By Mark McGee

Heather Beard, owner of L & M Awards, has purchased Royal Ribbons and Awards from Keith Johnson, bringing together two well-known families in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

Heather is the daughter of world championship rider Gail Walling, best known for winning multiple world grand championships with The Dixie Lineman, now a top breeding stallion. Gail works part-time for veterinarian Krista Gilliam and also oversees the bookkeeping for L & M Awards. Her father is well-known farrier Mark Walling. While Mark has backed off of shoeing horses, he still produces horseshoes at his shop. Heather’s husband, Brad, operates a training barn at their home. Heather is an accomplished rider winning the Owner Amateur Novice World Grand Championship at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in 2005 aboard Bold Vengeance, who is now enjoying retirement on her farm. Heather and Brad have two daughters – Anne Marie, a sixth grade student attending the Webb School in Bell Buckle and Harlee, a three-year-old who goes to Barnyard Kids in Shelbyville. The horse bug has recently bit Anne Marie and you can see her in the show ring on her four-year-old mare I’m a Dixie Diva.

“My parents moved to Shelbyville in 1986 from Washington state when I was five and my sister, Ashley, was two,” Heather said. “They drove us across the country with all of our belongings and two horses in a trailer. We didn’t have a place to live lined up, so we stayed at a motel in Tullahoma for two weeks while my parents found a place to rent. They just wanted to be closer to the walking horses so they thought what better place to be than Shelbyville – the capital of the walking horse world.”

Keith, who started riding in high school in the early 1970s, has several world titles to his name. He and his wife, Suzy Cartwright Johnson, have continued a walking horse legacy that is in its sixth generation. Suzy’s great-grandfather Moody Arnold, her grandfather George Arnold and her father Bobby Cartwright all were part of the walking horse business. Following Suzy and Keith in the showring have been sons Adam and Joel and grandsons Tanner and Tucker.

“Walking horses started out as a hobby for me growing up,” Keith said. “I enjoy it. I have a feel for it and an eye for good horses.”

Destined to own L & M

Heather started working part-time for L & M Awards in high school due to the influence of her junior pro basketball coach Angie Parker who then worked there. Heather spent every summer at L & M during the busy show season through high school and college. After graduating from Cascade High School in 2000, she played basketball in West Tennessee at Freed-Hardeman University, where she stayed on as an assistant coach after graduation in 2004.

Brad and Heather were married in 2006 and by 2008 they were ready to return to Shelbyville. Brad found work at 4 The Glory Farm for Herbert Derickson, while Heather looked for a coaching job in the county. At that time Christy (Merrill) LoGalbo, the third family owner of L & M since it was started by Jimmy Richardson, a former Celebration organist in the 1960s, was looking to sell the business. Since Heather had experience working for LoGalbo from the past, she considered the challenge of becoming a business owner. “I thought about it for a few days and talked with my family. I knew the basics of the business and had many contacts in the walking horse world already so I took the leap and it just fell into place,” Heather remembers.




New markets

Keith started Royal Ribbons and Awards in 2004 in the back of a building owned by his father-in-law, Bobby Cartwright. It was supposed to be a part-time venture to fill the boredom after he retired as a consultant for Oracle. But the business grew until it required his attention on a full-time basis.

“We got bigger and bigger,” Keith said. “I had to have more employees especially during the peak times.”
Keith has also been successful showing the Friesian breed in the past. He used those connections to help him build a new market. 

“We had a totally different customer base with different connections outside the walking horse business,” Keith said. “We provided awards for Arabians, Saddlebreds, Friesians and Andalusians.

“We also worked with dog show and cat shows. Every event gives ribbons and awards.”

Johnson ready to help

Usually whenever two companies merge one loses its identity. But such is not the case in this merger. His company has been purchased, but Keith plans to remain involved. He already has a desk in the work area of L & M Awards and is ready to assist Heather and her staff.

“Heather called about purchasing the business,” Keith said. “I am getting older and liked the idea of slowing down a little bit, seeing the grandkids more.

“She has a great business at L & M and a great business mind so I felt it was  great fit. I am looking forward to helping make the transition as smooth as it can be and to see what we can do together in the future. Putting our styles together should offer a well-rounded company. It is endless what we can create,” adds Keith.

“I am looking forward to expanding L & M into other parts of the horse world,” Heather explains. “Keith already has many contacts in other breeds that will help us do that. He is a great asset to have and I think we can both learn from each other while working together to really grow L&M.”