By Sadie Fowler | Photos by Shane Shiflet

As beloved owner Abby Fox tries to put into words how much her prized champion and companion means to her she admits struggling to describe her feelings — because Led Zeppelin is just that special.

“It’s hard to put into words what Led means to me,” Abby said. “I just love him so much, and am so proud of him. He’s truly a blessing to my family and me and I feel so lucky to be owned by him.”

In fact, Fox is not alone in her assessment of her rock star equine legend as Led Zeppelin is the designated performance horse to which this year’s Year In Walking Horses book is dedicated. By John F. K.'s Pusher and out of Rain’s Magic Spell (by Black Rain), Led Zeppelin has a résumé that would turn anyone’s head. It includes five world championships and three world grand championships in addition to an astonishing 41 blues, three reserves and two third place finishes over the course of his six year show history. His winning career began with Darrell Frazier and Justin Jenné, followed by Carson Adams before the Fox family took the ownership reins.

As though his number of blues and championships isn’t enough to get one’s attention, another way of looking at his consistency as a leading frontrunner no matter where he shows is the fact that he’s never placed below third, ever. Additionally, Led has earned five Horse of the Year awards, something that is voted on by the trainers of the industry, which holds a lot of weight in the family’s appreciation.  

“Those are voted on by the trainers, so they’re really special to us, and it’s quite an honor to be chosen,” she said.  In describing her pal, Abby says that Led’s personality is one thing that makes him so special,
plus he’s incredibly fun to ride. “Led’s a blast to ride, and anybody could ride him,” Abby said. “He’s laid back, and nothing seems to bother him. And he’s playful. If you’re anywhere near  him, he’ll pick at you. He can’t stand not to. He’s very endearing, and I’m totally smitten with him. I could live another 10 lifetimes and never  find another one like him. He’s my partner, and I can’t imagine life without him. I wouldn’t trade him for all the cattle in Texas.”

She’s not joking, and trading all the cattle in Texas would be a big deal to Abby Fox, who says her entire life is centered around her family farm and her animals including horses, cattle and her French Bulldog, Tucker. Abby received a degree from Tennessee Tech University in Animal Science, and she currently is a veterinary technician at a busy animal hospital in Rickman, Tennessee. 

“My family has always had Walking Horses, and I’ve been riding since I was able to sit on one by myself,” she said. “I started riding a spotted teasing pony — ‘Pony Boy’ was his name. Then from there, when I was seven, I got my first horse, Heartache. He taught me how to ride. I would just get on him and go, with no saddle, because who has time to saddle a horse when you’re seven?”

Heartache basically raised Abby as they purchased the then six-year-old who spent the remainder of his long life with the family. “He was six when I got him, and he was with me the rest of his life,” she said. “He passed away at 33 years of age, and is buried behind the barn.”  

Through the years, Abby has been fortunate to have several special horses aside from Pony Boy and Heartache, including, of course, Led Zeppelin, and several others in between. Another was A Touch Of Genius, Abby’s first show horse and the horse she credits with teaching her a lot including how to perform all three gaits as well as how to win and how to lose — both gracefully.

In fact, it was A Touch Of Genius who paved the way for Abby’s future Celebration performances. In 1992, she showed at the prestigious event for her very first time in the Juvenile 11 & Under Geldings class and left with a white ribbon.

“The 1992 Celebration will always be a favorite memory of mine,” she said. “After getting fourth in the preliminary, we came back in the championship and Touch and I were third behind Hometown Favorite and Jenny’s Jezebel, two all-time greats. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d won!”

Another special horse was Command’s Wild Card. Abby and Wild Card were a team for 11 years until she lost him to an ethmoid hematoma in May of 2010. He’s buried behind her barn alongside Heartache.

Then of course there’s Abby’s precious Pro V 1, another horse she’s had great success with including earning her very first world grand championship title in 2015 in the Amateur 15.2 & Under stake. A world grand champion at two, prior to Abby owning him, Pro V 1 is also part of the family and has a home for life.

It would not be fair to mention Abby Fox without the other top horses to which she’s connected and had great success with, but there’s no doubt about it — Led Zeppelin holds that special place in Abby’s heart.

“Led is my heart horse, my one in a million,” she said. “I knew he was special the first time I saw him standing in the crossties at Justin Jenné’s barn. He had ‘that look.’” 

And that look is something Abby knew from day one. She was on call at work on the night of the Lewisburg horse show in 2013 and was therefore watching the show on the computer, although she did not have sound on the computer. She saw a black colt ridden by Jenné that she really liked, but she had no idea what the colt was.

“I called my mom, Linda (Fox), to see if she had seen him and what his name was,” Abby said. “She told me that she had just gotten off the phone with Scott (who was at the show) and was going right then to ask about him.”

Come Monday, Abby says they were on their way to Belfast to look at him. She knew the moment she got on him, before they’d even stepped off, that he was the one for which they’d been looking.

“We left for home, without him, but by the end of the two hour drive home, he was ours,” she said. “He was, and still is, the easiest horse I’ve ever ridden. Anybody could ride him. All I do is sit there. He’s a smart horse.” 

Purchased in August 2013, their first show together was at Asheville in October that fall. They showed in the Amateur Three-YearOld Stallions class. It was a big class with 18 or 19 entries, and Abby can still remember Scott Beaty telling her to slow down the first way of the ring. Abby, having way too much fun, hardly listened.

“Led just kept building with every step, and I was having a blast,” she said. “Led won that class unanimously. I’ll never forget the crowd support that night during and after our class.”

Beaty showed him the next night in the open class for the three-year-olds and he was unanimous again. While Abby had been confident in her horse from day one, it was at this point she really “knew” she had a good one.

Though they didn’t show in the Celebration in 2013, they made quite a debut the following year in the Amateur-Four-Year-Old Stallions class as they earned the Fox family their first world championship.

“That was a very special night for sure,” she said. “I remember we had three horses showing that night, all back to back, with Led being the last shown.”

Abby laughed as she described the memory, explaining the warmup ring looked similar to that of a NASCAR pit stop.

“We were saddling, bracing, everything all at the same time,” she laughed. “There was a swarm of people around that horse. When I got on him there was eight seconds left on the clock to get in the ring. I didn’t even get to ride him, we just went straight down the chute and into the ring.”

As talented as Led is in his own right, the Fox family credits their longstanding relationship with Beaty to be an important ingredient to the horse’s success. The family’s relationship with him, which began in 1989, is founded on trust and dependability. 

“My family has had horses with Scott Beaty for 30 years,” she said. “And I’ve learned just about everything from him. The Beatys are considered family. Scott is just so regular, he’s a farmer too, just like my family. He takes such good care of his horses.”

Also on the team are Todd Claborn and Joseph King, and the trio works fabulously well as a team. Abby describes all three as being hard workers who put a tremendous amount of time and effort into their horses.

“They want you to be successful with your horses,” she said, which resonates well with Abby and her way of thinking. She believes in working hard and staying the course.

“You have to just keep on keeping on,” she said. “You have to stay hungry. You win some, you lose some, and life goes on. Throughout the journey, be kind and stay humble.” 

Abby has countless prized memories from her years in the show ring but, 2019 was another all-time favorite season as they masterfully cruised through the entire season in undefeated fashion. The season culminated with the pair winning the world grand championship for the third consecutive year, and retiring some beautiful memorial challenge trophies.

“I loved it when they played a little Led Zeppelin music before our victory pass this year,” Abby said. “That was so special and definitely a highlight for me!”

Another special memory for Abby took place just following the Celebration, in the fall of 2019. Abby was asked to exhibit Led at a show and had to come up with something for the announcer to read.

“I only had a few minutes to come up with something, and wasn’t really thinking about what I was scribbling down,” she said. “But as I heard the announcer recite it, it hit me just what all this horse had accomplished in just a few short years. I got pretty emotional … But to be honest, every time I climb on his back is pretty special.”  

Led Zeppelin tops the charts in Abby’s book, and several other greats owned by the family also have their secure positions in the history books. Speaking in more of a broad sense, the Tennessee Walking Horse in general holds a dear spot in Abby’s heart.

“They’re smart, level-headed, and can do anything any other breed can do,” she said. “And they can do these things well into their teens and 20s!” 

While her heart belongs to the Walking Horse, Abby says she appreciates a good horse no matter the breed. “I think it would be so cool to ride a good cow horse!” she said. “I love to watch a cutter and a reining horse.” 

As long as it’s a horse show, Abby’s happy. When she’s not at one, she says she’s likely thinking about being at one and if she has to settle for not being around her favorite equine companions, Abby says she enjoys live music in small venues and sitting around a fire with some good company.

“That is always fun to me,” she said. “As long as I’m in the company of good friends I’m good. During the week, I stay busy with my job at the clinic, often working late into the evening, even overnight some.” Abby also has a herd of Simmental cattle that she enjoys, along with her dad Quentin.

“I love watching the babies grow, and picking out which ones to keep back to build the herd,” she said, speaking to what makes her tick outside the show ring. “As far as how I unwind, I enjoy going for walks, or going for a drive. Watching the cattle and horses grazing in the pastures is relaxing to me as well.”

But nothing tops the thrilling ride on board a Tennessee Walking Horse, and there’s nothing more fun than riding a performance horse like Led Zeppelin.

“Beyond the show ring itself, I think what keeps it fun while showing goes back to the friendships made throughout the years,” she said. “I’m blessed with some great friends and a wonderful barn family! I love the camaraderie that goes along with showing. I wouldn’t have met my best friends if it weren’t for the horses.”

Abby says the Tennessee Walking Horse truly fits into any family’s particular need as it relates to horses. Not only can they do it all, but there is a horse for every budget, she says. Currently, she thinks the performances horses are the best they’ve been since she’s been around.

“Horses are better now than I’ve ever seen them,” she said, adding that the negative public perception of the breed remains its greatest challenge. “There are some really great, naturally talented horses showing today. I get excited every winter watching the colts develop, and can’t wait to see them in the ring...I wish there were a quick solution to removing the stigma attached to the breed. I would love to change the unwarranted views of the ones who are so strongly in opposition of our horse. 

Abby is proud to have Led Zeppelin represent the breed in fine fashion and appreciates every award and top ribbon they receive. Her advice to someone newly entering the show horse arm of the industry is quite simple.

“Winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t fun either,” she said. “So ride to win! This applies to both showing and in life.”  Of course, earning the spotlight ride down victory lane came by much practice and help thanks to Led. As Abby closed out her thoughts, she acknowledged one of her favorite things about Led Zeppelin.

“I want to acknowledge how honest a horse Led is,” she said. “He’s the same every time you pull him out of his stall. He’s just that special.”