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Forever Mr. Fine Harness - Charlie Crabtree

by Bob Funkhouser


In what has been a rash of deep loses to the American Saddlebred industry, we lost one of the true pioneers of our industry as well as a gentleman and great horseman with the April 15 passing of Charles “Charlie” Crabtree. The Simpsonville, Ky. legend was 87.


While Crabtree became known as “Mr. Fine Harness” because of his unbelievable success with the likes of CH Supreme Airs (BHF), CH Glenview Mandala, CH Glenview Radiance, CH La La Success and many others, he was much, much more than that.


Charlie Crabtree and CH Supreme Airs (BHF) ruled

 the fine harness division winning a world’s championship

 eight out of 10 years from 1963 to 1972.


CH Glenview Mandala was another

of Crabtree’s magical harness entries.


“He would have told you in a heartbeat that his proudest moment was winning the Junior Five-Gaited Stake at Louisville with Royal Fortune,” said his son, Redd Crabtree. “He also showed Yorktown to the Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited World’s Championship. In fact, Crabtree Farm had five world’s champion two-year-old five-gaited horses that were bred, raised, trained and sold right here. I don’t know that any other farm has done that.”


Yorktown, ridden by Charlie Crabtree, was one of five

Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited World’s Champions bred,

developed, shown and sold by Crabtree Farms.


Those two-year-old world’s champions didn’t happen by accident. It took many, many years, but finally Charlie Crabtree was recognized as one of this industry’s top breeders. Just this past February at their annual convention, he was inducted into the ASHA Breeders Hall of Fame.


“He bought Reverie’s Bourbon Princess hoping she would have a stud colt and she did, Denmark’s Bourbon Genius,” said Redd. “That was dad’s first great stallion. Then he was directly responsible for the breeding of Yorktown, New Yorker, Harlem Globetrotter and Supreme Heir.


“He wanted to breed Oman’s Anacacho Maytime to Wing Commander but Earl [Teater] wouldn’t breed her until he saw her first colt. That turned out to be Tender Mist (by Private Contract) and Earl like her so he went ahead and bred Anacacho Maytime. The resulting colt was Yorktown.”


It’s unimaginable to think where the American Saddlebred would be today without the above mentioned stallions which were bred by Crabtree.


It’s also hard to imagine where we would be had it not been for Charlie and Helen Crabtree together. After meeting at a horse show in Illinois in 1941 and getting married in 1942 their careers spanned 75 years. Stops included Little Rock, Ark., where they adopted a young man who had started hanging out at their barn. Redd Crabtree became a part of the family and helped create the dynasty that would become known as Crabtree Farms.


Collierville, Tenn. was another place they called home before moving to Louisville where they took over the famed Rock Creek Riding Club.


In 1956 they bought 45 acres in Simpsonville and took two years to fix up the old house and tobacco barn before it was suitable for training horses. Over the years Crabtree Farms evolved into a sprawling training facility and Simpsonville evolved into the “Saddlebred Capital Of The World.” Between Charlie, Helen and Redd, it was nothing for Crabtree Farms to take 60 and 70 horses to show at Louisville. Helen wrote the book on equitation. Together their performance stars were second to none.


In addition to the above mentioned show stars some of Charlie’s other champions included Saturday Knight, Mary Deana, Fairview’s Blanchita, Storm Cloud, Everlasting Joy, Legal Tender, Rebel Command, Glenview’s Warlock, Sultan’s Wild Cherry, The Tempest, Right As Rain, Wild Party and many, many others.


Charles Crabtree will forever be remembered as a recipient of the USEF Pegasus Medal of Honor; UPHA Hall of Fame member; World’s Championship Horse Show Hall of Fame member; ASHA Breeder’s Hall of Fame member; husband to Helen; father to Redd; grandfather to Casey; and friend to many.


“His work ethic is what I’ll remember most,” said Redd. “He taught me to work hard every day. He gave me a lot of good advice, one thing being that I needed to get away from home if I wanted to be a horse trainer. That’s when I went to work for Lee Roby for a year.


“Mom and Dad gave me so many great opportunities to work nice horses. It was an opportunity that not a lot of people get at that age. They entrusted those horses to me and had a lot of faith in me.


“He loved the business and he loved the horses.”


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