Jane & Lee Fahey - Show World Giants

By Joan Gilbert
Saddle and Bridle Magazine Equine Articles

Crane logo "Keep pitching 'til you win." said the famous horsewoman! Written for Saddle & Bridle magazine by Joan Gilbert. © copyrighted horse article.
Here is a pair of show world giants whom newcomers and the young must know about, but whose story cannot be properly be told in anything less than a sizable book. How can one wade through the names of all their notable horses to find and describe the most important? How to rank the illustrious names of people, living and not, whose lives interwove with theirs? How to face the inevitable parade of after-publication contacts from readers who will propose additions or corrections to the story? That is why I have put off for years a topic urged by many readers: the Faheys, Jane and Lee, a couple who complemented each other to an almost eerie degree and made big tracks in their separate and joint fields. His biggest talent may have been spotting and developing talent; she challenged the male bastion of five-gaited training and stakes riding and opened the way for other women to have a chance at the best prizes. But the Faheys did much more that that.

For one thing, they developed and showed 17 world champion Saddlebreds, many of these going on to win top prizes repeatedly for their purchasers. Together they managed one of the top stallions of his day, Anacacho Empire. Several animals the Faheys bred and exhibited brought record sales prices. They were UPHA Hall of Fame inductees. They taught and mentored riders who became famous. There was much more, but their friends tell us that one thing must be remembered: the Faheys found exceptional fun and harmony in their life together. So now, how to transition from introduction to the saga itself?

Picture two of the country's top trainers and exhibitors of American Saddlebreds, each on a stallion, faced off in the ring, after having sparred throughout the class, making daring crossings in front of each other, crowding each other, shouting insults, slashing at each others' mounts. Then, suddenly, they charge, like knights of old in a jousting contest, threatening to crash and flailing at each other with their whips. The crowd watches with relish and amusement, and no official says a word. Mayhem is traditional when trainers of five gaited champions compete for an important stake. No rules apply because the show world does not yet have organizations that demand decorum in the ring at all times. And this is why everyone accepts the unwritten edict: "Women do not compete in the top stakes rings."

The country has dozens of professional horsewomen capable of defeating some of its top male riders, but most accept their "place" and content themselves with victories that will not shock anyone. They don't want to take a chance on their physical safety or that of their horses, and besides that, "being ladylike" still leads the list of feminine virtues. Most of these women are role models for pupils whose parents expect them to grow up fitting the feminine ideals of the time. For instance, Mrs. Claud Drew, for 30 years director of the Christian College Riding Program, is very careful to teach her girls that they can work in a barn alongside uneducated laborers and still retain refinement.

This is the world Jane Fahey of Liberty, Mo., entered in the early '40s, invading territory where no woman had gone before. How was she received, this rider who was no more than an inch or two over five feet tall and seldom carried more than a hundred pounds of body weight? Rudely, with insults and threats. Apparently enough every-day chivalry still existed to protect her from physical harm, but Fahey made the gamble. Glenda Pugh and other horsewomen who knew her as idol and mentor, are not surprised. They say that "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" was one of her favorite sayings. She offered it to them again and again when they asked for advice on what should be undertaken.

But audacity alone did not account for Fahey's success in a males-only arena. Her admirers tell us that: her horses were among the most superbly chosen and trained in the country and that she was one of the very best riders. Before going into the big-time rings, she had, in lesser shows, won so often over so many male competitors that nobody could discount her. Donna Moore, for instance, says that she saw, at a Higginsville, Mo., show, Fahey in one of her first stakes win over men, the judge being the renowned John T. Hook. Moore, now of Versailles, Ky., has no doubt that Fahey's pioneering ended women's exclusion from the best opportunities.

The question of whether women should be allowed to show against men in the top classes was debated for years in private conversations and in fiery letters to editors of newspapers and horse publications. Today's senior horse people have not forgotten what an issue it was. Moore, one of the first to follow Jane Fahey's example, says that in her own somewhat later start, men still made it very rough in the ring, being surly and insulting, often subtly trying to cause trouble. Lynn Weatherman, longtime Saddlebred World historian sums Fahey's contribution up this way: "She was the first woman to make her living by training and showing successfully against 'the boys.'" And Fahey (1913-1997) is an icon so much written of that summarizing her career is challenge indeed.

Which of the many laudatory articles shall we quote from? And how much of the credit for her success belongs to her husband? Lee Fahey (whose death came suddenly in 1975) was called one of the greatest ground men of all time, one of the best trainers and drivers, one of the best showmen. He is said by those who knew him to be soft-spoken, but still able to persuade horses - and what some writers term "his feisty, feisty wife" - with a few quiet words. How to do him justice and put their relationship - and their breeding, training and showing partnership - in proper perspective? One little help, perhaps, is to elaborate on the fact that they were jointly inducted into the UPHA Hall of Fame in 1990, Lee posthumously.

Here is some bio data that helps to explain the woman who did it all and the man who supported her in everything, and provided a great deal of valuable guidance from his longer and more varied experience.

Jane Fairchild was born in northwest Missouri, Union Star, and reared in nearby Whiteside. Her grandfather, a horse trader, had all kinds of equines on his property and she learned, early on, probably without a lot of instruction, how to ride them all. We're told that she began riding at the age of two and by age five knew all the gaits. While still a child, she was breaking mule colts to halter. Moore quotes Mrs. Fairchild as describing her little daughter riding for hours standing up on her pony's back. At school, they say, Jane entertained her classmates by daring demonstrations with the docile animal who would, on request, become a bucking bronco.

Jane Fahey earned her way through high school by working in the Contrary Lake Stable at St. Joseph, and a decade or so later, came back to operate the place with her husband. In 1948 they set up their own 135 acre establishment, Fahey Farm and Stables, at Blue Springs, near Kansas City. Lee Fahey had been born in Chicago but always said "I've lived in Missouri for as long as I've been able to say 'horse.'" He was a dozen years older than his wife - some say 22 - and deeply experienced in just the areas they needed for a self sufficient partnership. His respected position in the horse world had long been secure.

Donna Moore, says of Jane Fahey, "We were best friends." When asked what kind of friend Jane was, Donna says, "She was always there for you when you needed someone, generous with money as well as sympathy. Once when I was in a bad spot, Jane gave me $2,000. I had not asked for a loan or even made much of my situation, but she just handed me the money saying 'You might need this.'" Even though there was quite an age difference and even though each woman led an exhaustive role in the Saddlebred world, they somehow managed some hanging-out time. They did such girl-things as shopping. "We both liked clothes," Moore says. The two couples, Donna and Tom Moore and Lee and Jane Fahey, visited often in each others' homes, but elaborate entertaining was seldom involved. "We ate out most of the time," Donna explains, "We were all too busy to want to fix big meals."

They did share one unforgettable kitchen experience: Donna and Jane, having coffee, were interrupted by the entrance of their husbands who had been bird hunting. Both were bloody and Tom was weeping. He had accidentally shot Lee. They sat down, had some beer, talked the incident over and decided against the emergency room. "I imagine Tom took that shot in his chin to his grave with him" laughs Dick Hensleigh of Albuquerque.

Starting when he was a youngster of 13 years, Hensleigh worked for the Faheys until he was 22, treated always, he says, as a son. An example: "After a few years, when they had to be away, they put me in charge of the barn," he says. "That didn't sit well with some employees who were older than me and had been with the Faheys longer. A lot of times they would not follow my instructions." Jane fixed that little problem by informing the staff that Hensleigh was Lee's nephew and was to be obeyed. Anyone who didn't like that was free to leave. Hensleigh is today our best source of data about the Faheys. He has extensive folders of clippings and even owns a scrapbook that Jane kept from her young years. She collected pictures of good riders because she said she could learn a great deal just by seeing how they sat and how they held the reins.

Fulfilling his role as adopted nephew, Hensleigh served as executor of Jane Fahey's will. One of the things he says it demonstrates is Jane's ability to joke about herself and the grimmest topics. She had requested this about disposal of her ashes: She wanted Janet Green of Springfield (Green and she were close, having worked together for several summers with a program for young riders who were dead serious about horse careers) and Hensleigh, to do it together. They were to use memorial shot glasses engraved with Anacacho Empire's name, and they were to scatter the ashes along a path between the kitchen door and the barn. This was a distance of about a hundred yards through a lovely peaceful grassy area, and Fahey's feet had traveled it thousands of times. The scene was one she scanned constantly from indoors, because it overlooked the brood mares and foals.

Janet added a little something to this ritual, some chopped up mane from Jane's cherished mare Clever, who had died a few days after Jane did. The memento of the aged mare had been saved because she was so important to Jane, having given the Faheys several very fine colts. It seemed only suitable to Green that some of the mare's remains be blended with those of the woman who had most loved and appreciated her.

Fahey Horse Stories:

Readers sometimes say that they doze off on long lists of horses they know nothing of and what they won, when and where. If they need this data, they say, there are places to find it. What they like most is human interest, stories that give insight into other times and into the personalities and experiences of famous horses and people. For those readers, here are some likely incidents from Fahey lore:

The Cock Robin, a horse who appears in several of the profiles S&B has carried, is an example of Lee Fahey's ability to spot and foster talent. He first saw this gelding at a small show in which he won nothing. Fahey, trusting his gut, paid $2,500, took his purchase home and made a champion of him. With Dick Hadley, and Hadley's customers, the Walter Duncans of Oklahoma City, The Cock Robin won eight world championships. Hensleigh believes seven of these were for Mrs. Duncan in Ladies Driving.

In the spectacular accident department: Jane Fahey survived one at Springfield, Mo., possibly the last show she drove in. Dick Hensleigh believes she was around 80 at the time. "We were lining up," he said, "and I was heading her horse." Hensleigh was not the Faheys' employee at that time, but was exhibiting at the same show and was helping Jane a little, for old times' sake. Suddenly another horse seemingly went berserk and jumped over the shafts between Jane and her horse, tangling vehicles, harnesses and horseflesh into an impossible snarl. "Jane was underneath it all," he says, "her face so covered with mud I wasn't sure she could breathe." The horses went around and around, in a panic, unable to free themselves Hensleigh remembers, and others all over the arena began reacting. Sonny Sutton got a foot broken, by his plunging horse. Leaving it to others to untangle the animals and the ruined buggies, Hensleigh got the unconscious Jane under the armpits and dragged her from the melee. He took her to the railing and began trying to figure out how to get her onto the other side if more horses got loose and joined the craziness. Even though there were plenty of seasoned people on hand to deal with the situation, it wasn't over immediately and Jane regained enough consciousness to say, "It was all the judge's fault. If he'd placed me like he should have, we'd all have been out of there."

Hensleigh told us too of Jane's abilities to help foaling mares. She didn't often have to face this alone, but in any barn, there are inevitably problem times. What Jane had to deal with was an early arrival who was presenting wrong and his mother seemed unable to deliver him. In addition, his sac was unusually tough. Jane couldn't break through it in the usual way to get hold of him and help him out. Her solution was to run to the kitchen for a more substantial knife than the barn held. She thus got into the sac and was able to expedite the baby's emergence. Here we have to remember her small size and the fact that when this happened, she was no longer young.

The Faheys' main stallion, both in their hearts and in Saddlebred history was Anacacho Empire, whom they managed for others for several years, but purchased for themselves in l957. This animal was for years very high in sire ratings. He won many championships and Hensleigh says, "never less than a blue." One of Anacacho Empire's highest awards he received from the hands of President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ridden by his owner, H.B. Lamer, Anacacho Empire led Eisenhower's Inaugural Parade in 1953.

And Not Just Horses:

Among those who considered Jane Fahey a celebrity were a horde of people who knew little about her record for breeding, training and showing Saddlebred horses. These were members of the pug dog world. For almost six decades, Jane Fahey also bred, showed and sold these little charmers, playing a big role in their rise to popularity. In early years of their history here, she was one of only 11 breeders in the United States. Her dogs went to national figures in this country and to royal families abroad.

It all stemmed from one named Dinky, given her by Lee as a gift, because she had seen one of the little creatures somewhere and been enthralled with it. Jane found Dinky so sweet and her "so ugly she's cute" looks so appealing that she imported some fine individuals and began breeding. Before they knew it, the Faheys were famous for having enough pug matrons to keep puppies available at all times.

Jane went into showing the dogs and produced 125 AKC champions, sending them coast to coast with handlers. She loved showing them herself, but showing horses often conflicted. Hensleigh also tells us, "A great many pugs were sent to her to whelp." Because their heads are out of proportion to their bodies, whelping problems are common with pugs. Probably Jane's experience in equine obstetrics made those of little dogs strictly non-problematic, but her expertise was recognized throughout the pug scene. Jane became a popular judge of pugs and some of her gigs were equivalent, in their world, to Lee's Chicago International, Madison Square Garden, Louisville, Lexington and Pin Oak. Among the last activities of Jane Fahey's life, before fatal illness descended, was driving herself and a vehicle full of pugs to a show.

She was inducted into the Pug Dog Hall of Fame and a writer named Loretta Wiseman is doing a book about her and her dogs.

Fahey Words of Wisdom:

Readers often ask for more secrets from successful trainers and exhibitors. These tend to resemble each other. Probably the most shared secret is patience, letting the horse absorb at its own pace what you are trying to teach it. Probably the second most frequent admonition is to let the horse show you what it can do best and most easily, instead of trying to make each one fit a pattern for which it may not be suited.

The following philosophy may not be exclusive to Jane Fahey, but how many have heard something she said often in interviews? "The person who exhibits a show horse should not be its caretaker. The horse needs to understand that it plays two different roles; docile in the barn, spirited in the ring. This is much easier for it, if the two different roles are played with two different people." And Jane Fahey had another personal slogan she shared often with pupils: "Keep pitching 'til you win."

Return to Saddlebred Equine Articles main page for more stories from Saddle & Bridle

Also visit our main Saddlebred section
© All Photos and Sculpture Copyright 2000 - 2017, Patricia Crane.