(Editor's Note: the following editorial was featured in the August 21, 2014 issue of the Walking Horse Report)

By Christy Howard Womack

Of all the wonderful people in the Tennessee Walking Horse business, perhaps no one person has as much boundless enthusiasm, untiring devotion, and dedicated passion for our breed as Jean Baum. She has been involved with Tennessee Walking Horses most of her life, and she has loved and served this breed in every way imaginable. 

“I was raised in a small town about 25 miles north of Chicago,” said Jean. “When I was six, my folks sent me to a day camp that had horses and a wonderful riding instructor.” Jean began begging her parents for a horse, and she managed to find opportunities to catch ride at every barn she attended, but it took a few years before she would have a horse of her own.

Her daughter Karen remembers, “I remember my grandfather telling my dad, ‘I held off all these years and you finally got her a horse.’” Leo Baum was a horse-loving gentleman who would later become her husband. They often rode when they were on dates, and they later joined a club that had horses just outside Milwaukee. They bought their first horse, one Jean calls “a part Tennessee Walking Horse,” when the children were little. Their next horse was a registered Tennessee Walking Horse.

By that time, the Baums had decided walking horses were the way they would go. Jean and Leo and their three children, Jeff, Jim and Karen, began their family hobby of caring for, riding, training and showing Tennessee Walking Horses.

“Our whole family loved being on the farm. And we did it all as a family. From the beginning, we worked horses as a family, we showed horses as a family,” said Jean. Karen comments “I remember breaking a colt, training it, riding it to school and selling it to my fifth grade teacher.”

While the entire Baum family enjoyed the horses, Jim says he was the most horse crazy of the kids. He fell in love with the breed and knew he wanted to be part of it.

The family enjoyed trail riding across the 200- acre farm near Ixonia, Wisc., but eventually they wanted to be competitive – to go to shows.

We came to Middle Tennessee and bought a horse by Sir Mau Gray in February. We brought him home in April. He wasn’t an easy horse . . . I learned a lot from him,” Jim said of the mount on which he won his first blue ribbon.

Jean Baum actually was the first in the family to show the eight-year-old. “We had sent him to Todd Van Kueran, a trainer in Beloit, Wisc., a couple of hours from us. When I got ready for my first show at Madison he told me, ‘Just follow the horse in front of you.

You’ll know what to do,’” she said, explaining that in those days all classes required horses to canter. About the same time Jean met Buddy Hugh, who would become her lifelong trainer and friend. “We bought a three-year-old with terrific potential and sent him to Buddy Hugh. Red Bomber had a back end that wouldn’t quit.” Hugh worked with the youngster and showed him in Tennessee until the young stallion was safe for all the Baum family to ride. They brought him home.

“I learned a lot from Buddy about using your hands, the best ways to handle horses. Buddy gave such good advice in a way that you wanted to receive it and work towards the goals he set for you. He even came to Wisconsin to see our horses and come to the shows with us. It was special to have him there,” said Jean.

“Bomber turned out to be a great horse for us,” Jean said. “We took him to shows in Illinois and Indiana as well as Wisconsin.” They bred and showed the stallion for three years. Coming off the trailer one night, he spotted some mares, slipped and broke a leg. After Red Bomber developed pneumonia, the Baums euthanized him. They were heart broken.

Leo took on the challenge of finding a replacement. “We bought four horses trying to replace Red Bomber,” said Karen. “But we never really did.”

The Baums had as many as 21 horses on their farm at a time. Everyone did their share. The kids did their chores, but when they went away to college, it fell to Jean and Leo to take care of the horses. A job Jean loved all her life.

The family’s love of horses impacted Jim and Karen’s career decisions. Jim’s original dream focused on being a horse trainer, something Buddy Hugh discouraged. Instead, he helped steer his friend and client into a profession that would enable him to have an impact on the industry – and to be able to pay someone else to train most of his horses. Jim Baum became a well-respected equine practitioner and surgeon in Shelbyville, Tenn., who has devoted his life to the care of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Dr. Karen Baum is a well respected large animal veterinarian who treats horses, llamas, alpacas and a wide variety of large animals. Her clinic, Little Doc’s Veterinary Care, in Huddleston, Vir., makes ambulatory calls as well as operates a clinic. Jeff Baum operates three airports and has an air charter business.

“The Tennessee Walking Horse gave my sister and me a profession because we had horses in the family. We learned discipline, responsibility and a good work ethic. They aided my brother to have discipline and a work ethic to be a success at what he does,” said Jim.

“More than just loving animals, we were fortunate to grow up around veterinarians that loved their work,” says Karen. “When Dr. Cook would arrive, we would all drop everything to be with him. Having vets who enjoyed their work so much was such a motivation for me and left such a lasting impression.”

Now that Jean is living with her daughter Karen in Virginia, Karen drives her mother to Tennessee to show. “It’s been neat to get back in the saddle after 30 years,” says Karen. “It’s like going back to my roots, and it’s neat that mom is still in the saddle after all these years.”

Always one to set a goal, Jean says her goal is to show until she’s 100 years old. Kind and loving, but also competitive, Jean says she wants to show until she’s older than Dr. Hill (once he retires from showing and he’s 96). “I just want to keep showing as long as possible. With a Tennessee Walking Horse, you can do that.”

In the beginning, the family showed at mixed breed shows. They made lots of good friends, but the judges didn’t always know how to judge the Tennessee Walking Horse. They knew the gait was different, but they didn’t know the judging standards. The Baum family was instrumental in getting Walking Horse enthusiasts in the area together to start the Wisconsin Walking Horse Association. Jean is very proud of the Wisconsin Walking Horse Association and she has held most officer positions and served many terms on the Board of Directors. She was also active in establishing the Wisconsin Charity Jubilee Horse Show.

Jean’s service to the Walking Horse industry continued through her writing for the Walking Horse Report, and her longtime role as a board member of the Walking Horse Owners Association. “I think WHOA is so wonderful for our breed. I used to go to Tennessee every month or six weeks to try to make board meetings, to coordinate with the show and to see my family, friends and horses. We took it seriously to try to help our breed show better and to present a better image of the Tennessee Walking Horse,” said Jean. “We made the rules that ultimately defined what a Tennessee Walking Horse should be doing.”

Jean has been recognized for her outstanding contributions to the Walking Horse industry by being inducted into the Celebration Hall of Fame in 2008, and she won the Walking Horse Report Amateur Sportsmanship Award in 1999.

Jean Baum makes friends wherever she goes and she hasn’t missed a Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in over 50 years. “These are the best people in the world. I have friends all across the country that I’ve made through Tennessee Walking Horses.”

Many of the friends become like family. Perhaps the closest to one of her own children is her current trainer Bobby Hugh. “I’ve known Bobby since before he was even born,” Jean fondly remembers. “His hands are so similar to his father’s, and that’s really the most important thing. He’s also very good to follow. He knows how to train for amateurs to ride. He puts a beautiful canter on a horse just like his father.”

“Bobby is like family to us,” says Karen. “Jim and I often spent summers with Buddy and Janie. I remember one year going fishing with Buddy. I didn’t have any experience fishing and when Buddy told me to ‘get the net under the fish’ I jumped into the water. It was deeper than I thought so I went completely under. Buddy said the last thing he saw was my ponytail. But I got the net under the fish.”

Perhaps Jean’s favorite horse she has had with Bobby is My Fair Play Lady, affectionately known as ‘Big Momma.’ “She was so good to work with. She did what a Tennessee Walking Horse is supposed to do. Her mouth. Her gait. She was perfectly consistent,” says Jean.

“Ms. Jean has been a part of my life since before I was potty trained,” says Bobby. “She’s had a great impact on my life. She’s like a grandmother to me. She’s probably fed me more meals than anyone. I remember when I was young she showed Pride’s Different Strokes with Dad. One of my best memories is the times we spent with ‘Big Momma.’ I was working her myself and putting Ms. Jean in the ring.”

One of Jim’s fondest memories was at the International when his son Jacob won the Youth Pony class aboard Master’s Gunsmoke. “Mom was presenting the trophy and she jumped into the air when Jacob won,” remembers Jim.

Jean plans to show this year at the Celebration with Walk On Command, a horse she shares with Karen. “We are both showing her at the Celebration this year. Last weekend, we showed her three nights in a row,” said Karen.

“Our breed is so well-dispositioned,” says Jean. “They are such a joy to ride and to show. They’ve had a great influence on my enjoyment of life, and I’ve loved the competitiveness of the sport. We’re fortunate to be involved in a breed that we can truly enjoy. They are a pleasure to ride and to show.”

“I’ve been around a lot of breeds of horses and the Tennessee Walking Horse is by far the best dispositioned breed we work with, as evidenced by the low doses of tranquilizers needed to perform surgery. How they wake up from surgery and how smooth their recovery goes is evidence of how naturally gentle they truly are,” says Jim.

“Tennessee Walking Horses are very good patients,” says Karen. “They are so trusting. They’ve been bred to be relaxed, to be ridden all day and to encounter everything. Their gait is special, but so is their personality.

They are known to be gentle, and they are good for any age rider.” Jean’s passion for the Tennessee Walking Horse is clear in the sentiment she has passed on to her children, her grandchildren, her extended family, and her friends. To know Jean is to know her passion for Tennessee Walking Horses. With three generations of her family already immersed in the horse industry (and Jacob has just married Brittany so the fourth generation can’t be too far behind), Jean and her family are the best testimony for the pure joy that a Tennessee Walking Horse can bring.