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KWHA Inducts Hall of Fame Members



(Editor’s note-The following are copies of the speeches read as the Kentucky Walking Horse Association (KWHA) introduced the 2004 Hall of Fame inductees during the KWHA Banquet on Friday, Jan. 14, 2005.)

Willis “Snuffy” Smith

Snuffy Smith took up the hobby of Walking Horses in the mid 1960s when he purchased his first walking horse, Midnight’s Silver. It was pure enjoyment and excitement and true love of the sport from that point on.

The love of the sport was so intense for both Snuffy and his wife, Billie that it came as no surprise when they built their 26-stall barn and appropriately named it “Snuffy Smith Stables” in 1977. In September of the same year, Bobby Joe Burton completed the team when he came on board as trainer for the stables. Bobby continues this tradition at Snuffy Smith Stables still today.

One of the most unforgettable wins for Snuffy was in 1990 when, by unanimous decision, he took home the blue at the 22nd Annual National Walking Horse Trainers’ Show in the Men’s Amateur Fine Harness Championship Class.

Snuffy became ill with bladder cancer in 1997. However, he lived long enough to see a horse he was part-owner in as a two and three-year-old win the 1997 World Champion Amateur and 1998 World Grand Champion titles. Of course, we all know this horse as the one and only, Masquerading.

Snuffy raised several world champions, reserve world champions and International champions. Some of the champions that he raised or was owner or partial owner in went on to win championship titles. You will remember Supreme’s Jubilation, 1986 World Grand Champion Pony; Lightfoot’s Wildfire, 1997 World Champion Novice and Eb’s Black Shadow, 11 and Under World Champion Gelding.

Snuffy was a long-standing KWHA board member and served as one of the first vice-presidents of the Board.

Snuffy succumbed to his illness in March of 1999. We will always remember Snuffy as a man who loved horses and the hard work it took to keep his hobby and dream fulfilled. He is also remembered as a man of great humbleness and a man who never met a stranger. He was a friend to everyone no matter his or her social status. He was little in size, but had the biggest heart of anyone.

That is why it is with great honor and humility that we induct Willis “Snuffy” Smith into the KWHA Hall of Fame.

Walt Bruner

Raised on a dairy farm in north central Kentucky a young man, one of seven children, tried to balance his time between milking cows and training gaited horses. After much thought the young father, of one daughter, decided to go against his own father’s wishes and train horses full time leaving the family farm. Just as many dairy farmers in those days, his father’s mindset was that horses serve only one purpose and that was to work the land. For someone to train them for other people to ride was RIDICULOUS! The young man moved his horses from the farm to the county fairgrounds gaining several new customers such as Sam Rutledge and Bill McCarthy in the process. These new customers convinced the young man to train only Tennessee Walking Horses and took him to his first Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in 1968. From that point on he knew that he had chosen the right career path.

In 1970 several customers brought horses to the young trainer, even some from as far away as Indiana such as Jim Carter and Harold and Dottie Ratz. Several years later the young man met a lady from Muncie, Ind. who stole his heart and he moved himself and the horses to be closer to her. The couple married in February of 1978 and not only did he gain a wife, he also gained two stepdaughters and a stepson. This young man won many championships all over Indiana with horses such as Go Boy’s Joe F, Wonder Mac GF, Thunder Bay and Johnny Walker.

Many years passed, but the Kentucky born and raised trainer longed to continue his career closer to his family so he and his wife moved to the heart of the horse country, Danville, Ky., in 1982. In the move the trainer brought many customers’ horses to Kentucky with him, such as C.W. Kline of Pennsylvania, Dave and Carol Gloweski, Jack Sacks and several others. He and his wife traveled to Shelbyville, Tenn., soon after moving to Kentucky and captured World Grand Championship Plantation Pleasure honors with Go Boy’s Teardrop.

Down through the years in Kentucky you could have seen him in the show ring aboard Shaker’s Cool Dude, Thunder Bay, Eb’s Black Thunder, Perfect Warlock, Generator’s Terminator Two, Mark’s Remarkable and He’s All Power to name only a few. He also started Trip My Trigger who went on to Tennessee to claim numerous World Championships. You could not only see him in the show ring, but also on the sidelines either yelling or with radio in-hand to cheer on his numerous amateurs he has trained for. Some of which learned to ride under his tutelage, such as Susie Carter who started with him in Indiana, Tina Robinson Thompson, Lou Trischler, just to name a few. Lest we forget his own daughter, granddaughters, and stepdaughters, and now his great-grandchildren and step grandchildren. You may see him now on the rails cheering his family on as he guides them towards the blues as he has done so many times before.

This trainer has won several KWHA, KWRHTA, WHOA, TWHBEA, and Tri-State High Point awards, too many to mention and has also won the title of KWHA and KWRHTA Trainer of the Year.

This person, is known by many different names throughout the industry. One more commonly heard name is “Pops” or “Papa” or if you don’t know him by those you may know him as Walt Bruner.

John Smith Alexander

Born: Dec. 26, 1933, Harrodsburg, Ky. Died: Feb. 25, 2003, Lexington, Ky. Educated: Harrodsburg Public Schools, Georgetown College, University of Kentucky, BA degree in history; Lexington Theological Seminary, graduate work Church: Camp Nelson Presbyterian, Nicholasville, Ky. (stated supply, 1960-2003) Organizations: Kentucky Walking Horse Association (since its inception), Lexington Lions Club, Oleika Temple and El Hasa Shrines, Scottish Rite, Masonic Lodge of Harrodsburg, Ohio Valley Walking Horse Association, Central Kentucky Horse Show Association, South Central Hackney Association. Married: Susan Endicott - Aug. 8, 1975 Family: Children - Rebecca and John; Grandchildren, Bethany, Dillon and Jack

It has been said that he wrote the history of the Kentucky Walking Horse Association through his photographs. And, indeed, John Alexander photographed every Kentucky Celebration from its tiny beginnings in 1965 until his death in 2003. And, during that time you could also count on seeing him in the center ring at virtually every major walking horse show in the Commonwealth. To say he was a fixture would be an understatement.

If you have been showing horses any time at all, you doubtless have at least one John Alexander picture, probably many, either hanging on a wall or in a scrapbook. During his 51 years of photographing horses he trained his lens on everything from world grand champions to lead line ponies. In some families, he captured on film the third generation of tiny exhibitors.

John had opportunities to photograph some of the country’s largest and most prestigious horse shows, including the World Grand Championship at Louisville, but turned them down, choosing instead to stay closer to home and to help develop a circuit of regional horse shows. He believed that the Saturday exhibitor had as much right to a high quality photo of his horse as those who participated in the national prestige shows.

His choice to stay close to home didn’t, however, diminish his contributions to the industry. In the 1950s, he pioneered the concept of “unretouched” in horse photographs. And, with few exceptions, this remained the industry standard for most breeds until the advent of digital photography, more than 40 years. He was the first person in the country to provide overnight color photos at a race track. He had the first color ad and the first color cover for a Kentucky State Fair Horse Show Catalog. He was the first photographer to offer overnight color at a horse show. And, indeed, it was his move to shooting 100 percent color at night time outdoor horse shows in 1977 that once again changed the face of horse photography. If someone told him it couldn’t be done, that was all the reason he needed to prove that it could.

John Alexander was more than a photographer. He was a friend and an encourager. He loved young people and could often be seen talking to them in the lineup. We can only imagine what he was saying. Guaranteed it was positive, a helpful suggestion or congratulations on a good ride. Somewhere in his archives are dozens of notes, written to sympathize with a young lady who lost her horses, or a young man who needed just the right words to stay the course, or the teen who sought an endorsement for a special project or a scholarship. He cared about their successes and their futures and they knew it. And those of you sitting here tonight who experienced that warm hand on your shoulder or the gentle hug that said everything was going to be all right, know exactly what we’re talking about.

He was an encourager of adults, too. Indeed, many who are now announcers, organists, ringmaster, and even photographers, got their start because John Alexander told them they could do it, and then opened the doors to help make it a reality. If you lost a loved one or suffered a tragic event, he was among the first on the phone or in the line, always asking, “What can I do for you?”

I remember in Nov., 2001, when our daughter Renee had her first bout with cancer. Each time I saw John thereafter he would say, “I have Renee on my prayer list. How is she doing?”

John never accepted a horse show if it required he work on a Sunday morning, and in fact, except for the Juvenile Auxiliary Show, he rarely worked a horse show on Sunday at all. He believed his place on Sunday was in church, and he faithfully serve as stated supply pastor to a small country congregation for more than 40 years. He was often asked to pray at gatherings such as this and at the opening of horse shows. His prayers were always simple, yet profound, and very personal, even though they might have been given in a crowd of hundreds or thousands. One once commented, “I felt as though I was eavesdropping on his personal conversation with God.” You were. For, it was his relationship with his Lord that made him the person he was.

A member of the Kentucky Walking Horse Association since its inception, he served as a member of the board for more than two decades, many of those years as a vice president. He preferred to stay out of the limelight and to work behind the scenes and use his political and personal connections for the benefit of the industry. He also served as a board member and as two-time president of the Ohio Valley Walking Horse Association. He also was a member of the Mercer County Fair Board.

A native of Harrodsburg, John began photographing horses in 1951 at his hometown Mercer County Fair, and gradually branched out to other fairs, notably the Lawrenceburg Fair Horse Show. Early on, most of his work was with American Saddlebreds, but as Tennessee Walking Horses began to get a foothold in the state, he began photographing them as well, something some other photographers were unwilling to do.

A graduate of the University of Kentucky, he was a reporter and an editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader from 1960 to 1977. From these positions he was able to do much to promote the horse industry. His writings and his personal influence are largely responsible for the Kentucky Horse Park as we know it today. It was originally to have been a Thoroughbred park only. That it now includes all breeds and is a true showplace for the industry can be attributed to John’s work as chairman of the Representative Review Committee, which ultimately made the final decisions regarding the park. Three different governors appointed him to serve on this panel.

He and Sue married in Aug. 1975. Over the years, they became a familiar twosome throughout Kentucky. They reared two children, Becky and John. In his last years, the joy of John’s life was three grandchildren, Bethany, Dillon and Jack.

He was a brilliant man, interested in everything, comfortable in his own skin, loving his Lord and always willing to help any of us to become the best we could be.

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