Skip to content

"Mr. Blue Ribbon" Hershel Talley Part II



I’ve been known to show a horse as fully and completely as these two legendary trainers did. Even in the line ups, Hershel and Sam always had their mounts at full attention, showing off the breed’s beauty. They were great showmen and trainers.

“Hershel rode the way he did because he wanted to promote the Walking Horse the best he possibly could,” Jack Doss said. Like everyone who knew Hershel well, Doss called him the hardest of workers, a man who never made excuses or promises he could not keep. “Whenever Hershel pulled into any show grounds, you automatically knew you were in for a treat. I followed him all over the country for many years, just to watch him show...and these are memories no amount of money could buy or replace.”

For two years while in my early teens, I had the privilege of riding out of Hershel’s barn. Liz and I had nice horses at the time, just what we needed to really learn on...both Hershel and my daddy thought it important not to start a rider out with a top horse, that it was important for us to learn to be gracious losers, so that eventually as better horses came along, we’d also be gracious winners. But Hershel worked just as hard with Liz and her Miss Pandora, than her Someday, and myself and Moonglow’s Gal as he did the many champions he produced.

And champions poured from Hershel Talley Stables on a consistent basis. For decades, he was acclaimed as Alabama’s foremost trainer in a career that spanned some sixty years. He started, showed, or trained such well known winners as twice world champion and Reserve Amateur World Grand Champion Eagle’s Ace (ridden to these and so many more auspicious titles by daughter Priscilla). Priscilla could and can ride the hair off any horse she’s ever thrown a leg over, and as Hayden’s Alabama’s Molly Walker fondly recalls, “To see Priscilla ride was just as if seeing her Daddy ride...she always sat straight in the saddle, hands down, elbows out, and rode hard...and won...just like Hershel.”

Among the many other Talley horses included Amateur World Grand Champion Clown’s Spur, Ladies Amateur Reserve World Grand Champions Gracie Wilson (with Miss Dot aboard) and Pride’s High and Mighty (with Priscilla in the saddle), Spur’s Clown (a fantastic horse himself who went on to sire all the great Clown horses who prevailed so greatly in Alabama competition for so many years), Duke’s Handyman, Clown’s Miss Liberty, Ace’s Sweet Dream, Spur’s Commander, Duke’s Roan Allen, Again Go Sue, Clown’s Image, Mighty Shadow, Clown’s Mr Special, Ace’s Star, Copy’s Mark IV, Go Boy’s Mighty Mouse, Shining Star, and others too numerous to mention.

Except for when it came to instructing his riders, Hershel was known as a humble man of few words...he let his horses tell his story for him...and what stories these horses told about this remarkable man. He taught his riders so much.

He taught us the difference between riding and showing, and then the very great difference in showing and competing...and believe me, there are vast differences in all three. This was one of the secrets to his success, and he generously passed it on not only to those of us who rode under his tutelage, but to many others as well. And as part of the learning process, he let all his juveniles and amateurs ride virtually anything in the barn...and just as we learned from Hershel, we all learned from his great horses as well.

As I said, the first blue ribbons I ever won were riding out of Hershel’s barn...and boy was I ever proud of them. But the show under him that I take the greatest pride in did not yield a blue ribbon, but a pink one. It was in Gadsden, Alabama, in 1968, and the juvenile classes back in those days were awesome. There were 18 to 20 horses in the class...it was the first time Moonglow’s Gal had ever thrown a shoe in the showring. it was my first time to be included in the “good workout” along with about half the class. As the ribbon placements were called, the first four were all world and reserve world champions. And when my number was announced for fifth, the smile of pride on Hershel's face and what he had to say to me afterwards meant more than any blue ribbon could have. He said, “Sarah, I have never been prouder of any ride you’ve made - you got just as much out of ‘ol Moonglow as I could have myself”... and no words could have meant more to me than these. And when Hershel Talley smiled, which was almost constantly, it was as if the darkest hours of night had turned into the brightest and most beautiful of mornings.

Hershel was the master of his own destiny and did virtually everything for the horses under his care himself. He had never kept much in the way of hired help, because he wanted to do everything...the only way he could be sure that his standards were being made. As Jack Doss relates, “Hershel could pick the best colts from a field full of many - he was unerringly drawn to them. He’d let the young men who worked for him take just the rough edges off the greenest and rankest of colts...then assume their reins himself, long before most trainers would. And he would never ask anyone who worked for him to do something he wouldn’t do and hadn’t done many times over himself.” He just plain out loved riding his horses, and virtually all the riding was done by Hershel himself.

Although Priscilla and I are only one year apart in age, she had been showing for several years when my initiation to competition came and Priscilla and the great mare Clown’s Miss Liberty and Liz Kyle Riehl and her great horses Go Boy’s High Hat for juvenile, walking pony Mighty Little Fellow, and amateur stallion, Go Boy’s Johnny were the juvenile riders I aspired to emulate, as well as Hershel himself upon first seeing them all in the showring in 1967.

Well known, loved, and respected amateur exhibitor of well over three decades, Jane Hardy Meredith, echoes my sentiments here. Jane said, “Hershel Talley made horse shows exciting. He was truly a master showman. When I was about 10 years old, I remember watching him enter the ring for the stake class. The late Joe Vann Clayton had just entered the ring, with Hershel right behind him. But showman that he was, Hershel came through the gate headed in the reverse direction. The two of them met at the opposite end of the gate...and I’ll never forget the excitement and cheers of the crowd.”

Jane continued, “On a personal basis, both Hershel and Miss Dot were always very kind to my late father L.C. Hardy and myself - they always went out of their way to say hello...and I cannot remember a time that Hershel didn’t have a smile on his face. And he should have been smiling, because he always had a great string of horses. Like Sarah, I was in awe of Priscilla when I was a young rider - I wanted to ride just like her.” And ride very well Jane always has.

Hershel put many great juvenile and amateur teams in the show ring...the late Lloyd Wood and Clown’s Spur (who was later purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Green and Miss Sarah Jo Boyette as trainer). And to me, Clown’s Spur was the epitome of the ideal amateur horse. The first time I saw Hershel ride him, he tied Spur’s reins in a knot and let them flop against this beautiful bay stallion’s neck, sat tall in the saddle with his arms crossed across his chest, and had Spur perform all three gaits both ways to the ring to perfection...never missing a single step. I’ve seen other trainers do such as that since, but Hershel was the first. And he so generously let Liz and me ride Clown’s Spur many times and this horse was pure perfection no matter who was aboard him. And Hershel selected fine mounts for both of Lloyd’s daughters.

The late Howard and Helen Utter of Akron, Indiana and their well known daughter Lynne Utter Northrop had Lynne’s amateur horses with Hershel before eventually moving on to then C.A. Bobo and Sons Stables in Shelbyville, Tenn. Lynne too had a great amateur stallion, Mighty Shadow (whom eventually became Mr. Utter’s mount prior to Star Of The Show) and an awesome ladies gelding, bold, bay, high headed Pride’s High and Mighty, both upon whom she won many blues from Talley Stables.

And besides having daughter Priscilla on Clown’s Miss Liberty, when Eloise and the late Ocie Cook’s of Birmingham, Alabama, great little stallion Eagle’s Ace came along, Hershel put Priscilla on “Peanut” for walking pony competition. Their first show together was in Mobile, Alabama, one of the three late fantastic, highly competitive fall shows then known as the Heart Of Dixie Circuit, along with Montgomery and Baton Rouge. Eagle’s Ace was only a three-year-old at his and Priscilla’s first outing, and Mobile’s own Lynn Doughty (now Mrs. Greg Gochnear) had the winningest pony out at the time in her many times world champion Setting Sun’s Apollo. Lynn and Apollo were heavy competition under any circumstances, but especially at their home town show. But victory was not to be theirs once Priscilla and Eagle’s Ace entered the showring. Hershel had coached his daughter well, told her she could beat ‘em all...and she did...and no father could ever have been prouder of his daughter.

Hershel did not always express his great pride in words, but the beaming smile on his face said more than a dictionary. As Priscilla herself has said many times, “My Daddy was a very kind man, but saying the words “I Love You” did not come easy to him, (as has often been known to be the case of men of Hershel’s generation)...but he had a way of showing his love that rose above any words to that effect could have.”

Priscilla went on to win the then unsplit as to sex of horses 15.2 and Under Amateur Class on Eagle’s Ace twice, as well as the Reserve Amateur World Grand Championship. When Lynne Northrop was unable to make the Celebration one of those two years, Priscilla assumed the reins on Pride’s High and Mighty and the Ladies Amateur Reserve World Grand Championship was theirs...and the Celebration was the only times she ever showed this grand gelding.

But of course Hershel’s first great amateur rider was the love of his life, the wonderful Dorothy Smith whom he married over 54 years ago. And Miss Dot, who has been through so much health and surgery this year, rode the great mare Gracie Wilson to the Ladies Amateur Reserve World Championship in the early years of their marriage. Miss Dot “retired herself” from the showring, as the Talley children were born, first Priscilla, then son Van, and youngest daughter Nanette Talley Clark, 15 years after Priscilla was born. Nanette and husband Eddie of 17 years, gave Hershel and Miss Dot their precious grandchildren Tyler and Anna Clark. But it was Priscilla who inherited her Daddy’s intense love of horses as well as his enormous skill in the showring and she was the only one of the three Talley children to show...and to this day, any time Priscilla Talley enters the showring, she is a force to be reckoned with. Her innate skills, a legacy from Hershel, enable her to upon occasion take a lesser horse, and beat her competition.

In his heyday as a trainer, few could compare to Hershel Talley. He always said, “This is a horse show..and if we don’t look at it that way, we need to do something else.” Showmanship says it all about Hershel...his fierce love of competition made him one of the greatest showmen of all times.

Jack Doss recalls more about this, “Hershel studied every class he ever entered, and no matter how full the ring might be of horses, he had that special talent and sixth sense to always place his horse in a manner where none of his competition could ever cover him up. That was showmanship at its finest.” Doss continued, “Hershel never took any shortcuts, because he was never satisfied by anything less than perfection. Like any great athlete, he worked at it, not only for himself, but imparting this wisdom to his juvenile and amateur riders.”

And even after some of his riders moved on to other barns, Hershel took the greatest of pride in their accomplishments. Lynne Utter Northrop is the most prime example of this, winning 20 World and World Grand Championships with what many consider the greatest gelding of all times, Mister Delight H out of C.A. Bobo and Sons Stables, winning another world title, as did her late father Howard Utter on another great gelding Star Of The Show, the Amateur Reserve World Grand Championship on her late mother’s Mr. Wilson’s Major, and her mom, the late Miss Helen herself won the Over 15.2 Amateur Stallion World Championship twice on Wilson.

Robbie Spiller was another of Hershel’s highly successful riders. Her father and Hershel were great friends during the years the Talley family was in Tuscaloosa, and once they’d moved to Baileyton, Mr. Spiller sent Robbie’s walking pony there for Hershel to train, when Robbie was 13. It was on this pony, Delight’s Champ, that Robbie won her first world title on, out of C.A. Bobo and Sons Stables, a few years later in juvenile ranks, and in the years since then, she has won several more blue ribbons at the Celebration in amateur competition.

He was also proud of my own accomplishments in the showring, and the Talleys were among the first to come to Steve Aymett’s barn in 1982 after I’d won the 15.2 amateur stallion preliminary and the 15.2 and Under Amateur World Grand Championship, to congratulate my family and myself. Priscilla told me just in the past few weeks, that her Daddy loved reflecting on all he did to teach “little Sarah to ride, show, and compete to maximum ability”, which he most certainly did...and hearing that meant the world to me...and I lovingly credit him for his vast contributions to the showring success I enjoyed for so many years.

That was part of the magic of Hershel Talley...he cared, and cared so deeply about his family, his horse, his customers, and his friends (and all of his customers were his friends for life). He was just as proud to see the juvenile and amateur riders whose careers he had “started” go on to won out of other barns as if they’d all still been riding for him...but once influenced by Hershel, no matter what barn you rode out of, you were still riding for him...because he’d taught you so well.

As I’ve said before, of the many great trainers I rode under in my almost 20 years of living to show Walking Horses, the three greatest influences were Hershel, J.T. Leech, and of course Steve Aymett. With the great education Hershel and J.T. had given me, Steve picked up where those two left off...and until the day I am no longer able to throw a leg over the back of a horse, the voices in the back of my mind, voices that will always be there, will be Hershel, J.T. and the much more soft spoken Steve advising me what to do.

Hershel Talley...Mr. Blue Ribbon...Mr. Showmanship...great trainer of horses and riders...I know you’ll be watching down on all the shows. You have no idea how many trainers, as well as amateur and juvenile riders you influenced, even those who never worked or rode under you. One of these is Sonny Holt, who was thrilled that the trainers consulted chose him to judge your show this year. He’s told me how seeing you ride helped cement his own determination to become a trainer...and a great one he was. He was so very honored to be asked to judge your show this year...and when the offer was extended to him, he said only if he could donate his fee back to the show, as a small way of showing his appreciation for your influence on his life as a horseman.

Sonny told me, “When I was first starting out at a very young age, working in the horse business, first for friends and family, then for George Witt, Hershel was such a great inspiration to me...and I don’t know whether I ever told him that or not. But he knows now...and also knows how many other of us good ol’ Alabama boys who went on to become trainers that did so largely in part because of seeing the great riding skills and showmanship of Hershel Talley.”

Another of these good ol’ Alabama boys who was introduced to the Tennessee Walking Horse was the late, Joe Vann Clayton, when as a teen, Joe Vann hung out at Hershel’s barn when Hershel was training in the Gadsden-Attalla area. As Joe Vann grew up, becoming a trainer himself, he and Hershel faced off in some of the most exciting stake classes I ever witnessed in the state of Alabama. Hershel and Joe Vann were the best and dearest of friends until the day Joe Vann died.

And prior to that, when the Talleys were in Tuscaloosa, Brooks Randall sent his son, the late Henry Randall (brother of Billy Randall) at age 12 to teach Brooks how to ride...and he too went on to become a successful trainer. Others who benefited greatly from Hershel’s generosity in passing on his training skills were Charlie Spencer, still training in Tuscaloosa, and his late brother Gabe Spencer, both very gifted horsemen.

In Hershel’s Baileyton years, Decatur, Alabama, attorney Kenneth Shelton, who trained his horses himself, was another of the young men Hershel mentored...and Kenneth loved Hershel tremendously...not just for what Hershel taught him, but even more for the kind of person Hershel was. To know Hershel was to adore him, to be in awe of him and all he could do with a horse, any horse.

After making and showing Duke’s Roan Allen with great success as a young stallion, then a stake horse, Hershel sold Roan Allen to Montgomery, Alabama’s Dr. Grady Price...his own all time favorite amateur mount. Price states he always thoroughly enjoyed watching Hershel show. In a letter of condolence he sent to the Talleys after Hershel passed, he wrote, “I remember Hershel saying, “I’d rather get beat then be passed by another horse in the showring - and my own attitude when showing was pretty much the same.” Price continued, “Hershel was always so much fun to be around. He was such a great man and beyond great horseman...I feel so fortunate to have had so many wonderful times with him, as well as the priceless memories of him which will be with me forever.”

And that is the tip of the iceberg for all of us who knew, loved, and highly respected Hershel Talley and all he stood for. Reflections all all the fabulous horses and shows Hershel made, reflections on the man of such great integrity he was, will continue to influence all lucky enough to have known him well forever and always.

Hershel, thank you from all of us whose lives you touched an enriched...for that we will never be able to express enough appreciation. And thank you, thank you, thank you, for the greatest of memories that no matter how great the passing of time, will never be erased from any of our minds.

More Stories