THE TALK OF THE TOWN,
Talk of the Town was foaled May 7, 1947 in
Salisbury, Maryland at the stables of Dr. R. M. Nock. He was
by Midnight Sun and out of Merry Rose. Dr. Nock soon decided
to clear out most of his Tennessee Walking Horses and Talk of the
Town and his dam, Merry Rose, were among those chosen to be sold.
The weanling was sold to E. L. Gregory and Son of Senatobia,
Mississippi. After the Gregorys had him green broke they
decided to sell him in the C. G. Smith sale and Jim Crain of Wilson,
Arkansas was the buyer at $200.00. Steve Hill stopped off on
his way to the Ft. Worth Horse Show that winter and after seeing
Talk of the Town work, immediately bought half interest in him.
The rest of the year is history.
In 1949, Steve Hill
won the Grand Championship on the mare MIDNIGHT MERRY. The gaits of
this mare were admittedly controversial, but the fact she won the
Three Year-Old Mare Class, the Junior Stake and the Grand
Championship speaks well for Steve's ability to train and show
Walking Horses. But the best was yet to come. It came in
the form of an outlaw horse from Arkansas named TALK OF THE TOWN.
Harold Wise of Lewisburg, Tennessee, told Steve about the
loose-moving colt, how it wobbled when it walked, but how it drove
its back-end way up under" as it moved along in one giant
stride after another. Harold believed Steve could put the colt
together and encouraged him to check the horse out. On one of
his trips to Texas, Steve went by the farm of Jim Crain to see this
unusual horse. He was everything Harold Wise had described.
Even his breeding was perfect for the times. He was sired by
MIDNIGHT SUN and was out of a MERRY BOY mare. Crain was quite
anxious for Steve to take the horse and told him "to take the horse
and train it for a year, that he'd give me a part of him or do most
anything I wanted to do." Crain had paid $200 for the colt and
at one time had offered to give him away. There were no
takers. On his way home from Fort Worth, Steve picked the bay
horse up and brought him to Beech Grove.
The horse proved to
be a handful. He had just been gelded, but the operation left
him more resentful than docile. Steve remembered, "He'd paw
you, you couldn't get to him when you tried to get on him.
He'd go forty feet by the time you put your foot in the stirrup.
I'd say turn him loose boys! If they didn't he rear up and
fall backward. I'd get on him while he was going down the
hall, but he had what it takes."
Although the horse proved to be a daily challenge he progressed
steadily as a three year-old. They sometimes rode him five
times a day. "I never did get him broke like I would have liked to
have had him. It was a year and a half before I could aim him
and hope to go in a particular direction." The first time
Steve attempted to show him was quite an adventure. "He was wild and
didn't like to canter. You couldn't touch him, he'd try to lay
down. You had to take him out and bring him back into the rail
like a gaited hose to get him to canter."
Obviously, Steve met
with some success in training the bay gelding for he won the Three
Year-Old Gelding Class at the 1950 Celebration. Steve Hill and
Talk of the Town made the Atlanta show and easily won the stallion
and gelding class. He won several other shows during his
junior year including the three-year-old gelding class at the
Celebration. In July of Talk of the Town's junior year Steve sold
his half interest to W. M. Duncan of Inverness, Mississippi.
In 1951, no horse could touch TALK OF THE TOWN. He remained
undefeated throughout the season and Steve approached the
Celebration with the utmost confidence. By the Celebration of
1951, Talk of the Town had grown to fifteen-two hands and was
blossoming out with an even more cocky personality and great
audience appeal. TALK OF THE TOWN won the Gelding Class without
breaking a sweat. MIDNIGHT MACK K. won the Stallion Class and
of course was immediately pointed toward the Stake.
No decade in the
history of the Walking Horse held more promise than that of the
1950's. The endless efforts of people who had striven for
scores of years to make the Walking Horse a distinctive breed had
reached a high level of fruition, and at last an imposing
superstructure had risen on the foundation of those efforts.
The Celebration had proven itself a vital part of that
superstructure. The Celebration was a shining ornament which
decorated the more fundamental considerations of breeding, training,
and trading that served as the girders to which the superstructure
was tied. But if the Celebration was ornamental in nature it
was, nevertheless, a functional ornament which in its own way
supported its part of the load and gave purpose to the other aspects
of the total Walking Horse effort.
The Celebration had become the court of last appeal in determining
the excellence of individual horses. The duel between MIDNIGHT SUN
and MERRY GO BOY was followed by others as the drama of the
Celebration continued to unfold. The next duel pitted TALK OF
THE TOWN against MIDNIGHT MACK K., both sons of MIDNIGHT SUN.
By 1951, many of the older stallions were disappearing from the
sire's line in Celebration winners, and both the gait of the Walking
Horse and its breeding were changing. There could be no doubt
as to the premier sire of winning show animals, since MIDNIGHT SUN'S
colts dominated every class they entered. It was obvious that
the black stallion by WILSON'S ALLEN had picked up the torch of his
famous sire. Because of the increased tempo of the Walking
Horse industry, MIDNIGHT SUN'S influence would be even more
pronounced than WILSON'S ALLEN'S. The four most outstanding
horses at the 1951 Celebration were TALK OF THE TOWN, MIDNIGHT MACK
K., MIDNIGHT MYSTERY, and MIDNIGHT MERRY. All were sired by MIDNIGHT
The 1951 Celebration
was one of the hottest ever held. The weather was just as hot
as the competition too! The terrific heat kept the horses tired and
the people on edge the entire week. Many stables kept huge
fans running day and night to help keep the stock cool. The
weather was forgotten however by the time the stake class was
called, and to the melodic strains of Dixie, the top horses of the
show entered the ring for the championship. To the delight of the
audience, many of whom had never seen this bay gelding but had heard
so much about his speed and ability, Talk of the Town, with Steve
Hill up, walked out of the ring with the Champion's wreath of roses,
the big trophy and the blue ribbon. When the horses entered the
ring for the Championship Stake there was the usual cheering for
favorites, but the outcome was seldom in doubt. Even those
fans who were inclined toward other entries could not help but
marvel at the backend TALK OF THE TOWN exhibited. Their
disappointment toward their favorite was no doubt tempered by
admiration for a horse that definitely brought a new dimension to
the gaits of Walking Horses. He won the richest Celebration
Championship and the hardest contest in the 13 year history of the
|| In April 1951, L. A. Chemell and E. P.
Riley of Gainesville, Georgia bought Talk of the Town, and saw
him show under their colors for the first time at the Arab,
Alabama show where he won the stallion and gelding class and
the championship stake.
Talk of the
Town continued his winning ways during the 1952 season,
showing throughout the South, at the Kansas City Royal, and
the Southwestern circuit.
In 1952, OLD
GLORY'S BIG MAN, World Grand Champion of 1950, joined MIDNIGHT MACK
K. in challenging TALK OF THE TOWN. At Celebration time Talk
of the Town was unbeatable in the gelding class on Thursday night,
and came back in the big stake to carry off championship honors for
the second consecutive time for owners, Chemell and Riley.
Steve had again won the Aged Mare Class, this time on GLEAM OF SUN,
but there was no doubt as to which animal he would bring to the
Stake. The bay gelding again was declared the Champion.
season found Talk of the Town still collecting blue ribbons at shows
on the Southern circuit. His spectacular speed still thrilled
the audiences as in the previous two summers, and his show ring
manners were smoother than ever before.
No horse had ever
won the Grand Championship three times, but Steve was ready to
challenge that situation. TALK OF THE TOWN had never,
throughout his career, been defeated, and since Steve could detect
no loss of potential in the gelding he prepared for the 1953
Celebration. At the 1953 Celebration,
the story of the two previous years was repeated, Talk of the Town
was ridden to a perfect performance by Steve Hill to again win the
TALK OF THE TOWN was
chosen as 1953 World Grand Champion Walking Horse, but the
event was not without controversy. The main contenders on that
night were TALK OF THE TOWN, MIDNIGHT MACK K. ridden by Joe Urquhart,
and SUN'S GO BOY ridden by Donald Paschal. All were top
horses. The controversy arose during the final workout. TALK
OF THE TOWN was left on the grass while the other two contenders
worked on the rail. After the latter two horses had worked one
way of the ring, TALK OF THE TOWN was asked to join them on the
reverse. Some spectators interpreted this procedure as giving
TALK OF THE TOWN an unfair advantage. When asked about it,
Steve explained, "What happened was they worked all the horses, then
they pulled in a bunch and after a while they worked us. They tied
TALK OF THE TOWN at the end of the first workout, but were not sure
how second and third should be tied. They called MIDNIGHT MACK
K. and SUN'S GO BOY back to the rail. Both were great, no
doubt about that, and one judge said, 'Man, reckon we could have
been wrong? Reckon that bay horse really beat them that bad?
Let's pull him out again."'
Steve recalled, "I was sitting out there all let down, I thought I
had won it. The old horse was let down. It was a cold
night, it was twelve o'clock, the wind blowing, the horse had cooled
down and I had thought everything was alright. When they told
me to take the rail the other two horses were passing the entrance
gate and I was about half way up on the west side of the ring.
They rounded the comer and here they came. I was sitting there
waiting. I used my head, which I usually don't do, so I just
acted dumb until they got in front of me. I didn't want to
pull out in front of them with them charging up the rail. So I
let them get by and then I clucked to him and grabbed him up and he
went to hitting. By this time they were at the end of the ring
and I was on the side. I kept clucking and riding. We
made about two-thirds of a lap and I took them, turned around and I
took them again and TALK OF THE TOWN got better and better.
The truth is the other two horses had gone just about a round and a
half before I was called back to the rail that final time. I
know what the people said, but that wasn't right."
In any event, TALK OF THE TOWN became the only horse ever to win
three World Championships. The remark was made to Steve:
"MIDNIGHT SUN was a big boost to you wasn't he?" Steve thought a
moment and replied, "I was a big boost to MIDNIGHT SUN." TALK
OF THE TOWN, together with MERRY GO BOY, redefined the Walking
Horse. GO BOY gave it fineness; TALK OF THE TOWN gave it a backend.
It has even been suggested that TALK OF THE TOWN unwittingly
contributed to the practice of soring that began shortly after his
final victory. Every owner who had a promising horse imagined its
back-end just like TALK OF THE TOWN'S.
Walking Horse industry did not build on the progress it had made
during the late forties and early fifties. Instead of
continuing the experimentation that had produced an excellent show
horse, the industry leaped blindly into a course of action that
brought it frustration and embarrassment. The history of this
era is recorded, not in a spirit of placing blame, but in one of
hoping that a study of its causes and effects will prevent future
horse people from succumbing to the situations which produced this
experimentation that began during World War 11 never reached a
plateau where it leveled off and became stable. Instead, the
process of experimentation which produced the show horse of the
early fifties continued unchecked. The objective remained the
same: extend the gaits of the Walking Horse. The consideration
which made the experimentation of the fifties different was not its
objective, but the means used to accomplish that objective.
The period of time between the mid-fifties and the two decades that
followed might very well be referred to as the "Desperate Era" of
the Walking Horse's history. Ironically, the ideal of the new era
was inspired by a horse developed without the training techniques
about to be adopted by the industry.
While MERRY GO BOY
had definitely moved the Walking Horse toward a more animated
motion, it was TALK OF THE TOWN, three times World Grand Champion,
that set it on an entirely new course. TALK OF THE TOWN came
to the Celebration for the first time in 1950. He wore nothing
on his feet or ankles except an unusually heavy shoe made from a
wagon tire. Regardless of this fact, the bay gelding exhibited
the most extraordinary stifle action ever seen at the Celebration.
TALK OF THE TOWN drove his back foot up to the side of the
diagonally opposed front foot and covered more ground with less
effort than any horse to that time. He very definitely
introduced a new dimension in rear-end action in Walking Horses.
Since the chief difference between TALK OF THE TOWN and the horses
he competed against was the drive in his back legs, this aspect of
his gait demanded the attention of all who watched him. The
fact that he won the Three Year-Old Gelding Class in 1950 added
significance to his way of moving.
TALK OF THE TOWN won the Grand Championship of the next three
Celebrations. In 1954 another bay gelding, MR. SENSATION, came
to the Celebration hitting substantially the same type lick.
Since both these horses were practically unbeatable, trainers and
owners tended to measure the excellence of their own stock in
reference to these two champions. Both TALK OF THE TOWN and
MR. SENSATION had exceptional speed, the most sought after
characteristic in show horses as the decade of the fifties
progressed toward its midpoint. It was assumed by the rest of
the industry that if these two geldings were the model of the breed,
the only logical thing to do was to train horses to imitate them.
The process of finding new and appropriate training techniques
began. Already one fundamental change had taken place in the
breeding patterns of the Walking Horse industry. With the
added emphasis on speed, pacing colts demanded more and more
attention. Trainers discovered that a naturally pacey colt,
when squared up, was capable of a more sweeping lick and more speed
than a colt that trotted. Soon, mares that produced pacing
colts became more valuable than others. Soon also, many of the
breeding stallions were the very colts that had been developed
because of their pacing potential; therefore, it was inevitable that
the square-cornered lick so greatly admired by early breeders would
give way to a shuffling amble that, when squared up, would produce
even more speed. Speed was what the fans demanded. Speed
also provided the surest route to victory in the showring which in
turn led to higher prices at the market place. If a trainer
hoped to compete, his horses had to show speed, motion, and drive.
The more of these characteristics the trainers showed, the more the
The increased speed and animation demanded of the show horse brought
a serious problem to the industry. The problem was very similar to
the one faced by trainers following World War 11 when they moved the
show horse further away from the pleasure horse. That problem
was, how do you get speed and not have wasted motion which makes the
speed look ridiculous? In other words, how do you get every
muscle working to propel the horse's body forward, with no side
motion whatsoever? Technically, the Walking Horse industry was
taking a pacing colt and converting its gaits to either a stepping
pace or a fox-trot. From the stepping pace or fox-trot the gaits had
to be extended into a running walk.
The obvious solution to further extending the Walking Horse's gait
was to add weight and height to its front feet. The weight was
applied during training in the form of heavier chains around the
horse's ankles. The height was supplied by increasing the
layers of leather between the shoe and hoof. Such added weight
and height prompted the horse to more action in front, which
necessitated a longer stroke with the back leg. The combination of
the front-end action and the rear-end stroke eliminated the lost
motion of the Walking Horse's ambly gait, both in the flat walk and
the running walk. TALK OF THE TOWN had reacted favorably to
such a training procedure, but time would prove him the exception
rather than the rule. The unusual thing about TALK OF THE TOWN
was that after he had been fully trained he continued to hit the
"big lick" even after the chains were removed. Most horses,
especially the younger ones, did not react to the removal of chains
as did TALK OF THE TOWN, and once the chains were gone they reverted
to the pacey, swinging lick that had become characteristic of the
breed. The Walking Horse industry was in trouble; it had bred
a horse whose potential could not be developed at the speed which
the public demanded.