By Mark McGee 

The nineteenth century Scottish author and theologian George MacDonald once said, “ I believe in fate, never in chance.”

With apologies to MacDonald, Justified Honors’ short journey from a two-year-old unknown to the 2021 World Grand Champion at the 83rd annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was the result of a chance encounter that led to a fateful, flawless and historic performance.

Justified Honors became the first four-year-old to win the ultimate title in the walking horse industry since I Am Jose’ and Casey Wright did it in 2013. Only two other four-year-olds have won the world grand championship. Sun’s Delight D. and Sam Paschal were the first to do it in 1963. Betty Sain became the first woman to win the world grand championship in 1966 with four-year-old Shaker’s Shocker.

John Allan Callaway, who rode Master’s Razzle And Jazz to the 2020 World Grand Championship, became only the eighth trainer in the history of the Celebration to win back-to-back world titles and only the third to do it on two different horses. Paschal rode Ebony Masterpiece to the title in 1962 and followed with Sun’s Delight D. Ramsey Bullington was aboard Pride’s Final Edition in 1985 and returned in 1986 to win the floral horseshoe and tri-colored ribbon with Pride’s Jubilee Star.

Right place, right time
It all began with a chance encounter. Layne Leverette was preparing for his annual barn party at his stables where he planned to exhibit some young horses as well. The day before the event John Allan dropped by and there was a black stallion standing in the crossties. John Allan asked about the stallion and was told it had been sired by Honors, the 2016 World Grand Champion. John Allan was instantly smitten.

“I loved him from the first time I saw him,” John Allan said. “Standing back there in those crossties he had the look of a really good horse. His conformation was impressive. I thought he had the talent to win the big stake.
“He has a great back end. The way he sets up in the bridle got my attention.”

Allan, John Allan’s father, had the same first impression.

“He is one of the best horses we have ever had,” Allan said. “He really came on good once we started working him. You have to see how the horse is working and how he is dialed in. He has all the intangibles. We felt like from the beginning he could win the big stake. He is one of the most talented horses we have ever had our hands on.

“He has a big motor to him, but he is quiet. He stands in the stall. He has a God-given presence with the way he carries himself in the bridle. He has a natural step to him. When you get on him you better be ready to go. 
Justified Honors had seen limited time under saddle and was not ready for the showring as a two-year-old, but John Allan had no doubts he was in the presence of a future world grand champion. John Allan asked Jeff Faulkner to buy the talented stallion and move the horse to Callaway Stables in February. 

“He was not as far along as most three-year-olds would have been at that stage,” John Allan said. “We were just hoping he would be ready to show as a three-year-old.

“He has a big motor. When we first got him, he was kind of a handful, but not in a bad way. He was more like a two-year-old his three-year-old year. It took a lot of work to get him to where he is now.”

While John Allan was working Justified Honors, he caught the immediate attention of Lisa and Dr. Jim Baum from Shelbyville, Tennessee. They watched Justified Honors work for a few months and decided they wanted to buy him in May of 2020. The plans were for Jim to ride him in owner-amateur classes, but those plans would change.

A strong start
Justified Honors made his showring debut as a three-year-old at the Columbia Spring Jubilee the first week of June of 2020. The class of 19 competed in a pouring rainstorm with Justified Honors not only winning, but earning the first-place votes of all three judges in the Three-Year-Old Stallions class.

“When they lined up, and they were judging the class, Lisa turned to me and said you are not riding that horse,” Jim recalled. “He is too good for you.”

The Spring Fun Show, which had been rescheduled from May to July due to COVID-19, was next. The duo once again captured the blue ribbon in a class of 13 in the Three-Year-Old Stallions class with another performance that garnered a unanimous decision of the three judges.

Next, it was off to The Celebration where they won Section C of the Three-Year-Old Stallions. In the Three-Year-Old World Grand Championship they finished reserve behind Mr. Magnifico and Herbert Derickson.
They closed out 2020 with a win at the National Trainers’ Show in October with their third unanimous win of the year.


Wins continue
Justified Honors and John Allan didn’t rest on their laurels.

They opened the 2021 show season with a unanimous win in the Four-Year-Old Stallions (Canter) class at the Spring Fun Show. During the July Fourth weekend they were first again in the Four-Year-Old Stallions (Canter) class at the Woodbury Lions Club show.

Throughout his early show career Justified Honors showed a strong desire and aptitude for the canter gait.
“I was kind of worried about teaching the canter to a four-year-old,” John Allan said. “He picked up his third gait real easy.

“I backed off his canter after the July Fourth weekend. He made good shows in his first two show this year, but he was canter happy. I went to working him in the ring a lot to get the canter off of his mind. It worked out for us.” 

Bill, like his father and brother, immediately realized Justified Honors was going to be a star.

“He is a super talented horse,” Bill said. “The first time I saw him I knew he had a huge future. He is just so talented. He can do so much and he does it so easy. Nothing is ever a challenge to him.”

“I try to help my brother day in and day out with decision making on what to do with the horse,” Bill said. “I have helped him a lot with the overall care. I try to be a good ground man for him.”

Team Justified
After Justified Honors and John Allan won the Four-Year-Old Stallions (Canter) class on Sunday night at The Celebration a meeting was held a couple of days later with the Baums, John Allan, Bill and Allan.
“After Sunday night a lot of people were asking if we were going to show back in the big stake,” John Allan said. “I said, we haven’t got that far yet.”

Team Justified met in Allan’s office to make their decision. Everyone was going to have a say, but Jim said they went into the meeting ready to follow the advice the Callaways gave them.

“Allan is famous for saying ‘come into my office’,” Lisa said. “The trainers know the horse. They see him every day. They know how things can go over there in the big stake. We weren’t going to tell them what to do.
“We went in and sat down and voted on it. If they said no, we are a team. If you say yes and we say no, we will discuss it. Usually we agree with them.”

Justified Honors was entered in both the Four-Year-Old World Grand Championship as well as the World Grand Championship.

“Friday morning, he worked really good, so we said let’s roll with it and see what happens (in the big stake),” John Allan said.

There wasn’t time for a lot of hype and the promotion that usually goes along with campaigning a World Grand Championship contender.

“My wife, Karen, said we made it look easy,” Allan said. “It might have looked that way, but it wasn’t easy. The big stake is hard to win. It takes a special horse to finish that class. That is what you have to do.”

John Allan had won the previous year on a veteran Tennessee Walking Horse. He admitted he expected some challenges from competing with such a young horse.

“The pressure was still there,” John Allan said. “I always wanted to win the big stake and when you go back after you have won you still want to win it again.

“Both of those horses I consider to be great horses. Master’s Razzle And Jazz was a seasoned horse and had been shown for a long time. Justified Honors is still young. I was just hoping he would go in and fit in with the aged horses.

“You have to go two heats at least in the class. They had us go one more time in  the running walk in the Four-Year-Old Stallion class Sunday night. You have to wonder if your horse is going to be ready for all of that. He was.”

John Allan pointed out it was also the first time Justified Honors had been judged for conformation in a class.
“We did our best to make it look like he was parked out,” John Allan said. “He was very calm.”

A lot of things can go wrong, but as they made the final walk into the ring John Allan felt confident.

“When we walked down the chute, he had that big motor going,” John Allan said. “I was able to kind of turn him loose and flat walk real slow. 

“I felt good about it then. Most of the time you have to hold him back because he is so motored up.”

 “There are so many good horses in each class that could win,” John Allan said. “To be a unanimous pick you really have to dominate.”

Deserving owners
Jim grew up in Wisconsin where he developed both a love for Tennessee Walking Horses and the Green Bay Packers, two passions that endure to this day.

“We got our first horse in 1963 which was just a riding horse,” Jim said. “In February of 1964 we bought our first show horse so it was May of that year when we made our first show.”

Lisa had a background in dressage and hunter jumpers. She also showed Arabians, which gave her the opportunity to meet Jim. A Tennessee Walking Horse was a new breed for her.

“My family liked walking horses,” Jim said. “I couldn’t post very well on a trotter. I liked walking horses because they were smooth-gaited. I felt like Roy Rogers.”

Jim not only introduced Lisa to walking horses but to a new life in Shelbyville as well.

“Jim had been around walking horses his whole life,” Lisa said. “I didn’t know what a walking horse was until I married Jim. I was like a Tennessee Walking Horse with those big shoes?”

Originally from outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Baums found their way to Middle Tennessee in the early 1970s. The Baums had a couple of reasons for making the move. 

“There was a lovely winter night when the wind chill was between 80 and 85 degrees below zero,” Jim said. “I walked in the house and Lisa said, ‘have you been looking for that land in Tennessee because this is ridiculous’. I said as soon as I get my eight layers of clothes off, I will look into it.

“I picked up a ‘Walking Horse Report’ and Jean O’Brien had her realtor’s license and I called her. We looked for two years before we found this place.”

Jim added he saw a need for someone with his expertise and training to work in the equine area. His clinic includes a surgical area. 

They have won countless world grand championships at The Celebration in other divisions including two at the 2021 show – Owner-Amateur Ponies with Lisa riding Strike and the Lite-Shod with Patrick Thomas on board Big Time Bandit.

Jim, who operates Baum Equine Clinic in Shelbyville, watched Justified Honors work while he was at the stables performing veterinary duties.

“When he started to come around and started to think he would be a good horse for us I agreed,” Jim said.
Lisa said they always listen to John Allan and when he said this was a horse they should buy they never questioned him.

“John never said too much until he thought he was special.” Lisa said. “They priced him, and we bought him. It was a no brainer.

“We liked Justified Honors’ back end. He has a super crooked back leg. He has a nice neck. He has a presence about him. But when you saw him walk any day of the week, he has a long stride. His butt is low, and his hocks are down on the ground. He walks and shakes. That is what the breed is supposed to look like. That is the type of horse we like.”

The Baums credit John Allan, Bill and Allan, as well as Jesse Barnes for their work with his horse.

“We felt like after he was reserve in the Three-Year-Old World Grand Championship we might go after the World Grand Championship,” Lisa said. “They put the canter on him, and it came real easy for him.”
Jim pointed out that Justified Honors enjoys cantering. John Allan was able to train him to do the gait in three days.

“I had a feeling that the way he went some day he might become the World Grand Champion. But after he won the four-year-old class I had a feeling John, Bill and Allan might want to go for it.”

The Baums kept their fingers crossed and hoped Justified Honors would not make a mistake as they watch him in the big stake.

“I am just thrilled with Justified Honors,” Lisa said. “Jim and I love to ride so we always said we are not going to let a trainer show a horse if we have a good one.

“Because of that we never really thought we would have a World Grand Champion. But, we let John go with him and it was the best thing ever. We are thrilled.”

Those winning Callaways
It was the fourth World Grand Championship for the Callaway clan. Allan, rode Pride’s Jubilee Encore to the title in 2001. Bill was aboard when Gen’s Black Maverick was crowned World Grand Champion in 2017. 

“It was so much fun,” Karen said. “I am so proud of him. To me the whole thing was the perfect combination. You had supportive owners who have given so much to our industry and participated for years. You had a trainer that is so talented and gives everything to his job. And you had an outstanding horse.

“All of our customers are special, and everybody is deserving but Lisa and Doc have been so supportive. They have had the utmost trust with their horses with John Allan, Bill and Allan. I felt like it was a real good combination. John Allan and the horse just click. He has the innate ability to connect with an animal. I felt like his ride was just flawless.”

Karen added it was just as exciting to watch John Allan win the big stake the second time as it was the first time.

“It happened so quick,” Karen said. “You dream it is going to work. You hope you are doing the right thing because the horse is so young. John Allan knows his animal and he knows what he is doing.”

The Baums recognize and respect John Allan’s abilities to train walking horses.

“He is a very talented trainer,” Jim said. “There are times when he has ridden in the big stake when he should have been tied higher than he was.”

A humble winner
John Allan takes all of the accolades in stride. He admits the magnitude of the win with Justified Honors and all of the history he has become a part of at the age of 43 has not completely sunk in.

“I never thought about doing that, winning back-to-back,” John Allan said. “The good Lord has just blessed us.”
Allan points to John Allan’s hard work as well.

“He had both of those horses performing at their very best,” Allan said. “Both of those horses came back in the World Grand Championship and made better shows than they did in the preliminary classes.

“That said, he was awful fortunate to have two horses like that to ride and prepare for a World Grand Championship. Both John Allan and Bill work their horses. They know what has to be done with them.”

Karen thinks John Allan’s modesty as he has received so many accolades makes him a special person.

“Everybody calls him ‘The Gentle Giant’,” Karen said. “He is a man of few words. When he is riding and training, he is 100 percent business. He has a God-gifted talent.”

John Allan’s wife, Jada, is his support and she quickly admits fame has not gone to his head.

“Not at all,” Jada said. “He is the same as he has always been.”

The future
John Allan stands in the stall with Justified Honors and wonders what the future will hold.

Wright and I Am Jose’ came back and won the World Grand Championship in 2014 and 2015.

“I don’t think he has scratched the surface of how good he can be,” Allan said. “That remains to be seen.”
Team Justified Honors will be meeting soon to consider what is ahead.

“We don’t know what we are going to do,” Jim said. “There has been a fair amount of interest in people wanting to breed to him. We are not sure what we are going to do.”