Friday, March 11, 2011

Saddle Horses and the Bass Bit

Tom Bass and the Renowned Belle Beach
“I was sitting on the mares when I was no larger than a horsefly,” an adult Tom Bass said. Born to a slave mother and a white landowner (in 1854) whose Boone County plantation was known for its fine horses, the youngster impressed his father. By the age of 3, Tom’s naturalness with horses seemed uncanny to William Bass, and he frequently took his slave son for rides across the massive planation.

Tom lived in a town (Mexico, Mo.) known as “the Saddle Horse Capital of the World,” and built an international reputation as a premier Saddle Horse trainer and a dazzling equestrian showman.

In addition to breeding and showing many famous horses, Bass invented the Bass bit, a mechanism designed to protect a horse’s mouth during training. The Bass bit is considered standard equipment in contemporary stables. He is also credited as an originator of the first American Royal Horse Show in Kansas City. During his lifetime, Bass was the only African-American man to exhibit at the American Royal shows, where audiences adored this high-hatted rider of the famous Belle Beach. He also met five presidents and rode in several presidential inaugural parades.

At the time of his death, Will Rogers eulogized: ”Tom Bass, well-known Negro horseman ... died ....You have all seen society folks perhaps on beautiful three or five-gaited Saddle Horses and said: ‘My what skill and patience they must have had to train that animal.’ Well, all they did was ride him. All this Negro, Tom Bass did was to train him. For over 50 years America’s premier trainer.”

(excerpt from "Audrain County: Tom Bass," by Ann L Rogers, in Marking Missouri History, edited by James W. Goodrich and Lynn Wolf Gentzler)

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