Seldom in the history of
any breed has a horse come upon the scene who caused as much
interest, controversy and discussion as did the incomparable JOHNNY
MIDNIGHT; a Tennessee Walking Horse of rare ability and merit.
Johnny, as he was affectionately known by his many fans, died on
March 20, 1969. This is his story.
Johnny Midnight first came
on the scene as the heralded full brother of
Sun's Delight D., 1963
World Grand Champion Tennessee Walking Horse. He came close on his
brother's heels and attracted much acclaim as a three-year-old with
trainer Neal 'Shorty' Branscum riding him. He climaxed the
season tying ninth in both the Class and the Junior Stake in 1963.
'Shorty' had also ridden
Sun's Delight as a junior horse and in many people's minds, he had
come up with an even better horse with Johnny. Speculation grew as
the merits of this fine black stallion, by the great
and out of the famous Wilson Snip's Chance. He was bigger than his
illustrious brother, and he was black. In 1964, still in training
with 'Shorty' Branscum, and owned by Dean and Beckler, he was shown
sparingly. By Celebration time there was growing interest and he was
given close scrutiny by a lot of horsemen, as he was ridden to tie
third in the Aged Stallion Class (then four years old and over) and
fifth in the Championship Stake.
By spring of 1965, the
word was out that Johnny Midnight had been purchased by Gribble
and Eaton of McMinnville, Tennessee, and had been placed in
training with Sam Paschal of Murfreesboro. Sam, rider of three
Celebration Grand Champions including Sun's Delight, appeared to
be the logical prospect for Johnny Midnight. They were a perfect
team and all observers had them billed as incomparable. Johnny
Midnight appeared on the cover of VOICE in April of 1965 in full
color - the first time a Tennessee Walking Horse had been promoted
on such a grand scale.
As the season developed, so
did 'the saga of Johnny Midnight". In his usual manner of
showmanship, Mr. Paschal worked the big black stallion in secret.
Reports stated that Sam carried Johnny to his farm every morning at
five o'clock and worked him in the early morning silence and
darkness. We were privileged to receive a personal invitation to see
him work one morning, and were dumbfounded. Johnny Midnight was fat
and slick and worked with the ease of a well-oiled machine. We had
never seen a horse work so well or do as much as he did that morning
in a pair of small boots. He moved with enthusiasm and carried his
head high. His flat foot walk was big and bold, and his running
walk... well, you had to see it to believe it!
Johnny Midnight was tied third in the Aged Stallion Class in 1965,
and was Reserve behind the great
Triple Threat in the Grand
Championship at the Celebration that year. Sam Paschal and his
owners were not to be denied, however, and they embarked upon a
program aimed at 1966. For a horse that cost a figure reported to be
in excess of $50,000, Johnny Midnight was naturally of some concern
to many of his supporters.
|In late 1966, Johnny
Midnight was put into training with Elmore Brock of Sparta,
Tennessee, who showed him successfully in late season shows.
Shortly thereafter, he was placed at the Vic Thompson Stables with
Mack Motes training and riding him.
What happened in 1966 is
history. He won the Aged Stallion Class on Thursday night, and came
back to tie fifth in the Celebration stake, a long way behind
Shaker's Shocker. Many observers state that he had reached his
peak too early in the year. Others say he was always
over-rated. He was a mystery to Walking Horse enthusiasts.
Reportedly, he was heavy and had to have a special diet. Other
reports say that he had a 'mouth and foot' problem. No one
really knows except the men who rode and showed him.
||Throughout 1967, Mack
Motes showed Johnny Midnight almost every time the gate opened.
He won a lot and lost a few, giving rise to the speculation that
he would again be a contender for Celebration honors. Always a
controversial horse, he was placed by one judge in the workout
with the culls, and was worked only one way of the ring, in
order to beat him. He was tied seventh. The week later, he
defeated some of the top contenders in 1967.
At the Celebration that
year, he tied fifth in the class and third in the stake with Mack
Motes riding for Larry and Clinton Gribble of McMinnville,
Tennessee. He had been there before, and the crowd felt a little
remorse for their beloved Johnny Midnight. Watching him stride
around the ring, making every effort to compete, one could not help
but be reminded of some of the heroes of the sports world who
'stayed too long'.
In 1968, Johnny Midnight
was retired to stud at the Stallion Stables in Shelbyville,
Tennessee. He was a popular breeding horse and attracted much
attention from Walking Horse breeders. Toward the end of the year,
barn talk had picked up the rumor that he had been repossessed by
his original owner, A. S. Dean.
In February of that year, it was reported that he was to be put up
for public auction on the square in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A crowd
showed up, but the horse wasn't there.
There is still much confusion as to what actually happened with
regard to the ownership of Johnny Midnight from 1965 until 1969. How
much was paid by whom and to whom, we do not know. Whether he was
repossessed, we do not know. We do know that he died in obscurity on
the farm of A. S. Dean in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on March 20, 1969
of a twisted intestine.
And so ends the 'saga of Johnny Midnight', one of the most discussed
and perhaps most misunderstood horses of this or any other era.
A lot of people tried. Johnny tried! It just
wasn't meant to be.
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