World Grand Champion in 2004


The Black Night Shade was foaled in the spring of 1998. He was sired by Poison, out of Final's Call Girl.  J. Mack Chandler bred him.  Night Shade was orphaned twelve days after his birth, when his dam died of a bout of colic. Chandler knew that if the orphaned colt was to survive, he would require special attention and he delivered the special foal to the care of Bobby Mulvey and Judy Stephens of Shelbyville, Tenn.

Mulvey and Stephens were not only responsible for the colt's special care, they came up with his unique name.  “We were going through a medical book looking under poison, due to the name of his sire and found Black Night Shade, a type of poisonous plant often found in Tennessee,” stated Stephens.

During the first two weeks of his life, he required feeding from a bottle every hour. “He liked goat’s milk and I used to drive to Fayetteville, Tenn., to get it for him during his early days,” said Chandler. The long days of attention and care brought the young colt through his unfortunate start in life and when he was about 16 months old, Chandler made the decision to deliver the colt to Formac Stables in Union City, TN, to see what he was really made of. Although the colt was small for his age, and tall and thin, Jimmy quickly recognized Night Shade's potential, and accepted him for training. He relates, "Even from day one, he showed a lot of natural ability and personality." After about 30 days of work, trainer Jimmy McConnell realized that the colt had a lot of natural ability that might be developed into something more.

When Mack Chandler decided to sell The Black Night Shade, he contacted Tom and Judy Waite. Tom recalls, "Jimmy thought the horse was special, and he didn't want him to leave his barn. Judy and I decided to buy him and leave him with Jimmy." That colt, Waite’s first show horse which he bought sight unseen, was The Black Night Shade. So The Black Night Shade and Jimmy McConnell were set on the road to show ring history.

While McConnell knew the young colt had ability, he really had no idea that he would develop into a Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Champion. “No, we didn’t know that he would turn into what he has. Remember, he was a small, skinny colt in the beginning. It’s really taken him until this year to overcome the way he was raised. We had to progress with him slow, but as time went along, he got stronger and stronger and developed into what he is today,” stated McConnell.

In 2000, due to his slow start, Night Shade was shown sparingly, but capturing wins at Collierville, Tenn.’s Cotton Classic in Jackson, Tenn.’s Mid-South Show and Baton Rouge, La.’s Dixie Jubilee. “He got a ribbon at The Celebration,” said McConnell, “but he really wasn’t ready for that yet.

In 2001, his victories included the Dixie Jubilee, Fred T. Fowler Memorial Classic, Wartrace, and the Celebration where he was crowned Three-Year-Old World Champion Stallion. The owner and trainer really started to realize that they might have a horse that could be something special. “When he won his Three-Year-Old Stallion preliminary, that’s when we knew that we might just have THE horse,” said Waite. Night Shade finished 2001 off strong by capturing the Three-Year-Old Stallion preliminary and the North American Three-Year-Old Grand Championship at Baton Rouge, La.’s Dixie Jubilee that fall.

In 2002, The Black Night Shade really came into his own. However, the road to acclaim doesn’t come without some setbacks. McConnell said that Night Shade had trouble in the ring at the National Trainers’ Show. “He wasn’t himself and at first we weren’t sure why. We knew he had stomach ulcers, but we thought we had that problem under control. But, what we thought was a cure turned out to just be a treatment. His ulcers had returned and he was just hurting in the ring.”

Once that obstacle had been overcome, the team hoped for smooth sailing ahead. However, that was not the case. When the team hit the ring at Panama City, Fla.‘s Gulf Coast Charity Celebration, Night Shade had trouble with his canter, something very uncharacteristic for a McConnell trained horse. “Needless to say, I was frustrated with him. So, I just decided to take him back in the Stake Class on Saturday night.” The Waite’s were not aware of Jimmy’s decision and had decided not to go to the show that evening. “We had gone to Captain Anderson’s to eat and just happened to stop by the show on the way home,” said Waite. “When we got to the show, Sister Milligan saw us and the first thing she said was ’Tom Waite, you’d better get up here. You’re horse is going in the ring.”

McConnell’s last minute decision proved to be wise, because on that evening the team topped an outstanding division of Aged competition and may have turned the corner that night. The rest of his Four-Year-Old season, with the exception of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Night Shade was shown in Walking Horse Stake classes capturing wins at the Germantown, Tenn. Charity Horse Show, Brownsville, Tenn., the International Grand Championships and the Dixie Jubilee.

His show ring success continued into the 2003 show season as McConnell and Night Shade topped competition throughout the south with wins at the Gallatin, Tenn. Lions Club Horse Show, dual wins at Germantown, Tenn.’s Charity Horse Show, Bethesda, Tenn., and the Belfast, Tenn. Lions Club Horse Show prior to the 2003 Celebration.

As the stage was set for the 2003 Celebration, McConnell, Night Shade and the Waites made their ultimate goal quite clear. They intended to win the favor of the judges and the fans and take home the Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship. That goal was almost met. The team topped their division of the Aged Stallion preliminary and garnered the title of Reserve World Grand Champion.

The Waite and McConnell partnership didn’t let the Reserve performance get them down. “I thought the horse was terrific that night. I knew that we had the horse and I knew we had the trainer. The fact we didn’t win that night didn’t serve as a discouragement for even a minute,” said Tom Waite. “I told Jimmy we’d be back.”

And back they were, indeed. From that night forward, the combination of The Black Night Shade and Jimmy McConnell remained undefeated finishing off the 2003 season with repeat wins at the International Grand Championships and the Dixie Jubilee and continued into 2004 with pre Celebration wins at the National Trainers’ Show, the Gulf Coast Charity Show and the Germantown Charity Show.

It was the National Trainers’ Show performance that stands out in the mind of Judy Waite as a very special moment. “Up until the Trainers’ Show, we hadn’t really had the support of the crowd. But, when Jimmy and Night Shade hit the ring at the Trainers’ Show, the crowd roared. That was very special. The crowd finally realized the talent that we had always seen.”

Night Shade then went on to wins at the Gulf Coast Charity Show and Germantown. It was on to the Celebration.  He came into his preliminary looking stronger than ever, and handily won a unanimous decision.  It was the second year in a row that he claimed the Walking Stallions, Five and Over World Championship and he hence retired all the applicable challenge trophies.  The only accomplishment left for The Black Night Shade and Jimmy McConnell was the World Grand Championship.

Nine outstanding contenders made the call for the 2004 World Grand Championship, including horses such as Main Power, He's Outlaw Josey Wales, Cash's All Star, Pusher's High Voltage, and Shout - all very serious contenders. In the end, after flawlessly performing all three gaits and steadily improving through a lengthy workout, it was yet another unanimous decision for The Black Night Shade and Jimmy McConnell. The crowd went wild as the orphaned horse with all the walk, and the respected, seasoned trainer who had never claimed the ultimate prize made their victory pass with the roses.

McConnell stated that the win was a very special moment for him. “Winning the World Grand Championship is the ultimate goal of every horse trainer, but to win it all with a horse that you started and showed throughout his career, that makes it all the more special.” McConnell said that he was never discouraged by his three reserve World Grand Championships leading up to this win. “It kind of makes you wonder if they’re just trying to get rid of us,” McConnell joked. “But, no, I was never discouraged. I knew I had the horse and I had the owners that truly were capable of winning it all.”

Looking back, Tom and Judy Waite were quick to note that they wouldn’t change a thing about The Black Night Shade experience. “It was worth it all. Every penny spent, every mile driven, every hour of sleep lost along the way,” said Tom Waite. “It was just wonderful, everything and everybody have been simply wonderful,” echoed wife Judy. Tom continued, “We had fun. And we’re going to have more fun.”

While the Waites’ understand that the immediate success they achieved is very unusual in this business, they intend to remain heavily involved in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. “This is not the finale, it’s just the beginning of a new era,” said Tom. When asked where they intended to go from here, Gail McConnell, Jimmy McConnell’s wife quickly chimed in with a quick answer, “We’re gonna sell them another one, another Night Shade. No problem, we’ll just sell them another Night Shade.”

Don’t we all wish it was that easy. No decisions have been made at this time about The Black Night Shade’s future. “Obviously, we’ve thought about what the future holds, but no firm decisions have been made. We’re going to have his semen tested and make some decisions on his breeding program very soon,” said Waite. And, with Bob and Luanne Sigman’s decision not to retire 2003 World Grand Champion, The Whole Nine Yards, the obvious question was would they retire Night Shade. Again, they responded that no decision had been made at this time.

While the plans for the future may be incomplete, The Black Night Shade, trainer Jimmy McConnell and owners Tom and Judy Waite have secured their place in Tennessee Walking Horse history.

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