Interveiw with Bonnie A Yeager, the head of the Sound Horse Organization and Breeder of TWH for 18 years.
How many years have you been involved with TWH?  
We started Longview Farms in l982 so I guess that makes it 17yrs. this month.  It was a dream that I had all of my life but never expected it to become a reality.  Like most little girls, I wanted a horse and being a city girl could never have one.  We were transferred 9 times the first 14 years of our marriage by my husband's employer, E.I. DuPont, so we never could not have horses then.  Finally Fred refused to take any more transfers and settled in on his 100 + acres (which unknown to me, had been his dream!)  He wanted the privacy and isolation from the daily bustle that you can only get when sitting in the middle of 108 acres.  Fred is almost a recluse but I am a people person, but I have to admit after living this way for 17yrs. it is nice to be able to choose when you want to be involved with a lot of people. I have a lot of contacts (via the internet) for business reasons and I must say I have met some wonderful people through this marvelous breed of horse and have made some wonderful, lasting friendships, also.  Course, I've met some "not so nice" people, too, but thankfully they have been in the minority.
What first drew you to the breed?  
My first ride on a 16.3H non-registered TWH, Palomino mare! 
When we first moved here 17 yrs. ago I heard people speaking about this 16.3H  palomino mare named Star who was supposed to be the smoothest riding horse in the County.  She was  legendary!  I called the man that owned her and purchased her over the phone!  We had no horse trailer then so he delivered her and when she got out of the trailer, I was in awe!  Her size,  disposition, conformation etc. were all that I could want in a mare but she was not registered and I didn't care.  I rode her everywhere and one day coming home from riding her in a local parade where she won the little prize for being the biggest and best "kept" horse she started picking up speed coming up the grassy side of the driveway (which is a 1/4mi. long)and went into the fastest, smoothest, waterglass runningwalk I had ever experienced!  I put my arms up over my head and yelled to Fred, " LOOK, I'M FLYING" (And that's what it felt like). That did it, I never looked back because I knew that breeding these wonderful horses was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! 
What breeds or types of horses did you have prior experience with? 
Shetland ponies, Quarter horses and Saddlebreds. I had lived on a farm in Quakertown Pa. when I was between 6 and 9yrs. old and we raised Shetland ponies on the side.  The studs were sulky,
tempermental horses but the mares were friendly and the foals looked like little toys!
Before moving to the 100+ acres on the last transfer, we had 37 acres in Indiana and there we had a saddlebred gelding who was a real babysitter and a quarter horse who's gait could jar your teeth loose, but that didn't matter because Fancy  and Copper were HORSES and that was all I
wanted. I didn't know then about the Tennessee Walker!
What pitfalls did you find or mistakes did you make in your early years that you can advise people to avoid?  
Learn ALL that you can about this breed BEFORE buying your first TWH! There are too many off-gaited TWH's out there that you DON'T want to RIDE, much less BREED! If you are going to breed, of course, buy registered stock.  I still grieve over having to sell Star after getting 3 unregisterable foals out of her but we were buying other mares by then and learning what breeding was best with which lines, which lines gave you the best gait, best conformation, prettiest head,etc. and Star had to be sold because she just did not fit in with our breeding program which we wanted to be the best in the country (like all neophytes coming late to something-we had big ideas!)  We learned much to our financial losses that not all TWH's are naturally gaited because of the unscrupulous breeding practices of most local people and we stopped breeding to their studs and started to travel to find the best stud to compliment each mare.  It was time-consuming and expensive but it paid off when those foals hit the ground nodding and walking.  It didn't take long before we started getting a reputation for breeding for the best-gaited foals.  We lost a lot of so-called "friends" who resented us for not breeding to their studs, but if you are going to breed anything, then your aim should be to breed for better and better to improve the breed.  Too many people, then and now are breeding any mare to the nearest stud to put a foal on the ground to sell for a $1,000.00 just to pay their bills.  We were not making money but we didn't rely on the foals to pay our bills so we could afford to take the time it took to learn how to breed for the best.
Their is so much to learn about bloodlines, temperment, conformation and gait that all this should be done even before you start with your first horse, but we were anxious to have a field full of these gorgeous horses and so made a lot of mistakes that we then had to pay again to correct!

What was the BEST decision you made in your early years?   
To purchase the very best MARES I could afford! I think the best decision we made was based on what we had learned (as all the best,  INFORMED decisions are) and that was to purchase the very best mares we could afford and then find the very best stud we could, to breed that mare to.  Also, not to keep a stud because then you are limited in your gene pool and can only improve as far as the mare's traits will allow you.  We also learned never to buy horses on a whim or impulse and don't necessarily go for the best looking or biggest or even the best set of papers.  If you want to have it all in a TWH, you can if you take the time, money and work to develop the characteristics that are most important to you.  You cannot do this overnight!  BUT you CAN do it!
What is your fondest memory of your TW horses? 
The most exciting day, (aside from foaling days) I've had in this business was the day I purchased and had delivered to Longview Farms the VERY LAST of the 100% Last Chance horses that are still alive today!  I purchased the 5 that were available at the time and 2yrs. later purchased the last 3 producing mares from the Old Dement place in Wartrace, Tn.  Two of the original mares that I purchased were too old to breed, but I didn't know that at the time and one young one died a tragic, avoidable death for which my husband has not been able to forgive himself to this day.  He had left her stall unlocked and she opened her door, got out, opened the feed freezer and proceeded to eat herself into founder.  He was not aware of this happening and let them all out into the lush spring pasture and when she did not come up to the barn with the rest for her supper, we found her in the field, rushed her to the vets but it was too late to save her, even $1700.00 later.
I regret the financial loss, of course, but more than that I still grieve for that wonderful, beautiful, loving mare.  You would have to own and live with a 100% Last Chance horse or even one that had some Last Chance breeding in it, to appreciate the difference that these bloodlines make to the bloodlines of the TWH's of today!  I truly believe that they are destined to be the salvation of this breed.  They were bred and isolated for 60 yrs. to do nothing but gait and nod and are the original TRUE Walkers and the best representatives of what the old breeders were trying to create with this marvelous breed!
Do you have a favorite TWH? If so, which one and why? 
My favorite is Sharkey (Longview's Sun Boy Pusher), a Black Roan Sabino mare.  She is the only one that I have had all of her life (10yrs.), since we are always breeding "up" in quality (but she had all of the Quality breeding anyone could possible ask for in a mare).  She throws, big, awsomely -gaited foals, who have all of her characteristics and she is the only one that I "feel" I can actually communicate with. We have been through a lot together ( I had to pull her first foal because he was too big for her to deliver on her own-which was the hardest PHYSICAL LABOR I have ever done!) and we have formed a bond of the heart that nothing could break. Even my husband swears that she "talks" to him! 
Somehow you know what she wants and feels and somehow she knows what you want and  feel! She is "pushy" "bossy", "arrogant" and a pig to boot, which is why we call her the Shark, since she will eat anything that doesn't eat her first!  But she is extremely protective of her people (whom SHE owns) and has saved my life and limbs more than once with her love and horse sense.  We have always bred her to the very BEST in the breed that we could find, but she always throws the same foal: HUGE, GREAT-GAITED, NATURALLY WITH THE BEST DISPOSITIONS THAT YOU COULD ASK FOR!  She is in foal right now, to the last direct son of Go Boy's
Shadow and Midnight Sun that was alive and producing when we chose her mate.  He died of old age in Dec.'98, so this will be the last of his GREAT offspring.  I have a Tobiano stud by him, that is just like him (he was a VERY prepotent sire!), a chestnut filly by him and my last years True Blue Roan filly by him.  I could just never sell one of his offspring, they were that good!  What he and Sharkey produce together should be the epitome of the Walking Horse!

What do you feel is the "commitment", if any, that a breeder has to make to the breed or the public?  
I really believe that if you decide to breed Walkers than you have to make a commitment to the public to breed the very best horses that you can and always sell a horse that fits this description and not an off-gaited one or one with a bad disposition or other genetic, or man-made flaws.  You owe that to the buying public who may not know any more about these horses than I did when I got started in the breeding business.  I was "taken" many times by dishonest or uncaring breeders
and I would never do to someone else what was done to me.  Not only is it not morally honest, it is a detriment to the breed itself.  Never get into this business thinking that you are going to make a fast buck (or any bucks at all, for that matter).  That's what tempts breeders to do less than their best and produce inferior foals.  If you do not truly love the breed and make a lifelong commitment to the improvement of it, then you are going to take the "easy but more lucrative way out" and produce foals that can only hurt your reputation as a breeder but the breed as a whole.
 ANYTHING worthwhile is worth working for!  That is one reason why Longview Farms (who would NEVER own a stud!<G>)now stand 4 uniquely bred and colored studs at a separate facility.    We never intended to own ONE stud, much less FOUR but if you are going to do ANYTHING in this life we believe you ought to do it RIGHT!
The most important commitment a breeder can make is to NOT BE IN THIS BUSINESS TO GET RICH! You won't anyway, since we have NEVER even broken even! IF YOU ARE GOING TO BREED TWH'S, THEN BREED THE BEST YOU CAN AFFORD TO THE BEST YOU CAN FIND, TO PRODUCE SUPERIOR OFFSPRING!  Anything less is a detriment to the breed!  If you are not able to breed NATURALLY GAITED  Walking Horses, then stop breeding and get another interest! 

If there was only one reason you could give to people to own a TWH,, what would it be?   

I can't give only one reason: There are 4 reasons to own a TWH: the ride, the loving, willing disposition, the innate intelligence and the versatility.  This breed can (and does) do it 
all!  From dressage to calf-roping, from mountain packing to endurance riding, from field trialing to parading, from jumping to trail riding, the TWH is a horse for all seasons and all reasons!


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