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Knox Blackburn - A Man of Few Words



Most Walking Horse trainers have dreams and goals which direct their paths. Very few accomplish all their goals early in their lives and look towards the future for more. But there is one Franklin, Tennessee trainer that is very hard-working, family oriented and goal oriented who has accomplished this in his first thirty-six years. He has reached the “Big Three” that most trainers make their lifetime goal.

Knox Blackburn has two fine children and a lovely wife that all adore horses and support Knox’s profession. He has been named Trainer of the Year by his peers, won a World Grand Championship, and has recently been elected 2003 president of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association. When asked about future goals, Knox gave his characteristic grin and stated, “ to win more world championships”.

Former Walking Horse Trainers’ Association President Bill Young of Murchison, Texas had this to say about Knox. “It has been interesting to watch Knox’s career in the horse business. He has attained so much success in such a short time.”

“ I am especially glad he has taken the job as President of WHTA, because I know he will bring the same dedication and enthusiasm to it that he does to all his other endeavors,” said Young.

Jim Blackburn, Knox’s father, of Cornersville, Tennessee stated, “ I am proud of how hard he works and that he does his business on the up and up. I’m also proud of the way that he treats his family and his customers.” This mutual admiration was shown when Knox stated that “my dad” was the person he most admired? When asked, ‘Who are your heroes in real life?’, Knox thought a moment and said, “My mom”.

Jim Blackburn stated that Knox had been riding since he was 2 years old. “He regularly begged to ride his pony, named Sonny. By the time he was 5, he was on his third or fourth pony and had his first nice pony. At that time, he loved to trail ride and camp out.” Knox’s home at that time was in Brick Church, Tennessee. Knox began showing another pony, Chigger, at age seven on the local Pulaski, Tenn., circuit.

He also played baseball and rode motorbikes during his grammar school years. However horses were his first love. He had a natural ability to train and ride walking horses.

His father kept about 25 horses at his stables during the time Knox was growing up. Trainer Larry Derryberry worked there and Knox felt that he had probably learned more from Derryberry than any other one person. He showed his first performance show horse, Spectacular Shannon, at age 14. Knox trained and showed his own horses through high school. In 1983, his first Celebration ribbon was aboard Cimarron Kid, tying eighth in an owner-amateur stallion class.

Knox worked at David Landrum Stables in Franklin, Tennessee in 1989 and 1990. He was working at Landrum’s Stables, where many young trainers have begun their careers, when he was voted Assistant Trainer of the Year in 1989.

Knox wanted more formal education and in 1990 Knox went back to Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. where he studied animal science and business administration. He worked at David Mason’s Stables to pay for his tuition. His only regret is that he didn’t finish his college education.

“ I only lacked six hours graduating.” However, in 1991, he went to Wallace Brandon Stables in Franklin, Tenn., renting part of his barn until he went out on his own in 1993.

“I’ve always loved walking horses and always been around them.”

That’s when he opened Knox Blackburn Stables, which was also in Franklin. Knox’s hard work paid off. In 1994, he won his first Celebration blue with Royal Silk in the Ladies Amateur Mare class with Ashley Smith aboard. That year he also won the Two-Year-Old Walking Stallion class with Pusher’s Society Man; as well as the Juvenile 15-17 class with Victoria Martocci aboard My Midnight Caller. In 1995 he won Celebration blues aboard Stock’s Triple C and Generator’s Lady. His amateurs also won three additional blues that year for a total of five blues that year. They were Victoria Martocci and Stock’s Triple C in the 15.2 & Under Amateur Mare class; Dee Dee Sale and The Coal Fire in the Ladies Amateur Fine Harness class; and Laney Walthall and Magic Marker’s Lady in the Juvenile 11 & Under Mare class. In 1996 he rode four world champions, Pocket Of Gold, Pusher’s Society Man, Royal Silk and Juke Walking. That year, Julie Grider also directed Pocket Of Gold to the Three-Year-Old Amateur Mare World Championship. In 1997 this team also claimed the Four-Year-Old Amateur Mare title.

Knox also did a great job with his amateurs and juveniles, and he has instructed some of the best, including Ashley Smith, Laney Walthall and Victoria Martocci.

Knox also trained 1998 World Grand Champion Masquerading. Knox felt Masquerading was a good horse when he was sent a tape after the Gilbert Miller family purchased Masquerading. Knox could see he was green but had lots of ability. Knox began calmly and quietly working toward their goal when Masquerading was coming four. In three years, Masquerading was shown by Knox only four times winning all four times. In 1997 he won the Aged Stallion Championship at the Fun Show; in 1998 he won the Lewisburg Championship Stake, and in 1998 at the Celebration he won the Walking Stallions Five Years And Over and the World Grand Championship. Knox said, “I knew I had horse enough to win it but I was surprised when they called me out.”

Stacy replied, “You can see in the video that he was surprised!” Masquerading was only the fourth horse ever to win the World Grand Championship just one year after winning the Amateur Grand Championship.

When asked about riding under the spotlight, Knox said, “It was really exciting. I remember I had four or five coaches around the ring, including Rodney Dick and Tommy Grider, during the class. It was pretty amazing.”

Knox said, “It was really neat to win two world grand championships in one evening. I had just won the 15.2 and Under World Grand Championship with Juke Walkin’ and a couple of classes later I won the big one with Masquerading.” Knox carried out his first Celebration horseshoe that night on Juke Walkin’, owned by Autumn Crest Farm.

1998 was a great year for Knox at the Celebration because he won a total of eight blues that year. In addition to his two Grand Championships he won the Aged Stallion class with Masquerading, the 15.2 & Under Stallion class with Juke Walking, the Two-Year-Old Mare class with The Rose Pusher and the Show Pleasure Open with Coin Maker. This was the start of a long line of Celebration wins with this greatest of great show pleasure horses. In addition to Knox’s 1998 Celebration wins, Stacy and Eb’s Cloud Nine were victorious in the Walking Horse Trainers’ Auxiliary class while Dee Dee Sale won the Two-Year-Old Amateur Stallion class with Special Alert.

Masquerading was also shown by Dee Dee Sale in the amateur classes with Knox steadily directing them toward their goal. Their 1996 wins included Amateur Grand Champion, WHTA National Trainers’ Show; Amateur Stallion World Champion and Reserve Amateur World Grand Champion at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration; Amateur Grand Champion, North Carolina Championships; and Walking Horse Grand Champion, Franklin Lions Club Horse Show.

As far as favorite horses, Knox replied. “I’ve got a lots of favorites. Pride’s Secret Threat is my favorite of all time. Billy Gray let me ride him one time. It was pretty awesome.”

In 1996 Masquerading also received several awards. He was voted WHTA Amateur Horse of the Year, Walking Horse Report Readers’ Choice Amateur Stallion of the Year and Walking Horse Owners’ Association National Open Amateur High Point Champion.

The following year Sale rode her popular stallion to the Amateur Grand Championship at Germantown, as well as Amateur Stallion World Champion and Amateur World Grand Champion at the Celebration. He also won again the 1997 WHTA Amateur Horse of the Year and the WHR Readers’ Choice Amateur Stallion of the Year.

Knox Blackburn Stables received six Celebration blues at the 1999 Celebration, including three with Coin Maker. Coin Maker won the Amateur Show Pleasure World Grand Championship and the Ladies Amateur Show Pleasure class with Laney Walthall and the Show Pleasure Open class with Knox. Knox won both divisions of the Three-Year-Old Mares, one with Prowler’s Excitable Lady and the other with Royal Tribute.

Justin Rich and Gen’s Desperado won the 1999 Juvenile Plantation World Championship.

In 1999 Knox received one of the highest honors in his career by receiving recognition from his peers. On September 4, he received the 1999 Trainer of the Year Award from the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association. Those he worked with and competed against voted to recognize Knox and his accomplishments. At 32 years of age, Knox had won 27 world championships and four world grand championships. He won five world championships and one world grand championship at the 1999 Celebration.

At the 1999 Celebration Masquerading was retired in a very unusual ceremony in which New Orleans came to Shelbyville. A four-piece band entered the ring, joined by people in costumes tossing beads into the crowd. On September 3, 1999 Knox and Masquerading entered the ring to the applause of the standing crowd. Knox put this “one-of-a-kind” horse through three gaits both ways of the ring. After Dee Dee Sale took the reins and Masquerading made another turn around the ring, the saddle was removed and a festive retirement blanket was put on the talented stallion. Knox led him around the ring and then turned the reins over to Larry Lowman of Bridlewood, where Masquerading was to stand. Knox felt that the event was an emotional one. “It was great - the cooler was awesome. But it was sad to see that horse go. He’s a one-of-a-kind horse, ” said Blackburn.

In the year 2000, Coin Maker again won three blues at the Celebration, repeating his 1999 wins with Walthall and Knox. Lauren Clayton took over the reins of Eb’s Cloud Nine to win their first World Championship together in the Juvenile 11 and Under Gelding class.

Coin Maker had a new rider in 2001, but again the great stallion won three Celebration blues just as he had for the last two years. In 2001, he carried Suzanne Littell to her first set of Celebration roses. Lauren Clayton and Eb’s Black Cloud moved up a class at the 2001 Celebration, but the results were the same. They were crowned Juvenile 12-14 World Champions.

In 2002 Coin Maker again won his three blues at the Celebration, making it four years in a row. In addition, two of Knox’s amateurs won World Championships-Megan Batey in the Juvenile Novice class aboard Redman Uprising and Billie Sue Adkinson in the Amateur 70 and Over class with Rising Rhythm.

Knox has won 43 world championships or world grand championships to date which is quite an accomplishment for a person at 36 years of age.

At the present time, Knox has a new facility in Franklin that he and Stacy built, which is state of the art. Stacy says, “It’s quite a long way from the barn that he trained in for many years. It was full of holes and rats.”

Knox relates tales about Chad Way’s rats in his barn when he was at 10-Tucky. The two of them would take their guns, put out feed, turn out the lights for five minutes, and then have a field day when they flipped on the lights and shot the rats. “My rats weren’t quite that bad.”

However, Knox kept repairing the old barn, fighting the rats and producing world champion horses until they felt they could afford the new barn.

When asked what attribute he admires most, Knox says hard work is most important. The trait he dislikes the most is laziness. Stacy adds, “ I knew that, I would bet $100 he’d say that.” The value he likes most in his friends is loyalty. Knox’s answers show how much his beliefs and values are based on family and hard work. Knox’s biggest supporter is “my family, I guess . . . Stacy Alex, Stacy’s father, Stacy’s grandfather, my parents. I’m real lucky.”

As far as his most marked characteristic, Knox replies, “I suppose it’s my smile,” rather sheepishly grinning across the table with his little boy mischievous look.

Stacy adds, “When he smiles, he squints his eyes and makes you wonder what he’s up to.”

Knox and Stacy are also Titan fans and attend games as often as possible. They go about this as ardently as they do everything else. “We really enjoy the tailgate parties and everything that goes with the Titans.”

Their daughter Alex began showing in 2002 and won the Lead Line Class at the Celebration.

Behind this quiet, young man who calmly wins championships and puts amateurs into the ring is a father who is not always so calm. At the Germantown Charity Horse Show in 2002, Alex announced at noon, she was going to show Tipsy by herself. Perhaps this was because younger brother Evan was showing in leadline. Stacy hurriedly went to the store, putting together an outfit to show in that night in the Youth Spotted division. When Alex entered the ring at a walk, mom went one way, Knox the other. Two very accomplished riders and a usually calm coach, became nervous parents that walked almost entirely around the ring yelling instructions as they went. Meanwhile Alex calmly walked her pony around the ring. No one got a bigger ovation than Alex did when she exited the gait with her red ribbon. In addition to mom and dad, grandpa and grandma Jimmy and Gail McConnell were clapping proudly. Amidst all the fuss, Alex said, “Would someone please put my ribbon on Tipsy’s bridle.”

Since then, Alex has been showing Tipsy in country pleasure classes.

Alex and Evan Blackburn are fourth generation equestrians with horse show families on both sides of the family. Stacy’s grandfather is longtime walking horse breeder and exhibitor Odell McConnell, her father is trainer Jimmy McConnell and her uncle is trainer Jackie McConnell. Stacy’s first celebration blue came with her win in the Juvenile 11 and Under class aboard Wilson’s Masterpiece at the 1978 Celebration at the age of 8.

Stacy has won nineteen world championships as well as two Show Pleasure World Grand Championships with her “baby”, The Ghost Who Walks.

Stacy married Knox in 1993, whom she says she’s known forever. Stacy worked as an accountant until the birth of Alex in 1997. Because of their hard work and planning, Stacy was able to stay home and be a full time mother. In 2000, Evan was born.

Alex showed her first performance horse on November 30, 2002 at the WHOA/Kiwanis Show in Murfreesboro. She asked Knox, “When can I do that again?” Later at the barn when a customer asked if she had shown a padded horse, Alex replied, “Uh, for real I did.”

Grandpa McConnell purchased Alex and Evan Pride’s Smokin’ Memory from Heidi McWilliams this fall to show during the upcoming 2003 season.

In addition to helping their children ride, both Stacy and Knox take an active part in their schooling. Knox said he went to school to eat with Alex and assist at lunch as part of their school program. Knox related, “I never opened so many packages of ketchup in my life!”

The more a person visits with Knox, the more his values and goals come out. His motto is a “man of few words”. Knox’s greatest fear is “losing his family, something bad happening to them.” The greatest love of his life is “horses”. He is happiest when he’s at the barn, especially when his kids are there. He also stated that there wasn’t one thing that he would change about his family. Knox loves living in Franklin and wouldn’t want to live anywhere but Franklin. His only regret was not finishing college, other than that “I really don’t have any!”

When asked which talent he would most like to have, Knox replied, “To play golf well, like to be Tiger Woods. I’m not very good. Jeffrey Howard can wear me out. My goal might be to beat him.”

His most treasured possessions are “my children, horses and family” When asked where he sees himself in 5 or 10 years, Stacy quickly replies, “Hopefully in a barn that’s paid for.” Knox adds, “I just hope I can be successful at what I do.

It looks as if Knox Blackburn is definitely on the right road and he is excited about his new position as WHTA President . “I will give it my best”, says Knox. And you can rest assured that Knox Blackburn will definitely do that.

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