Mid-Missouri Remembers Horse Whisperer

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MEXICO - Born a slave in Boone County in 1859, Tom Bass took an interest in horses and began riding them alone at four years old.  At nine years old, Bass trained a horse to canter backward and slowly got noticed for making horse miracles happen.

"He was the forefather of riding American saddlebreds as far as our country goes," American Saddlebred Horse Museum curator Tom Yusnick said.  "He came decades before Jackie Robinson and was years and years before the first horse whisperer, he was the original horse whisperer."

By age 20, The Mexico Horse Sales Company hired Bass as an American saddlebred horse trainer.  Bass proved his skill when he trained a so-called man-killing horse named Blazing Black, a horse that was vicious that other stable hands feared.  Bass spoke quietly and gently to the horse and gained her trust, becoming the only man to ever tame Blazing Black.

"He left a legacy of being a gentleman and a trainer's trainer and not only was he the greatest black trainer of all times, he is undisputedly, the world's greatest American saddlebred horse trainer," Yusnick said.       

Bass had a reputation of treating the horses kindly and gently at a time when some American horse trainers treated horses like household items.  Because of his concerns for the horses, Bass created a new kind of bit that was gentler on the horses' mouthes.  Bass wanted to communicate to the horse through the bit, not hurt the horse.  The 'Bass Bit' is still used with saddlebred horses all over the country though Bass never patented the product.      

Over time, Bass began entering his horses into competitions.  He was the first African American to ride in the American Royal Horse Show and was even invited to compete in the Royal Horse Show in London, but was afraid to take the journey overseas. Bass died in 1934, but his legacy continues in Mexico where a wall full of blue ribbons and the stable where he trained horses both live on.  The stable where Bass trained horses still needs $500,000 to be renovated, anyone wanting to donate can visit International Saddlebred Hall of Fame website.