By Sadie Fowler

More than 25 years ago, David Landrum and Jerrold Pedigo joined in a business venture that has long been known as one of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry’s premiere events of the year. 

It’s a place where not only top horses — many of them legendary — go through the sale ranks, but also a place that offers a social platform like no other. It’s a place to see, and be seen. 

This year’s edition takes place Feb. 2 and 3 in Lexington, Kentucky. 

“It became a social event wrapped around a Tennessee Walking Horse auction,” said Jerrold Pedigo, reflecting on the sale’s history. “We were always an auction but we became so much more.”
Landrum echoed that sentiment.

“People would literally fly in from all over, and these were the major power players of the business,” he said. “You’d see people dressed up, women wearing mink coats. It was the place to be, and still is, really. 
“We still have lots of loyal clients who have been with us since day one. The social aspect of this sale is huge. It’s about the camaraderie.”

Good timing!

Both men explained the timing of the sale was always on its side. By February, walking horse enthusiasts are typically craving time with their horse friends. The show season is still weeks away in February, and banquets for the previous year, for the most part, have already been held by this point.

“It’s during a dead period in our industry,” Pedigo said. “Up until the colt previews there’s not much going on, so people are starving for a horse-related event.”

Landrum, who purchased ownership in the sale in 1991, not too long after Pedigo, even met his wife Karla there, and the personal story tied to that is one that’s near and dear to his heart. 

Landrum added to Pedigo’s comments about the social aspect of the Kentucky After Christmas Sale.
“Our sale has always been a who’s who of the Tennessee Walking Horse business,” he said. “Everyone came, and they still come, whether they’re buying, selling, or just there for the social aspect. It’s similar to the Celebration in that regard. It’s like a Kentucky Derby for walking horse people.” 

Owners converge

Over the years, the sale has been connected or tied to various owners, a couple locations, and even a different name during its early years.

Eddie Bryant began what is now the Kentucky After Christmas Sale in Morehead, Kentucky in the late 1970s. His wife Dottie helped him. In the early 1980s it moved locations to Tattersall’s, a place rich in equine history across many breeds. 

By the early 1980s, Sonny Holt became involved and purchased it. He ran it for several years, until it was eventually owned by the cluster of Pedigo and Landrum, as well as Calvin Baird, Charles Bryant and Raymond Pedigo.

“Sonny was a great promoter of our breed and brought a lot of charisma to the sale,” Landrum said. “He put it on the map. He was instrumental in the 1980s with getting top horses listed and buyers who could spend money. He had so much charisma. You couldn’t help but love Sonny.”

In August 1990, Pedigo purchased an interest in the sale, followed by Landrum doing the same in 1991. The two put on the 1991 sale together, the same year Holt sold his remaining interest. The rest, as they say, is history.

Pedigo, who grew up in the auction business, recognized the real potential of the sale right away. He and Landrum have always taken their ownership roles seriously, running it as a strict business. 

Hard work pays off

Despite the huge undertaking and hard work, they loved it all.

“It was a huge undertaking,” Pedigo said. “It was hard work. It is hard work. We’d start on Tuesday and go until midnight for five days in a row. Of course, people there for the social aspect didn’t have to get up as early as us, but they were there to enjoy themselves. 

“We’d get four hours of sleep and do it all again. We had a core group of folks who worked every year, then we had those who would work a year and realize how hard it was. It was very hard work. But to us, it was fun. It still is.”

During their first year, about 300 horses went through the sale. Before they knew it, they were averaging close to 1,000 head of horses each year. By the early 2000s, they peaked at moving 250-plus horses a day, with at times a total of about 1,200 horses selling over the course of five days.

“We would fill the place up,” he said. “Tattersall’s was old, but traditional. It was also a true sale building. Unlike where we are today, which is used for several different types of venues throughout the year, Tattersall’s was built for auctions. It was much smaller, which also made it feel like there were even more people there.
“For example, with a bigger venue like the Kentucky Horse Park, everything is much more spaced out, so you can have the same number of people and it doesn’t feel nearly as packed as Tattersall’s.”

Though some of the atmosphere and pageantry experienced by sale goers, which came as a welcome consequence of the Tattersall’s facility, is no longer present, the sale is still hugely popular and well-attended. 

The Tattersall effect

Landrum explained that Tattersall’s — which is on the same property as the prestigious Red Mile horse track in Lexington, Kentucky — had about 400 stalls connected to its auction facility. Then, across from the track there were another 350 stalls they could use. This gave them 750 stalls to use, plus they’d often have to set up 300 to 400 temporary stalls.

“Making water available for all those horses in the middle of winter in Kentucky, setting up lights for all those stalls and other things like that made it a huge undertaking, but we were selling over 1000 horses at that time,” said Pedigo, explaining it was well worth the effort.

The sale remains a must-do event today, although both admitted changes in the economy over the years as well as the industry have affected the sale, like everything else, to some degree.

Factually speaking, fewer horses moving through the sale is a result that is reflective of current times. The inventory of horses today is much less than it was 12 or 15 years. Less horses, less interest. During those years, 15,000 horses being registered compared to 2.500 this year. 

Industry leaders across the board agree, however, those numbers have been slowly but surely bouncing back as the walking horse industry regains its strength and momentum. Pedigo and Landrum are optimistic this will have a positive impact on their sale, which thankfully hasn’t lost its magnetic pull for its social aspect.
“There is a mob of people who still come and visit the sale,” Pedigo said. “It still has a great social element to it. The concession people at our new location, the Kentucky Horse Park, say they do more business with our sale than they do with many of their other events throughout the year, including bigger events.”

Walking Horse people come out in a big way, and it has been noticed by leaders at the new facility, leaders that at one point may have questioned whether the walking horse industry was the right fit for the facility.

Endless tales

Pedigo and Landrum can’t help but shake their heads in awe over the early days. The stories behind the walls of Tattersall’s are endless, perhaps none more personal than the story of Landrum meeting his wife Karla there. Karla, the daughter of Charles Bryant, was in the stands in 1987 when she caught Landrum’s eye. 
“I met her that year and in 1988, one year later, we were married,” he said as he warmly and enthusiastically shared the story. “She was sitting in the stands and we were selling a horse called Mud Slide Slim. I asked her if she would like to buy him and she, quite curtly, said, ‘I already have my horses.’ 

“I had noticed her early on in the sale and had told the auctioneer there was an attractive woman in the stands and that I was going to introduce myself to her, so I guess you could say I sort of planned to approach her and sort of used the horse to do that, but she shot me down right away. 

“Another funny thing about it, on top of Mr. Bryant being her dad, Sonny Holt was her trainer at the time. I guess that tells you how intertwined we all are in this industry.”

Horses, people and lots of stories — that’s what has made the first Saturday in February (the final night of sale) so special year after year. It was often standing room only, and more than a few horses sold up in the $100,000 range. 

Landrum and Pedigo served as social directors of the event as much as auction leaders. They’d work the sale, sleep a few hours, do it again, count crazy amounts of cash in the Tattersall’s office, and direct the crowd. 

Lexington, and the big snow!
When the auction was over they moved the celebration to The Campbell House down the street, which is another prized location that’s rich in history for any horse person who has visited the Red Mile in Lexington. 
“Lexington was such a great location because it captured southern and northern buyers,’ Landrum said, explaining why Lexington was chosen for the sale to begin with. “Lexington was also just a great city, and still is.”

It wasn’t just socializing or buying and selling horses that attracted people to the Kentucky After Christmas Sale. Industry leaders (Landrum added the late David Howard and Ron Thomas loved going to the sale), would make appearances there as a chance to visit with sponsors of even bigger events, such as The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

Landrum went on to share the story of the year of the snow storm. A record breaking snow fall shut the sale down, with 27 inches falling in Lexington — and ironically missing every other town within a two-hour radius. 
“We had 1000 horses coming in that year for a five-day event,” Landrum said. “Wednesday morning, when a lot of folks were just planning to arrive (some would come a day late) we got a call from security saying we had to get the horses out. The barns were starting to cave in from so much snow and the fire marshal deemed it not safe. 

“It was dangerous. We didn’t know what to do because we couldn’t just get the horses out. Conditions were too bad to get trucks in and out, and we at one point thought we were even going to lose the sale arena due to the roof possibly caving in … We would literally move horses by hand to other stalls that weren’t caving in. It was like playing musical chairs with the horses. “It was amazing everyone survived.”

About a week later, Ron Thomas called them and said, ‘What can we (The Celebration) do to help you?’” Landrum said. “Thirty days later we held the sale in Shelbyville, Tennessee, a location that wasn’t as convenient for many of the northern buyers, but tons of people still came out to support it. We practically worked off the same catalog.”

Smoking, no —  great horses, yes!

At a quick glance down memory lane, both men can chime off countless nostalgic stories that bring back smiles, such as the year they decided to ban smoking, which was a big deal, Landrum explained. It was a decision that had to be made but wasn’t necessarily welcomed by those who enjoyed the fact that they actually could smoke there when most public places had long before banned smoking in public.

Nothing tops the stories of some of the legendary horses who came through the sale. Motown Magic, a former World Grand Champion who sold for over $100,000, was one of those horses. Another was Big Rock ER, who created about as much excitement as any other horse in sale history. 

“He was the most watched horse of the week for the sale,” Landrum said. “There was some competitive bidding going on, with one group trying to get him for the amateur division and the other bidding group trying to get him for the open division.”

He landed a new home with the Barnett family that year, but it was standing room only all the way to the finish line and the word “sold!”. 

Secret’s Fire Fox and Pusher’s Big Score were others who came to mind when reminiscing of some of the top horses they sold.

“I’ll never forget the people who bought Pusher’s Big Score,” he said. “They were from Ohio and brought a big sack of cash with them. I can’t tell you how many times Jerrold and I had to go into the back at Tattersall’s and lock the door to count money.”

Some of the other memorable names from the sale include: Mud Slide Slim (the horse Landrum tried to sell to Karla), Preakness, Sky Jam, Final Attraction, Eb’s Black Charger, Concealed Weapon, J.J’s Dollar Cotton, Andrew Johnson, Zulu, Chicago, Delight’s Man of Pride, Olympic Touch, Dawn’s Walking Blue, Wham, former World Grand Champion The Touch, Master Mark, Wedding Bell Blues, I’m In Command, Pride’s Mr. Strideaway, What A Delight, Generator’s Dynamite and GG’s Milk Money (this horse topped the sale a few years ago as a pleasure horse).

“And there were so many more like this that it’s almost too many to mention,” Landrum said. 
Broodmares and pleasure horses became a sought-after commodity at this sale as the quality was exceptional and prices soared. One example was the sale of NYPD’s dam, while she was carrying NYPD. 

“I think she sold up there and had NYPD two or three months later,” Pedigo said, adding there were several cases where mares would sell in the $30,000 range and many in the $17,000 range. “The broodmare and pleasure horse market really went wild up there. It was rocking.” 

A new era

Eventually, not too long ago, the time for change came and with that came the end of an era. 
“The pacer horse industry went downhill and that affected the Red Mile,” Pedigo said. “They then had to look for ways to bring money in and Tattersall’s was sold for development for University of Kentucky housing.”

Landrum and Pedigo negotiated one final sale that was in 2012, the final sale that ever took place at Tattersall’s. After that they began looking at other facilities. The Kentucky Horse Park stood out for its stellar indoor facility, heated stalls and other amenities that made it new and beautiful. 

They thought about moving it to Louisville but ultimately decided Lexington was home to the sale.
“Lexington is more centrally located for the majority of our clients, prestigious in the horse world and it’s also the better location,” Landrum explained. 

Pedigo said they worked very hard to seal the deal on the Kentucky Horse Park, which was challenge to some degree due to the timing. It was during a time period when the industry was going through challenges and therefore receiving negative press. We were able to secure the facility, continue the sale, and the social event that is the Kentucky After Christmas Sale.

It remains a big hit and a huge driver of traffic to the Horse Park. This year’s event takes place Feb. 2 and 3 and further information about this sale can be found in the What N When section of this edition of Walking Horse Report.