By Sadie Fowler

Rarely do we see a former world grand champion Tennessee Walking Horse win the big set of roses and continuing competing. Only once have we seen a horse win the roses and come back years later to win again at the Celebration — in an entirely different division. 

Cash For Keeps will be remembered for a lot of things that span his long life, but he will be especially remembered for being the only horse to have ever been crowned the Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Champion as well as world champion in another division several years later. 

Owned and loved at the time of his death by Jeanne Morrison of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Cash For Keeps, by Coin’s Hard Cash and out of Pride’s GA Peach by Pride Of Midnight, passed away earlier this week at the age of 28. In addition to the Morrison Stables family, “Keeps” was loved by many, including his trainer for many years, Ray Gilmer of West Tennessee and his former owners Eldridge and the late Harrell Brawner.

“Hearing the news of his passing was kind of like a blow,” Brawner said. “Even though he lived a long life it was still kind of shocking and hard to hear.”

After first winning the World Grand Championship with Gilmer in 2000, in what many at the time called the best Celebration stake class in many years, Keeps came back to earn the Plantation Pleasure Lite-Shod World Championship in 2006, also with Gilmer. After winning the title in 2000 for the Brawners, Gilmer said Keeps had a motor that only got stronger with time.

“Keeps is a very intelligent animal who never has a bad day,” said Gilmer following that special victory. “He got a little stronger each round. The strongest round he made all night was the last round. That’s what you want to do.” 

In this first world grand championship for both Keeps and Gilmer, Gilmer’s grin won every heart in the crowd. Keeps demonstrated an equal amount of charisma, always seeming to pose for the camera and loving the attention he received from his adoring fans.

Foaled in 1991, Keeps was started as a four-year-old by Sammy Day and early on in his career the two of them collected their fair share of top prizes together as well, including the 1995 Four-Year-Old World Grand Championship as well as the preliminary for the stallions. 

Soon enough, Keeps found a friend and partner in his new trainer, Gilmer who picked up where Day left off and carried him to continued success. In 1998 they won the aged stallions world championship and kept progressing forward until that unforgettable moment in 2000. 

Speaking on behalf of the Harrell Brawner family, Eldridge Brawner described Keeps as being a once-in-a lifetime kind of horse. He said Keeps was so perfect that it was almost impossible to put it into words. In addition to his charisma in the show ring, Keeps was a standout behind the scenes as well. 

“People talk all the time about how great or how gentle their horse is that it’s almost cliché,” Brawner said. “I don’t know of anything bad, wrong or aggressive that he ever did. He was just perfect. I know I shouldn’t say that, but he was.”

Brawner shared a cute story about Keeps that captures the horse’s sweet demeanor. One night many years ago Brawner was making a long drive from Shelbyville to Arkansas. He got really tired and didn’t think he could make the long drive that night so he came up with a new plan.

“Keeps was at Falcon Ridge at the time and when I knew I couldn’t make the drive I just decided to stop at Falcon Ridge,” he said. “I jumped in the stall with him and fell asleep … I would have slept every night there and not had a fear in the world.”

Brawner expressed great appreciation for the years he and his father had the privilege of owning keeps. Sadly, when Harrell Brawner developed Alzheimer’s and father-son team could not do the horse thing at the level they wanted, which is one factor that led to the sale of Cash For Keeps to the Morrison family. 

The Brawner family trusted Gilmer tremendously, and they could see the excitement he felt about the potential pairing of Jeanne Morrison and Keeps. They felt good about the sale, knowing Keeps would be in fine hands. Keeps was “officially” retired to the breeding shed after the 2000 World Grand Championship, but that didn’t last too long. Back to Morrison, she happened to be looking for a pleasure mount and Gilmore had an idea. It was perfect timing and a good match. Keeps was pulled out of retirement and it was once again game on. 

Together, Morrison and Keeps made many wonderful memories, including the 2006 Amateur 50 & Over Plantation Pleasure Lite-Shod World Championship.

Reminiscing back to the 2000 victory, Gilmer was quoted as saying he almost didn’t believe it when their number, “1955,” was called out first that night.  “I thought I was dreaming,” said Gilmer, who was 46 at the time of the victory. “I just sat there a minute to make sure I was awake.”

Taking a closer look at the early days, the Brawners’ ownership of Cash For Keeps began in 1994 when Brawner told Sammy Day to find him a horse. The call came in and when Brawner saw him he said, “I knew the first time I saw him. I bought him that day.”

Under Day’s guidance, Cash For Keeps was the first horse to defeat He’s Puttin’ On the Ritz at Pulaski in 1994. In 1995, the team was part of one of the great showdowns in walking horse history at the Celebration. No one who saw it will forget the workout between Day and Keeps and Our First Impression and Bud Dunn. When he was named four-year-old world grand champion, it brought the house down.

Keeps was brought to Gilmer on Dec. 29, 1997 and the team made their debut in 1998 at the Jackson, Mississippi show where they won both the preliminary and championship. They added stake titles at the 1998 Cotton Classic and the Spring Fun Show, which came with a unanimous decision. They had a preliminary win at the Celebration that year and were fifth in the stake.

In 1999, their wins included Dixie Jubilee, Hernando Lions Charity Classic, Moore County, Southern Championship, White Oak Classic and reserve in the preliminary at the Celebration. 

In 2000, the team showed twice before the Celebration. They won the stake at Lewisburg, a reserve at Woodbury and a reserve spot in the preliminary at the Celebration. On Saturday night, the then-nine-year-old stallion and his determined rider were primed and ready. Both Brawner and Gilmer felt that Keeps made a near-perfect performance on Saturday night in the championship.

When Gilmer rode up for the world grand championship presentation, Gilmer dismounted and embraced his family in center ring. His two sons, daughter and son-in-law had jumped the rail and ran to him. The crowd loved it. 

When Keeps returned to the barn, he was followed by his fans. His reins were turned loose and he was in his full glory as fan after fan petted this calm stallion who seemed to lap it all up.

After a rest and a short retirement, Cash For Keeps began preparing with new owner Morrison, who at the time of purchasing him had her own goals and dreams to fulfill with the loving and talented horse. She and her daughter Mary Elizabeth had been involved in walking horses for years, but it was his new owners dreaming to win at the Celebration.

“He was just a special horse,” Brawner said. “Even after we sold him, we loved watching him show in flat-shod. It was just as exciting … Every show and every win, no matter how big or small the show, was just as good as the one before. He looked just as good flat-shod as he did the other.”