arena. Iron Works was invited to attend the school to put on an exhibition. "I let every kid at that school ride him," said Myers. "They all said it was the biggest thrill they'd had getting to ride Iron Works. He had the biggest following of any horse I've ever been associated with," Myers reminisced.

In the spring of 1992, the dappled grey stallion caught the eye of Texan Lucas Bleeker, who purchased him and placed him in training with Mitch Taylor. Taylor directed Iron to the Columbia Spring Jubilee's Open Plantation and Plantation Championship titles, the Dixie Jubilee's Open Plantation and Plantation Championship titles and the Backward S Ranch Show's Open Plantation Championship title.

Following Iron's Columbia Spring Jubilee win, his then owner Lucas Bleeker approached Larry Lowman about the possibility of breeding the popular young stallion. Larry and Judith Burgess had recently purchased a farm outside of Shelbyville and named it Bridlewood. Their intent was to have a place to keep their mares and raise their colts - not start a breeding operation, but Iron Works would change all that! Eleven years later Bridlewood Farm is home to 14 champion Tennessee Walking Horse Stallions and is one of the premier breeding farms in the industry. "If it hadn't been for Iron, I probably wouldn't be in the breeding business," said Lowman.

For the next three years Iron enjoyed a successful breeding run at Bridlewood and was passing on his beautiful grey color to 85% of his offspring. In July of 1993 Lucas Bleeker called Lowman to discuss the possibility of putting Iron back in training to try for another world title. This would be a difficult feat to take a stallion from a breeding barn so late in the season, but once again Iron's resiliency would shine through. On July 15 he was placed back in training with Dick Myers and with limited shows, no advertising or promotions Iron Works and Myers were crowned 1993 World Champion Plantation Stallion unanimously. Over the next five years, Iron would breed successfully, becoming the nations number one Plantation Stallion.

Late in 1997, Lowman received a phone call on a Friday afternoon from Lucas Bleeker saying he had decided to sell Iron Works. As the saying goes, "News travels fast." Randall and Gloria Dixon were into the Spotted Saddle Horse Business and Spotted Saddle Horse News managing editor Deedy Decker mentioned to them during a phone conversation that Iron Works was for sale. By Saturday morning Lowman got a phone call from the Dixons, who had seen Iron one time and were overtaken with his beauty and distinct personality. They had fallen in love with him upon visiting him once at Bridlewood Farm. As always, Iron was "hamming it up" for his guests, performing all his little tricks and the Dixons, like everyone else who's ever met Iron, were hooked. They purchased him over the telephone, never having seen a video of him and never having seen him outside his stall.

The Dixons decided that Iron Works would go back into training and try for the ultimate goal of Plantation World Grand Champion. Although he had won two preliminary world titles, the roses had so far evaded him. Iron was taken to the Dixons' Red Eagle Farms in Dacula, Ga., where he was to be prepared for the 1998 World Championships under the direction of Willie Cook, Jr. This would be no easy undertaking, for Iron had been out of training for five years and was 13-years-old. However, once again, Iron's resiliency would prevail.

Iron's return to the show ring was a triumphant and happy one indeed for the legion of fans he had acquired over the years. "Never has any horse had more fans or a bigger following than Iron," said Joyce Myers, another member of the Iron Works family and wife of Dick Myers. After winning the Celebration's Spring Fun Show, Iron and Willie ended the 1998 show season as Plantation Stallion World Champions and Reserve Plantation World Champions. Iron was returned to Bridlewood Farm the following Sunday after the Celebration to resume his breeding career, but the Dixons had not given up on their dream of Iron wearing the roses.

The following year when Iron was 14 years of age, his owners wanted to give him one more shot at the Plantation World Grand Championship title. This time Iron's goal would not escape him. As always, never wanting to disappoint his fans, he claimed the preliminary win and was named World Champion Plantation Stallion. A few nights later, to the screams of his adoring fans and family, Iron captured the 1999 Plantation World Grand Championship and those roses he'd been seeking for so long were finally awarded to him and he made his pass under the Celebration spotlight.

It was always understood that Bridlewood would be Iron's home after his show career ended win or lose. The Sunday morning after the Celebration, he was delivered to the farm and upon turning in the drive, it was told that he began pawing and nickering...he knew he was home! After eight years Iron and Larry Lowman had developed a special bond. Most everyone could get something out of Iron...a kiss or often a lick on the face! But no one could make him "show out" like Larry. Iron's stall was positioned so that Larry could see him from his desk. "I never really considered him a horse, I considered him my friend," says Lowman.

Larry and Iron would often put on a show for visitors. Larry would cluck to him and Iron would snort and rear up in his stall and then prance around as if to say, "Look at me...I'm "Iron Works," let me entertain you!" Larry took Iron for countless exhibitions, from grand openings to equine fairs and festivals so children could pet him and have their pictures made with him.

In 2000, Iron would make another mark in history by becoming the only Plantation horse ever to be retired at the Celebration. His ceremony was every bit as beautiful and unique as he was, featuring cheerleaders and a fireworks display like no other. Iron seemed to know he was being honored and used every opportunity to play to the crowd, as was his trademark.

After his retirement from the show ring, Iron enjoyed a successful breeding career and was the center of his home, Bridlewood Farm. His fans would come from all over the country just to stop by for a visit with Iron. Bridlewood Farm's public relations director Tanya Hopper says "I remember one time in particular during the Celebration, we had one lady come out to see Iron and when she laid eyes on him, she immediately began to cry. She was just so moved by his beauty and so thrilled to be in his presence she was moved to tears."

Bridlewood began conducting organized tours a few years back and Iron became a key player in each one of these events. Upon entering the Stallion Center, within minutes guests were seemingly drawn to his door, first by his captivating beauty, and then by the hilarious antics he used to entertain them and keep their attention. Usually during these tours guests would learn how much Iron loved his favorite treat...peppermints! Somehow, upon hearing this, someone would always find either in his or her pocket or purse, a few peppermints. The more Iron ate the more excited he would become and would start curling his lip, another trademark of his, delighting all the guests. He would always seem to do this on command when anyone would want to take his picture. Someone would say "Give 'em a smile, Iron," and up that lip would go as if on command.

Once in a while an animal comes along that really touches your life. For his owners, his caregivers and countless walking horse fans, this horse was "Iron Works." His stunning beauty and unique personality touched the hearts of so many and while our memories of him will live on forever, so will we feel his loss. He enjoyed an incredible show career that made an indelible mark in walking horse history claiming five world titles in all. But everyone who knew and loved him would surely agree...he was so much more than that!

Plans are underway to create a memorial garden around Iron's grave. Randall and Gloria and Iron's Bridlewood family want the generations to come to know what a special horse Iron was...what a great asset he was to the breed and how he touched the lives of all who knew him.

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