Thursday, October 4, 2012

Saddlebred Horse Capital of the World

Welcome back! I'm so glad you came. Once again we return to the Audrain County Historical Society Complex. Mexico, Missouri is known as the "Saddlebred Horse Capital of the World", therefore its museum is housed here at Graceland. It is the oldest Saddlebred museum in the nation, established in 1970.

If you are like me, you may be wondering what in the world is a Saddlebred horse, well let me tell you what I found out. They were originally bred in the early 1800's, they are as large and beautiful as Thoroughbreds, people-oriented, sensitive, intelligent, and strong. Over the years, they have been used for both work and show. They've carried riders, pulled carriages, and won numerous blue ribbons. During the Civil War, most high ranking officers rode Saddlebred horses.They were also sent to Europe for use in WW1. Today, the Saddlebred is best known as the ultimate show horse with opportunities to compete at over 100 shows annually in the U.S.
(above info from a Simmons Stable brochure)
Let's move on into the museum. Below is an 1800's U.S. Mail buggy, maybe pulled by a Saddlebred?

Now I want to introduce you to Mexico's famous black horseman and inventor of the "Bass bit", Tom Bass.
(photos from the internet)


Tom Bass was born a slave in Boone County in 1859, born to Cornelia Grey, a slave house servant, and Wm. Bass, her owner. The Bass family's Forest Hill Plantation, was the largest west of the Mississippi , at 5,000 acres. Tom learned horsemanship from one of the best, his grandfather. By the 1870's, Tom had left the Bass Plantation and migrated to Mexico, Missouri. There, over a long and distinguished career, Tom became known as one of the world's best, and beloved, horse trainers. He performed for presidents, including Calvin Coolidge, and royalty. He represented Missouri at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. And get this...He respectfully declined an invitation to perform in England for QUEEN VICTORIA! He declined because he didn't want to travel by ship. Because this could be a long story I'm going to cut it short right here by telling that he died in 1934. I don't want to lose you to boredom! (if you're not interested)
Just google his name if you are interested in reading more about this wonderful man.
Pictured below are some of the hundreds of ribbons and trophies that he accumulated in his career. The picture on the left is of him riding Belle Beach, champion high school horse of the world.

Below is a photo of Rex McDonald, he was the most famous champion saddle stallion that the world has ever known.  This black marvel was known for his invincibility in the show ring.  He was considered by some to have been unbeatable, if he had been properly shod and ridden.  It is noted in the Missouri Historical Review that “the six horses who defeated Rex, practically all were later defeated by him.”[1]  This horse saw many owners in his life and increased in value as he grew older.  Although never owned by Tom Bass, the famous horse trainer did ride him to victory on several occasions and shared a special bond with the horse.  However, there is some debate as to whether Tom actually ever rode Rex McDonald in a show.
  • 1 Missouri Historical Review, L. M. White, The Heart of the Saddle Horse Story of Missouri, vol. 50, p 121-131, 1956
Rex McDonald

Rex McDonald is buried at the American Saddlebred Horse Museum on the grounds where this Walk Back in Time event took place.  Tom Bass once was quoted as saying...
“Rex didn’t walk or pace, he just glided."

Rex McDonald Grave

The horse that brought Tom Bass the most fame as a horse trainer was Miss Rex 820. She was said to have been the best high school and saddle horse of her time. 

Tom riding Miss Rex
Tom Bass riding the Champion Saddle Mare, Miss Rex

(The above info and photos of Rex McDonald and Miss Rex courtesy of Audrain Co. Historical Society)

Like most counties, Audrain County also had its fair. From the days before the Civil War, the Fair was a dominant event on the area's summer calendar. Suspended by wars, the fair was always revived, largely due to the area's interest in horses.
Below is this wonderful 1891 Fair poster that was found in the walls of an old home in a nearby town and is now displayed in the horse section of the museum. Horse races were one of the most popular events at this fair.

Below is a painting of the Fair Grandstands. These grandstands held the crowds for many fairs, activities, and horse shows throughout the years. Sadly to say, it was destroyed in a fire set by an arsonist in January of 1972.

And here is the Staley Stables, I told you in my last post that I would tell you about Mr. Staley in this post, so here we go! Walter G. Staley, Jr. 1932-2010 (no photo) also put Mexico on the map, he was on the U.S. Summer Olympics equestrian team for international competition in 1952, 55, 59 and 60, winning the bronze in 1952. He won the gold medal at the 1955 Pan Am games in Mexico City.

Below is the Historic Simmons Stables, it was in use from 1887 to 2001, and is the oldest, largest, public wooden stable in continual use as a horse training facility in the United States. Tom Bass worked here in the early 1900's.
 RACING AGAINST TIME: This 2001 photo of Simmons Stables (below), pictured next to a recent shot of the unrestored half, displays the stark ravages of time. The building was in such bad shape that an emergency stabilization was needed to anchor the building with steel cross-ties and cables. (Advocate photo below by Susan Denkler/Courtesy photo below)

The Grand Barn of the Boulevard in 2001

Below is a photo of the back half before having to be dismantled for rebuilding. As much of the original wood as possible was kept for this.
 (The above and below photos are courtesy of

                          Extreme wear requires special efforts to preserve Grand Bard Boulevard

Below is what the stables look like today after the restoration. The back part is yet to be rebuilt.
Notice the pretty fanlight window above the big doorway, it too has been restored.

If you are a horse lover and historic building lover and would like to help preserve this Stable you can go to for more information.

Below is an interior view with the restored catwalk (at top of photo) and restored stalls. Hay bales were stored in the lofts up over the stalls, and the cat walk was used to go from one side loft to the other without having to climb down.
The barn can even be rented out and decorated nicely for your special event or special occasion.

Below is a closer view of the restored stalls...

And look who was brought in for this event to welcome all who came? Isn't he sweet?

Doesn't he look so pretty in the newly restored stall?

Looking out the window probably wishing he was out there... 

on such a beautiful Autumn day!

Happy Fall to all and to all a goodnight!


  1. Such a beautiful bred of horse. Love the history!

  2. Your photos make me miss the America Royal in KC. Hey it's October...American Royal time!!!
    We really enjoyed this topic.
    K and K

  3. What a good read I mean very interesting. I didn't know that was in Mexico Mo , no one over here in Columbia ever mentioned it.
    I love it all

  4. Hi Gina, very interesting post. My neighbors who are really into horses would love this read. Thanks for sharing.

  5. What a restoration! Thanks for sharing the museum and stables with us. You certainly have been visiting lots of interesting sites recently.


  6. I agree Gina, such an interesting post. I had no idea there was a Mexico Missouri either...Learn something new every day *winks* Saddlebred horses are a beautiful breed, and that barn is dreamy! I'm off to read more about Tom Bass. Vanna