Black Horse Whisperer remembered for revolutionary equine equipment

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MEXICO – The genius behind a revolutionary, horse training staple was created by a black man. His name was Tom Bass.

Bass is credited with the creation of the “Bass bit,” which has changed the way equine trainers across the world have trained their horses. The bit was created to fit the horses mouths in ways that prevent the abuse of the horse. Now, more than hundreds of different variations exist today, and are a standard connecting part of the horse's bridle.

The early 19th century was the golden age of the American Saddlebred Horse and Bass left his stamp on the era.

Known as the “Black Horse Whisperer,” Thomas Bass made inroads in the white man’s world, by breaking the color barrier as the first black man to show horses in America. 

Investigative reporter and equestrian extraordinaire, CuChullaine O’Reilly, described Bass as the “equestrian Mozart,” and said, “before Jackie Robinson ever donned a Dodger uniform, before Rosa Parks demanded a seat on the bus, and before Martin Luther King Jr., had a dream, there was Tom Bass.”

Bass was born into slavery on the Peter Bass plantation in Boone County, which successfully bred and trained horses and raised cattle until the end of the Civil War. Whether this frequent exposure to horses developed Bass’ love and passion for the equine species is unknown, but Bass said, “horses are like humans.”

Sometime during his young live Bass left Boone County and headed to Mexico, Missouri, where he began to work with some of the world’s unruliest horses. Bass was said to have treated the horses with such kindness and respect, they took to him. There, Bass trained some of the nation’s famous horses, such as Belle Beach, Rex McDonald and Columbus. Bass was even visited by presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge.

In 1899, Bass helped found the 120-year-old tradition, of the American Royal held every year in Kansas City. 

Despite his successes inside the show ring, Bass still had to deal with the color of his skin behind closed doors. 

Audrain County Historical Society representative, Jacqueline Kuble, said Bass would travel with the best in the business, assist the men with the purchases of the horses, yet, "when it would come time for him to eat, he would still have to sit at the back of the restaurant," Kuble said. "It's heartbreaking to think he went through that. He was such a gentle, kind man." 

Tom Bass is featured in the state capitol’s Hall of Famous Missourians, where he was placed shortly after Mexico, Missouri deemed April 10, 1999, Tom Bass Day.