World Grand Champion in 1951, 1952 and 1953

The Talk of the Town  #473791

Registered as 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 SUN.

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 Exhibition.

 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.  

The 1953 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 coveted crown.  

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. 

Unfortunately, the 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 unfortunate episode.

The 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 fans demanded.

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.

- - - In 1976 at the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration they did something different - instead of the flag-bearer opening the show on the back of a white Tennessee Walking Horse, they had great trainers ride the horse of their choice carrying the flag.  I was astounded to see Steve Hill - a great trainer - - ride in the ring on an old bay horse -- none other than TALK OF THE TOWN.  I thought that horse had been dead for years.  Turns out he was a gelding - - so was not being used for breeding - - and had been living out his life in a stall in Steve Hill's barn.   In 1976, he was 29 years old.

The next day, we went to Beechgrove, TN -- Steve Hill's barn -- to see this historic horse.  What a beauty he was -- a solid bay - thin - obviously an old horse -- but with such a sparkle in his eye -- and a terrific, driving rear end.  The groom, Mr. Johnny Brown, was kind enough to bring him out of the stall and walk him around for us.  This horse had so much personality.  If he saw someone drinking a drink -- he wanted some of it.  They said they usually gave him a swig of Jack Daniels before he would go in the show ring.  You can see Steve Hill giving him a swig of his drink in the photos.

I was so glad to have the opportunity to meet this great horse.  Talk of the Town was the last gelding to win the World Grand Championship.  He no doubt would have made a great contribution to the breed had he been a stallion.  That sparkle in his eye still stands out as I think back on that wonderful visit.
                                                                        -- -- Mary Ellen

If you wish to print off this pedigree, click HERE to load a black and white copy.

Tennessee Walking Horse - Midnight Sun

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 10:48 PM
Subject: Talk of the town WGC page

Mary Ellen. Love your site. as a kid I got to be around some of the greats and didn't realize it.
  The "groom" in the pic with Talk of the Town is none other than "Johnny Brown" he worked for Steve Hill for over 25_ years. as a teen he would tell me the stories of all the greats he had been fortunate to be acquainted with. It is an honor to know Johnny as a friend. I wish you would put his name on their instead of "groom" if possible. Thanks, Matt Choate Jamestown, Tennessee

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, January 01, 2003 8:07 AM
Subject: Re: Talk of the town WGC page

Yes Johnny is still alive and kicking. He and my dad were the asst trainers for Ebbs Black Diamond. I wish you would put a page up for Diamond. He was owned and raised by the same folks who raised Threats Supreme and had a GREAT career. he and Prides Secret Threat had a HUGE rivalry in 81 and 82 and Diamond was the reserve WGC 2 years in a row and the 87 WGC 15.2 and under. he was a great horse. I have a story about a tragedy that happened to him right before the 87 WGC show. he came thru and won with ease. Thanks, Matt Choate

If you have a story or photos of Talk of the Town  that you would like added to this page, please forward them to Walkers West.

<== 1950  1954==>



Site Meter