Lee Shipman:
Kentucky Hall of Fame Trainer

By Jane E. Simmons
Saddle and Bridle Magazine Equine Articles

Crane logo A Saddlebred Trainer's success. Written for Saddle & Bridle magazine by Jane E. Simmons.
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At age 29, "I was the youngest person to win a Kentucky State Fair's World Grand Championship," an "honor I held for 22 years. That was in 1959. I was showing Plainview's Julia in the Open Five-Gaited." The man who "took my title was Garland Bradshaw's grandson Mitchell Clark." He "was one month younger than I was when he won his Grand Championship riding Sky Watch," Lee told me.

Now, some 45 years later, the northeast Arkansas native is retired from the horse industry. When he "turned 65 years old in September 1994," Lee "quit training but continued to judge horse shows for 10 more years." During the 50 years he pursued his "passion for horses," he "worked with many nice people." In 2004, Lee totally turned to the "enjoyment of other pursuits" not involving horses. He "started playing pool in 1994," and is "known in the billiards world as Cowboy." He "retired to Arizona to fish, play pool and hunt" ... and in that order, I gathered during our interview sessions.

"I've been known to fish all night," Lee told me. "Now, I go fishing when I want. I like fishing for crappies and catfish." Fishing in Arizona? I asked. "Actually, Arizona has 3,000 miles of running streams," Lee said, "and more boats per capita than any other state." Lee lives in Mesa. "Within a 100-mile radius of me are 10 to 12 big lakes." He drives from his Phoenix suburban home to his "place in Miami, Arizona that is about 60 miles away. I bought an abandoned gas station and icehouse. They cover a city block there, and that's where I've kept my boat since 1995."

Back in his "boyhood farm days" in Paragould, Arkansas, he "had to stand on a bucket to groom and saddle horses. I stood four feet four inches tall at the time. I was 14 years old then," and "one of 12 children: eight sisters and three brothers," he noted. Sharecropper farming made a horseman out of me." Born on September 18th on the eve of the Crash of 1929, Lee carried his hare of the workload growing up, as did his siblings. He attended school "as much as possible." Lee said: "I was a smart fella" and "by applying myself, I was able to pass two grades a year."

While dividing his time between working the family farm and attending school, Lee "learned from a boy chum about a job at the nearby stables" owned by his family's physician. "I arrived at Dr. Robert J. Haley's the next morning at 5:00 a.m., and got the job. It was 1944. I was hired for $12.50 a week. Pay was given every two weeks. My first assignment from Dr. Haley was to break the 25 horses that came to his Triple H Stables from Bowling Green, Kentucky. I rode from Kentucky with the loose horses back in the truck. Some were eight-year-olds not yet broke, because the doctor's trainer, Tom Davis, was afraid to ride young horses. So, I broke them. Two weeks later, when I got my first paycheck, it showed I'd already got a raise. It was in the amount of $30."

He loved the shows. To "get into the local horse show," Lee and friends "climbed a sycamore tree, walked on one of its limbs over the fence, and jumped down on the other side into the show grounds."

After Dr. Haley's "dispersal sale in the spring of 1945," Lee accepted his employer's job offer "to tear down the barn, picking out the nails from each board." He did the entire job himself. Lee then secured "a summer job with the federal Engineering Department that was repairing the levy on the nearby St. Francis River." His "mother had to sign the papers," allowing the underage youth to work. The workers "were picked up each morning in a cattle truck and taken the eight miles to the sand-sacking area." His "pay was $7 a day, with work available on weekends and holidays." Eventually, he "was assigned to wheelbarrow the sand up the ramps to the top of the levy." He "did this for three months."

The following year, Lee "left home on July 3, 1946," to better "help support [his] mother Cora, who by then had been separated from [his father] for about two years." His "mother became a widow in 1975," when his "father Luther died after a long illness. My father's people were from around Dexter, Missouri." His "mother died of old age in 1982 at the age of 75." Family members believe "my mother was a misplaced Indian baby from the Trail of Tears trek. She had a terrible temper but held her 12-children family together through some really hard times."

That summer of 1946, not-yet-17-year-old Lee "headed for Kentucky." By this time, America had entered World War II, following the Pearl Harbor attack the previous December 7th.

The day after arriving in Shelbyville, Lee saw his "first Kentucky Saddlebred Horse show at a local county fair in Frankfort on July 4th." This "outside fair was held next to the big prison. When the prison fired up its boilers, it became so hot in the area that we all called the place The Hellhole." At that show, "I decided right there and then I wanted to be the best horse trainer possible."

While "working in Shelbyville at Oscar Gibbs Stables," one of "the 45-50 head of horses" Lee broke and trained "included Everlasting Joy." This "five-gaited pony was my first World Champion to break and train. That pony went on to win five or six more of them." Lee also "trained Emerald Future to ride," a horse that "won numerous Fine Harness and Three-Gaited Kentucky World Grand Championships between 1946 and 1952."

While working in Shelbyville, Lee met his wife-to-be in a café. Teenager Lee Shipman "knew this young lady was THE one." In just one week, he and Frances Kurtz were "sipping soda" on their straws from the same glass, and "eating ice cream from the same bowl." Yep, it was true love. "Three months later, on November 8, 1947," she married the just-turned-18-year-old horseman.

Lee revealed the story of his unintended awkward first impression on Frances - "the lovely waitress with the shiny hair." He said to her: "You sure have beautiful hair. I'd like to know what you use on it so I can use it on my horses' tails and make them more shiny. She fled crying to the kitchen and tried to get the café owner to throw me out of the place. She found my question offensive." However, the smitten teenager pursued and prevailed.

Before the wedding, Lee "moved to Harrodsburg, where his fiancée lived with her parents." He said he "liked being near her folks. I loved her parents as much as my own." He had his new job, "working for Garland Bradshaw at Ridgefield Farm in Danville," another town south of Lexington. The newly-weds "lived in a house on the farm." The young couple "financially helped" their parents, while "saving for furniture and a home" of their own to become parents themselves. After five years, their son, "Gary was born on November 15, 1952." Frances' birthday is November 18th.

"During my six years with Garland, I started showing." Lee counts his "breaking Lady Carrigan to ride" as a highlight of his colt breaking work there. The "mare was the Junior Five-Gaited World Grand Champion in 1952, and was the 1954, 1955 and 1957 World Five-Gaited Grand Champion," Lee pointed out.

In 1953, Lee "moved to Ohio" where he "was manger and trainer for the Sunshine Valley Stock Farm in Londonderry," working "for Dr. O.O. Burt." At this time, Lee's "nickname was Mr. Peepers, because of the black horn rim glasses I wore." At this job, he "trained Sunshine Carol." He "sold the mare to an Illinois family and they placed her with Harry Lathrop Stables. The mare in 1956, won the Juvenile Minton Memorial Trophy at the Kentucky State Fair Horse Show, with Molly Moody riding." And, "in 1957, Sunshine Carol won the Three-Gaited World Grand Championship in Louisville with Garland Bradshaw riding her."

In 1957, "Plainview Farm in Louisville was my next job," Lee told me. While working for R.C. Tway, Lee "won the Five-Gaited 1959 Kentucky County Fair Championship in Louisville with Genius Queen Elizabeth, a full sister to Plainview's Julia." Lee "was Reserve Grand Champion at the Kentucky State Fair with the three-year-old five-gaited Sara Lady Lynn."

In 1959, Lee "rode Plainview's Julia to the Five-Gaited World Grand Championship in Louisville," becoming "the youngest trainer to ever win the class." He "was 29 years old." In 1960, another horse trained by Lee, called "Plainview's Sophia Van Cleve, won the Juvenile Three-Gaited World Grand Championship under Rock Creek's colors with Windy Wagnor in the saddle. Jim B. Robertson was the trainer there then," Lee noted.

In 1962, the Shipmans moved to Texas, where Lee "went to work for Mr. and Mrs. Thurman Barrett, Jr. at their Barlite Farms in Boerne, near San Antonio." He "was the manager and trainer there for eight years." Lee said: "the Barretts sent Art Simmons home to Missouri in their private plane in 1967, after he was released from a hospital in Houston" following the collapse of one of his lungs. Some of the horses Lee "managed at Barlite Farm included: Champion five gaited The Love Charm by Stonewall Premier; five-gaited gelding Social Security by Secret Society; Champion ladies' and amateur three-gaited mare Mahogany's Fair Lady" (shown by wife Charlotte); "juvenile three-gaited Stonewall Emblem, shown by their older son Mark Barrett III; Champion fivegaited gelding The Saber, shown by Mrs. Barrett; and Brenda Supreme," with Leeriding, that "won the four-year-old Junior Three-Gaited Championship in Louisville." The Barrett's "younger son Osborn also showed and won. Once, he told Harry Spots, who was judging, to tie one of the other kids first in the class, as he had already won a lot." Barlite Farm's road horses "were The News Flash and Miss America. Mr. Barrett showed Miss America," Lee told me, "making it a family business." Lee said: "there also were many brood mares and colts in the farm's breeding program."

While in Texas, "I got my pilot's license in 1963. I went to Ground School at night, after finishing up at the barn. I flew my hours as soon as it was daylight, before going to the barn. It only cost $6 an hour to rent the 150 Cessna." Lee later "bought a 175 Cessna," after he moved to Kentucky. He "had that plane for 20 years. I sold it in 1993. I loved flying, and never had any kind of accident."

Sports Illustrated "in its April 1965 issue" featured Lee Shipman in an article - "the first time the magazine had ever run an article about a Saddlebreds' show," he told me. The article covered the San Antonio Charity Horse Show's Five-Gaited Stake, which Lee won. Writer Alice Higgins said the class was: "the most exciting I have seen in a long time." The show "inaugurated the newly enlarged Southwest circuit," Ms. Higgins wrote. "Although there were seven horses in the championship, it was really a contest between Mr. and Mrs. Lafayette Ward's Gallant Man, with Art Simmons aboard, and Barlite Farm's The New Look, with Lee Shipman in the saddle. Both are five-year-old chestnut geldings with great speed at the trot and rack, and both riders are experts at keeping a horse in high gear. When the pair was sent to the rail for a workout, the duel reached its climax.... Despite some artful corner cutting by Simmons, Gallant Man was unable to overtake the fast-moving son of Wing Commander.... Judge Charles Smith [tapped] The New Look ... as the Five-Gaited Champion," Ms. Higgins reported. Lee made the victory pass to "the frenzied cheers" of the Texas crowd. Lee said: "You could hear Mrs. Barrett's loud whoop throughout the coliseum."

Also while in Texas, Lee and Frances "bought a farm in 1966 south of Louisville in Cox's Creek, a small town in Nelson County" just north of Bardstown. "The town is a wide space in the road. Don't sneeze or you'll miss it," Lee told me. "Gary and his mom saw the farm and liked it so much, I bought it without ever seeing it."

In 1970, the Shipmans "opened a public training stable in Louisville at Silver Brook Stable," which they "operated for about a year and a half," Lee said. "I did Dan Mize's dispersal sale while there." In March 1972, Lee "went to work for Ed and Kay Eckles, showing their horses on the circuits in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio." While in Caseyville, Illinois "at the Andeck Farm, I showed my own mare Trouble Bubble. After I sold her to a doctor, she was sent to Bill Wise in Danville and won at the Kentucky State Fair show in the Two-Year-Old Fine Harness class." Lee "also trained Chickadee, Summer Fancy, Arrived Again, and The Executive." Lee "took road horse Dark Cedar to new heights of winning."

In 1974, "I opened the Lee Shipman Stables on the Cox's Creek farm I had purchased eight years earlier." The couple was "back home in Kentucky," where they "stayed for the next 20 years." The hardworking 140-pound, five foot five inch tall horseman continued to develop champions.

Some of the champions "under my Shipman Stables banner included Seventh Avenue that won the three-year old Three-Gaited World Grand Championship in 1975; and Attaché that won the three-year-old Five-Gaited World Championship in 1975." In 1976, Lee "won the Open Road Pony World Championship with Nacomas. I judged the Louisville show in 1977 so I had no horses winning there that year, of course. At the Lexington Junior League show, Attaché won the Five-Gaited Stallion Championship in 1977 and 1978. At Louisville in 1978, he won the Five-Gaited Stallion World Championship." Two horses, "Seventh Avenue, and The Mean Machine, I sold for $125,000 each." Other winners at his stable "included Our Magic Lady, Amaranti, and Mr. Crazy Leggs. I bred, broke and trained Attaché's Liquid Assets, and sold this son of Attaché as a yearling for $35,000 sight unseen over the phone to Elaine and Merk Jones of New Orleans. When Liquid Assets was three years old, I won many blues with him. So many that the Jones family turned down $150,000 for the horse. When he was a four-year-old, they sent him to Lexington to Bobby Gatlin, who won the Junior Five-Gaited Stallion World Championship with him. Another horse I trained for the Jones family was All That Glitters. Melinda Gatlin (Moore) rode her to the Ladies' Three-Gaited World Championship."

Lee also judged horse shows. "I judged State Fair horse shows in West Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, and in Canada. The Toronto show was great. That is where I learned to eat lasagna." He also judged "a bunch of little ones." Eventually, Lee "began to cut back on shows, making about 11 or 12 a year." He said he still enjoyed getting "into the show ring every once in a while. Heck, I just love the competition. To me, that's what the horse game's all about." Lee also did auctioneering during his life. "I did a lot of sales in the '60s in different states, including Tattersalls. I helped Walter Botkins twice at his auction training sessions." Eventually, Lee "got a formal auction certificate," getting "the highest grade for chanting." Lee still auctioneers. "I do one auction a year.

In the early 1990s, "I leased half of my Cox's Creek barn, but people would not send their horses unless I was involved," Lee explained. So, finally, "I decided to fully retire."

Anticipating their retirement years, Lee and Frances "bought Lamb Shoe Repair in downtown Mesa in 1983. Frances' two sisters first ran the store, and then, Frances took it over for the past decade." Through their East Mesa Baptist Church, they "have donated truckloads of shoes and clothing to needy families." They finally "leased the store then sold it to the shoe repairman who worked at the store."

Lee "took up pool in the Sunland Village community" in which they bought a home. Now, Lee is wondering if there's a pool grand championship somewhere for retired horsemen. Their "plan for 2006 is to travel" now that they "no longer have the responsibility of the shoe store." With their first great grandbaby coming soon, one can safely guess Frances and Lee Shipman will be traveling a lot to South Florida in the future.

Of his life, Lee summed it all up this way: "I only spend about $25 or $30 a year on medicine, so I am very fortunate. God has blessed me."

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