The Gentleman Scholar of the Tennessee Walking Horse


Video of Dr. Bob Womack talking about TWH foundation sire Wilson’s Allen

Each horse breed and equestrian discipline is the center of a universe unto itself. In each world, people the general public never hears about are well-known, even revered.

Such was the case of Dr. Bob Womack, a Middle Tennessee State University education professor and historian who passed away in April 2010.  He had been with the university for 52 years and was only a month away from retirement.

Womack, known by friends and strangers as “Dr. Bob,” was also a historian of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

A little more about the video

In the video at the top of this post, Womack talking about the grave of Tennessee Walking Horse foundation sire Wilson’s Allen.

If you doubt the impact of Wilson’s Allen on the breed, take a look at this “begats” chart of the early TWH sires.

The funeral Womack describes on the video sounds like the funeral service for Man O’War, from the Claiborne Farm website.

The Echo of Hoofbeats

Although Womack wrote several Tennessee-related histories, for our purposes here, he is the author of “The Echo of Hoofbeats,” said to be the definitive history of the early years of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

The copy I own is the third edition of the book, published in 1994. Including the bibliography and index, the book is 512 pages long. It includes research and personal interviews filled with anecdotes and reminiscences about the breed and its people.

Opposite the title page of”The Echo of Hoofbeats,”  his history of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Womack has this epigraph:

In the course of time, events flash into reality and then disappear forever. All that remains are the echoes of such events set swirling in the minds and imagination of people. The attempt to capture these echoes is called history.

Here’s another video of Dr. Bob talking about his life:

Tributes to Dr. Bob entered on this memorial site give a small indication of how many lives he influenced over the decades.

16 Comments
  • Susie Blackmon
    June 7, 2010

    I’ve never spent much time around the Walkers but they were quite popular in NC. Paso Finos were popular there too, but I’m a Quarter horse, Cutting horse, Paint horse and Thoroughbred fan … so never studied the ‘others.’Difficult for me to watch the Walkers….

  • rhond7
    June 7, 2010

    Thanks for stopping by, Susie. A lot of people don’t know that Walkers can participate in a variety of equestrian sports and disciplines. Some mounted police units ride Walkers. And, in a few weeks, I’ll post a video I shot at an endurance ride that includes footage of a Tennessee Walker participating.

  • Rose Miller
    June 7, 2010

    The Tennessee Walking Horses that are hard for me to watch are the “big lick” padded (stacked), chained and sored show horses. There are many sound, happy pleasure show walkers because of folks who fought the industry of the big lick abusive training and showing practices. I share my personal experiences with seeing soring, along with life lessons in owing, showing and breeding horses in my memoir/horse book: “The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot.” It is available from my website (www.rosemiller.net ) or Amazon

    I knew Dr. Bob a little, and used his history lessons in my book. He was generous in allowing me to do so. He surely was a great man and very much loved the Tennessee Walking Horse.

    I am very grateful to Rhonda for posting this for all horse lovers, especially Tennessee Walking Horse lovers!

    • rhond7
      June 7, 2010

      Thanks for stopping by, Rose. I’m glad you chimed in.

      After having read “The Echo of Hoofbeats,” which includes the warts as well as the wonder of walking horses, I believe that soring and the shift within the breed bothered Dr. Bob, too.

      Yet, somehow, he managed to stay out of the “us vs them” fray to enjoy respect, as well as friendship, among both pleasure horse enthusiasts and padded performance fans alike.

  • Susie Blackmon
    June 7, 2010

    Looking forward to the video!

  • Rose Miller
    June 7, 2010

    I agree wholeheartedly with both of your comments about Dr. Bob. It is a tribute to the man that he was able to be respected by all Walking Horse lovers.

  • Judy
    June 28, 2010

    The Tennessee Walker breed is one magnificent breed of horses with a heart as big as their eyes. But I agree with Rose the Tennessee Show Walker is a perfect example of cuelty of the worst kind. I’ve shown horses myself/American Saddlebred Five gaited during the high time of the Walker classes. When the horse has to be vetted seconds before entering the Walking Class for ‘soring’ that tells you of the cruelty. I heard stories from grooms about how these horses would collapse in stalls after such classes and fail to get up. I also saw this with my own eyes once…the soring. I’m glad now it has faded from the eyes of the show horse world but unfortunately, there are still Walking shows out there. Note:the Fivegaited Saddle horse is not sored at all. It’s unique ability is trained. No comparison)

    • rhond7
      June 29, 2010

      Thank you for stopping by, Judy. Back in the mid-1960s, when I was going to shows, show announcers used to describe a 5-gaited saddlebred’s slow gait as a man-made gait.

      You’ve mentioned some other things that I’d like to comment upon, but I don’t want you or any other reader to think that I’m accusing you of having done these things.

      Also, back in those days, 3-gaited saddlebreds were groomed for show with shaved and gingered tails. That was toward the end of the time when the tails of Hackney ponies were docked. Also, grooms told me that some saddlebreds were dosed with illegal stimulants to perk up that show ring fire. And in her memoir “Hold Your Horses,” Helen Crabtree even admitted to having palmed a nail in one hand to remind the horse to look lively in front of the judge.

      Granted, none of that is as flagrant as the bleeding sores seen in the walking horse classes. Yes, I saw soring, too, back when I was a child. But I also believe that had any of those saddlebred tactics I mentioned drawn blood visible to spectators, the Horse Protection Act might have applied to saddlebreds as well.

      Again, I see by your blog that you were showing back in the day and that you showed pleasure instead of performance. And I want to point out that I’m not saying that you or your trainers were involved in any of that unsavory stuff.

      But I don’t believe in painting any practitioners of any equestrian discipline with the broad brush that so many are ready to wield.

      As with the walking horse crowd, some people in the gaited classes worked to compete fairly, too.

  • Rose Miller
    June 29, 2010

    I am glad to see comments still being made about the Walking Horse and other show breeds that are trained in any extreme measure to enhance their performance. It sort of falls under the heading “Lest we forget…”

    I still am not convinced with the resolve of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry to totally end soring abuses, especially any shows or trainers with “big lick” Walkers. I offered my “Horse That Wouldn’t Trot” book to a Tennessee Walking Horse catalog. At first he liked the idea until I honestly told him that the book included soring issues: how it started, the worst years of soring, what is now being done to curtail (stop?) it. Then he wouldn’t carry it.

    There are many animal abuses to pull at our heartstrings, but the beautiful Tennessee Walker which has shared 37 years of my life, has my attention.

    • rhond7
      June 29, 2010

      Dr. Bob’s history of the TWH, “The Echo of Hoofbeats” also includes chapters on the history of soring and its impact on the breed.

      Also, my copy came from World Champion Horse Equipment, one of the middle Tennessee tack shops. I ordered the book by mail before WCHE offered online ordering from the website.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that Dr. Bob was also an insider, middle Tennessee “born and bred.” That kind of provenance and ancestral taproot means a lot to people there.

  • Judy
    June 30, 2010

    I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling that the Tennessee Walker is a magnificent animal and deserves respect. It does.And I’m glad to see the changes are happening for this horse breed. they deserve it. I will never forget what I learned while I was showing horses. What upset me then was when Five gaited horses were thought to be trained/sored as the TW’s were…then. This is not true. Not alll American Saddlebreds have the natural ability to rack. They got it or they don’t. If they don’t, they remain shown as three-gaited. I worked with a trainer on how to bring this talent out and it’s tricky and slow. Even the horse has to discover its talent. Once uncovered, it is a wonderful experience. Val, my gaited pleasure horse, loved to slow gait, which is a slow and elegant rack, and then take off in a rack like a sports car with a green light. Oh could I go on about that. And being his trainer, groom and rider I know the animal was never sored for any of this. You don’t MAKE a gaited horse do this. He loves it
    Yep, there was that ginger. I never used it. I did show in Open gaited classes but Val wore a wig, fake tail. I still have it. Never really liked the idea of gingering and never intened on EVER doing that. Yuck. And the set tail process I never learned about but heard about.Didn’t like that either. But maybe like docking a tail, this style too will fade into history along with abuses that happen everywhere with animals and humans. I would like that
    j

    • rhond7
      July 2, 2010

      I’m sorry, Judy, that some people lumped you and the other good guys in with the cheaters. People are quick to lump and label. (Uh oh. I think I just did it myself.)

      Tennessee Walkers are wonderful horses. They make great friends and aren’t as liable to beat your insides to a pulp when you ride. 🙂

  • Judy
    July 2, 2010

    Tennessee Walkers are a wonderful breed and have the greatest heart. That is for sure. They should nor should any breed have to deal with the torture they have put up with for years But they are fantastic animals period! A rack won’t beat you to death either.
    There is a Noreigein/Russian??? horse that brought on this shuffle that became the rack. It was found in the ponies that Friars rode. Saw this on TV the other day….They were relished because they didn’t jar you to death either. They just shuffled along and were quite cute. Otherwise, I’s say lean to post or sit a trot.
    But keep your knees tight
    J 🙂

  • rhond7
    July 2, 2010

    When you mentioned those ponies the friars rode, my mind immediately went to palfreys, the likely predecessors of our favorite breeds.

    Or would the ponies be different from palfreys? (Probably. Size matters.)

    Gosh. So many breeds, so little time to learn more about them. Kinda like the “so many books … .”

    Anyway, that these horses might have their origins in the Nordic areas makes sense, considering the Icelandics.

  • Rose Miller
    July 2, 2010

    I remember reading books about knights and their ladies who rode “palfreys” so maybe they were larger than ponies, but smooth-gaited, and as you say, were the ancestors of our gaited breeds of today.

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