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John and Tammie Conatser Live A ‘Commitment To Excellence’

by Ann Bullard


John and Tammie Conatser


Following in your father’s footsteps isn’t easy – particularly when that father is one of the legendary trainers in the American Saddlebred world. As the son of Hall of Fame trainer Marvin Conatser, John Conatser had every opportunity to succeed – or to fail – with the eyes of the Saddlebred world watching and waiting to see which road he would take.


John learned a lot about horse training

and dedication from his parents,

Elizabeth and Marvin Conatser.


Fortunately for all of us, the son has proven a worthy successor to his father’s legacy.


“Dad lived and breathed horses all the time,” John said. “He trained for the late Cary Robinson in Cartersville, Ga., where I was born. We bounced around a little until I was four. Then we moved to Brentwood, (suburban Nashville) Tenn., and Oman Stables.”


For eight years, Marvin Conatser worked on the farm that produced such horses as Denmark’s Daydream, Captain Denmark and Oman’s Desdemona Denmark. Middle Tennessee was the “hotbed” of the Saddle Horse industry. Such trainers as Frank and Garland Bradshaw, Ellis Waggoner, Harry Spotts Sr., Tom Pigg, Raymond Shively and Ed Stallcup had their roots deep in the area’s red clay and limestone.


Raymond Shively and Conatser have been friends for almost 50 years. Shively first met John when the boy was eight years old.


“The first time I met little Johnny, we had bought a horse off Doss Stanton. Marvin was working for Doss,” Shively recalled. “When we brought out the mare we traded in, Johnny was standing there and said, ‘What are we going to do with that big-headed ---.’


“I looked at Tom Pigg and asked ‘Who is that?’ He told me that was Marvin’s little boy. Marvin gave him a whoopin’ that stopped his cussing for a while,” Shively continued. “He also gave us a very frank opinion of Doss’s work ethic.”


John was about 12 when his father went to work for Gaynor Roberts’s Windemere Farm near Nashville. Among the great horses Roberts had was the stallion Longview Supreme. Conatser teamed her with such stars as CH Lilli O’Lee and CH Lad O’Shea, two of the horses she rode to world’s championships.


Shane recalled those days. “John worked for us in the summers as a groom and riding colts for his father. Marvin was on record as saying his son was not going to be a horse trainer but would get an education and amount to something.


“John finally came to me the last year of his juvenile eligibility,” she continued. “He told me, ‘I’m desperate. I want to do this. Can you not speak to my father?’


“I spoke with his father and said, ‘Look here. This kid is going to do this. If you don’t let him do it under your auspices, he’ll wait until he graduates from college and do as he damn well pleases. Let him get a taste of it and see if he likes it or not.”


At 17 and in his last year of juvenile eligibility, John made his show ring debut. At the final Tennessee State Fair Horse Show in Nashville, Conatser and Roberts put John on her multi-titled John Henry for the juvenile five-gaited competition. According to Roberts, he ‘blitzed’ the class.


Even though his father had relented and let him show, Marvin still insisted John go to college. He enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, graduating with a degree in aerospace administration. Summers he worked with his father at Windemere. Roberts continued to give John opportunities to show. When Belle Supreme made her Louisville debut in 1973, John showed her to the Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited World’s Championship.


John rode Belle Supreme to the Three Year Old

 Three-Gaited World Championship in 1973.

The Hall of Fame broodmare was the dam
of CH The Phoenix
and CH The Groomsman.


“About half-way through college, I finally decided I wanted to be a horse trainer,” John said. He set his sights on being one of the best.


“I thought this was something I might be one of the best at,” the admittedly-driven trainer said, adding, “I don’t think anyone can say who is the best at doing this. A lot of people influenced me … my dad and after him probably [the late] Tom Moore. My dad was not a gimmicky trainer, but very straightforward. He could take a horse further in training with a smooth snaffle than anyone who has ever been around. Tom was such an innovator, such a passionate person. Particularly when he was younger, he was so stylish in the way he did things. Watching him doing something could really open your eyes. It made you want to take it to a higher level.”


John grew up in the days when private training stables were the norm. “Every private stable had a breeding horse of some kind and eight to 10 broodmares. When Dad was at Windemere, they sold all the good horses he ever had. He didn’t retire many. But normally great horses didn’t change hands the way they do today.”


John envisioned himself at a private operation. His first ‘on his own’ job was with Grapetree Farm where he showed Sensational Spirit to a three-year-old world’s championship. He later joined the Knox family at Seymour Farms in Thompson, Ga. One of his early stars, CH Shaman, winner of the Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited World’s Championship came from Windemere.


John and CH Shaman

Three Year Old Three-Gaited

World’s Champion in 1978


Sharilyn Glover, a friend in Alabama, called John in 1979 to tell him of a horse she had. She had gotten him out of the field for “next to nothing” and put him in training.


“She told me, ‘I think this horse might really be something. I want you to see him,’” John said, describing how he learned about (Seymour’s) Finest Hour. “I looked at him in the spring. When they brought him to Louisville to work, Nancy (Knox) and I bought him.”


The next year, John rode the gelding to the World’s Champion Three-Gaited Over 15.2 and the World’s Grand Championship.


While Seymour Farms technically met the specifications of a private job, they did take outside horses. David Laughlin, an acquaintance of the Knox family, met John at the farm tack room. He wanted his daughter, Cackie, to become part of the Conatser team. The first horse they sent to John was Kalarama Country Boy.


“I didn’t think John would take me because of my age. Then he said, ‘Well, she does what I tell her to do,’” said Cackie, explaining she was 10 or 11 at the time. Today, she is married to Taft Stephenson with two children, eight and five-years-old.


That meeting marked the beginning of a magical time for the young lady, her parents, David and Cissy, and trainer. “John was a contributor to the best years of my life. My fondest memories are around John Conatser,” Cackie said.


The team had some wonderful times. Horses such as CH Zeberdee, Supreme Attraction and Valley Venture helped put Cackie and John’s names in Saddlebred record books.


Cackie Laughlin and CH Supreme Attraction

won a pair of Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited

world’s titles in 1983.


Cackie calls John “the sweetest, most personable person … I never heard him say an unkind word when I was around him. He is a perfectionist. You have to understand that about him and you’re good to go. Whether we were at a local show or the world’s championships, our goal was the same: to win. I never went into the ring when I didn’t feel completely prepared. About 15 minutes or so before I went into the class, John would talk to me about the pattern I would make to keep the horse on track. It never was a pressure situation at all – he really was a wonderful teacher.”


One reason John and Cackie got along so well is, as David Laughlin put it, “she was the most serious thing you ever saw in your life.  John will not suffer fools gladly. If he works hard to make a horse, he doesn’t want the rider to mess it up. He’s very blunt, some say caustic, but he wasn’t to us.”


Laughlin laughed when he told of a spectator asking him to tell John how Cackie should ride a class on Zeberdee. Cackie was riding a triangle, as her trainer instructed.


“The lady came over to me saying John has to put that horse on the rail,” he recalled. “I told her ‘You’re not telling that trainer anything.’”


Cackie rode as much for John’s approval as for ribbons. “At the end of a ride, if he gave me an OK signal, I knew I’d done the best I could have done. Getting the OK signal was better than any blue.”


After John had several successful years in Georgia, Evelyn and Elbert Waldron asked him to take over training at Bent Tree Farm in Shawsville, Va. Karen Waldron and her former husband, Ben Lester, were “very passionate about their horses and ponies,” John said.


They had great horses and ponies to be passionate about. In 1984, Waldron won the Five-Gaited Gelding Stake at Louisville aboard CH Natural Rights. She was aboard CH Dom Perignon when he won his first Louisville blue.


Those were great years. John showed CH A Touch Of Champagne to a reserve in Louisville’s Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited class; Cackie Laughlin won the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited Gelding world’s title in 1985. Karen Lester purchased the gelding and took him on to more world’s championship honors.


Waldron and Storm Wind, Bobby Brown and TNT, Cackie with Zeberdee, Supreme Attraction, A Touch Of Champagne, Valley Venture and Seymour’s Finest Hour went on the road regularly. Tijuana Princess and Wildfire led the pony parade with both Karen Waldron and her mother on the lines.


John remained at Bent Tree for seven years. At one time, 14 of the 22 horses in the barn were world’s champions.


Eventually, the lure of Kentucky became too much for the trainer to resist. He established Carriage Lane Farm at the old Crabtree barn in Simpsonville, bringing the Waldrons and other clients with him. It wasn’t long before Elizabeth, Gabe and Maria Deknatel came on board. They have been clients and good friends for 20-plus years.


Elizabeth and Gabe Deknatel are

the Conatsers’ longest-term clients.


“The Deknatel horses included CH Net Worth, Range Rover, My Sunday Shoes and City Sights,” John recalled.


Those were good years for the Deknatels. In 1993, Range Rover and Gabe left Louisville with the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited 15-17 blue and Junior Exhibitor Championship tricolor in hand. In 1994, he won the qualifying class. Despite an injury, Range Rover completed a three-horse workout to tie reserve in the championships. It was the only time in six Louisville appearances that the team was anything but a winner.


“John has the most wonderful and unique ability to train horses for the rider,” Elizabeth Deknatel said. “We had five-foot, two-inch Maria on Hocus Pocus Dominocus and any number of horses for Gabe. Teaching them to ride was so … he was most supportive, showing a generosity of spirit in his praise.”


Some of Gabe’s favorite memories revolve around the summers he worked for John at the old Crabtree barn. “I’d get there about 6:30 a.m. I got to ride a little, but it was working with John that was the pretty neat thing. He does everything by example and expects you to do it as well as he does. Not being treated as a customer but as an employee was a neat experience.


“A lot of my memories of John came from when I competed as a junior exhibitor. Before the class, we did a lot of preparation: how we would be competitive, how we could win, what we needed to do. Afterward there was another, the nurturing side. Whether we won or lost, we would go back and talk about what we did right. That was not about the ribbons but about how well we did against ourselves. John was very supportive. From about the time I was 10, I hadn’t had a father. John took that role for me in that situation.


“If I did well, he told me I succeeded no matter what the ribbons. He still does that today. If I come out with a good ride, he will tell me no one else could have done that better than you. He means it. John isn’t in the business of saying something he doesn’t mean.”


John has been and remains more than a horse trainer to the Deknatels. One side of him few know is that he played guitar in a rock band while in high school. He passed that guitar on to Gabe, starting Gabe on his musical career.


A side of John few people know is

his being a long-haired, rock guitarist

while in high school.


“John and Gabe are incredibly in sync. Gabe is ‘John’s rider.’ They always like the same thing, the same kind of horse. They are both very clinical, focused and always totally into doing the best possible job. Gabe and John still ‘high-five’ the rides they love. If the ride is right, they are so excited. The execution of that vision is very important to them,” Elizabeth Deknatel said.


While John was growing up in Tennessee and becoming established as a trainer, Tammie Turner began her equestrienne career in Lexington, Ky. She started with lessons at a riding academy just outside her hometown.


“I had the good fortune to live on 10 acres across the road from Jim B. Robertson. Corky Robertson (whose husband, Walt, is Jimmy’s brother) was my third grade teacher. She introduced me to Jim B. and Jimmy,” Tammie recalled.


Tammie had a successful show ring career, riding Lasting Love to the 1980 Three-Gaited World’s Championship for riders 14 and under and getting good ribbons with such other horses as Stop The Music and Proud Ruler.


Tammie won the three-gaited 14 and under world’s

title in 1980 when riding with Sam Brannon.


The young woman had no plans for a career in horses. She graduated from Centre College in Danville, Ky. After obtaining her law degree from the University of Kentucky, Tammie practiced law in Bowling Green. Not surprisingly, she and John met at a horse show.


“Walt and Corky gave John my telephone number,” she said. “We started dating when I was in law school. He is the reason I left Bowling Green to move to Louisville.”


In September 1995, John showed at the All American Horse Classic on Saturday night. He and Tammie married the following day with their friends and family around. After a Hawaiian honeymoon they moved to the Glenn Werrys’ Glenmore Farm in Illinois.


John and Tammie married on Sept. 10, 1995

right after the All-American Horse Classic.


Kentucky continued to call John and Tammie home. They returned to live with Bill and the late Maria Knight and shared Lee Shipman’s former big barn in Cox’s Creek. As his best friend, perhaps Bill Knight knows the real John Conatser better than anyone other than Tammie.


“He’s more like my brother than anything. He’s my go-to man and I am his,” Knight said. “John is a remarkable person. He’s very intense and will not compromise his integrity for anything. If he thinks something is right, then that’s the way it’s going to be.”


Those knowing both men might smile at the friendship between one of the most intense people in the Saddle Horse business, and one who, on the surface, seems very laid back. Knight agrees John is a perfectionist–in everything.


“We’re complete opposites. He can get wound up pretty tight sometimes. I may not get wound up enough,” Knight conceded.


“Whether he’s gardening, playing golf or doing anything else, John is a very competitive person. He wants to be the top dog at whatever he does. His yard looks like it’s been mowed with a laser beam. His horses are turned out immaculately. To me, there is no better trainer living than John. He is an extremely smart person with loads of knowledge to go along with his talent. If he has a point or an idea, it’s worth listening to. When he judges, what you get is his point of view; there’s nothing political about him. That’s all any of us can ask. John has integrity to the ninth degree.”


Knight spoke of a side to his friend that few have seen. “Even if he’s not your friend, if you’re in need and he has $10, he will give you $5. And he’s very sentimental. If someone is in a traumatic situation, he will jerk a tear. If he sees a dead animal on the side of the road, he may cry.”


John, the coach, the instructor, has been known to show up in his relationship with his closest friend. Their first fishing trip is a case-in-point.


“When I first started, I was at Cardinal View and John at the old Crabtree farm,” Knight recalled with a smile in his voice. “He wanted to go fishing, so we went. When I got home, the first words out of my mouth were ‘I’ll never go fishing with him again.’ I like to throw my cork in the water and relax. He was giving me fishing instruction. I felt like I was in school.


“Two weeks later we went again. I told John, ‘You fish over there and I’ll fish here. I don’t need any lessons on how to fish,’” Knight said.


Another longtime friend and customer is Paul Treiber.  CH Callaway’s Criterion and Treiber had established themselves in the Midwest before moving to the late Tom Moore. With Moore in the irons, ‘Critter’ developed a national reputation in the open five-gaited division. Treiber stood on the sidelines and watched.


“John and I talked at Lexington and he said he thought he could teach me to ride Critter if I wanted to. Tom was worried about winning; I worried if I would ever get to show my horse. Tom loved to ride in every class,” Treiber said.


He moved Critter from Moore to Conatser. Treiber spent that summer learning about his horse.


“We did a lot of practicing with Johnny working one on one with me. We did a lot of circles and serpentines. I’d get on Critter in the stall and do circles both ways for about 15 minutes before I’d warm him up. That was the way we got comfortable with each other.”


CH Will’s Bulletin and Randi Stuart Wightman dominated Amateur Five-Gaited competition in the early to mid 1990s. When Treiber stepped up on Critter for the first time at the 1995 American Royal, they were twice reserve to Will’s Bulletin. It would be the last time the Conatser team would be beaten. At Midwest the following spring, they earned the first of what would be 13 consecutive blues and tricolors, including two amateur gentleman’s world’s championship and two Amateur Five-Gaited Champion of Champions titles. Every win was unanimous.


Paul Treiber and CH Callaway’s Criterion

dominated the Amateur Five-Gaited

competition for two seasons.


“The first time I won with him, Johnny and I slapped high five,” Treiber recalled. “The three of us as a team made Critter what he was. At one time, Tammie also was grooming him. Like Johnny, Tammie always was there for me.


“Johnny treated our relationship as a coach and an athlete. I often refer to him as my coach instead of my trainer. As long as you were serious about trying hard, Johnny always would be there for you. He wanted people to work as hard as he did,” Treiber said. “He always listened to what I had to say and I tried to listen to what he said. Sometimes people interpreted that as just trying to win. In reality, we all were part of a team.”


Shortly after the Conatsers returned to Kentucky, the Deknatel family rejoined the group. John being a coach is a theme to which Gabe subscribes.


“The basic, consistent thing I think of over the years is John’s meticulous preparation for every event. One of his greatest skills is preparing a horse for an amateur rider. He leaves no stone unturned. A lot of people are hard to ride behind. John is very good about it. He is a wonderful instructor who can really teach you to ride a horse. That’s something you can hold onto and use later on other horses. Being with him is a growing experience,” Gabe said.


After working with two leading Kentucky barns, John joined the Franklin Groves’s North Ridge Farm in Nicholasville, Ky. Here he worked the Groves’s as well as outside horses. Later, he and Tammie leased the property, the current location of Carriage Lane Farm.


Joan Jett was one of the ponies and horses

John trained for the Franklin Groves family.


Sally LaPlant began her association with the Conatsers when they were with the Groves’ family. “I started with them when I had a broodmare bred to Foxfire Prophet. I moved a show horse about the time the Groves left,” she said.


“The most fun I’ve ever had was driving Final Solution. I had never driven a harness horse but he was older and had always been pretty steady. I thought John was pretty brave to take on an older horse that has done his thing and an even older driver who had never done it before.”


One of LaPlant’s more humorous memories goes back to the 2002 All American Horse Classic. Eleanor Pederson had Metro Heirea with John; the two ladies were getting ready to show in the Fine Harness Championship.


“I already was in the buggy and in the warm-up ring. John was warming up Metro and going down the rail. The next thing I knew, I saw him launch out of the buggy. The shaft had come apart and John was horizontal before he hit the dirt. He got up and someone brought a new buggy. Everything proceeded, but it was alarming to see my trainer horizontal and holding on the reins with nothing underneath him.”


Carriage Lane Farm’s makeup has changed in the past few years. The Deknatels still are very much a part of the program. Such champions as Mother Mary and Marching Orders have passed through their and John’s hands. Gabe and Callaway’s Weatherman won four consecutive Five-Gaited Amateur Gentlemen’s World’s Championships. Today, he is teamed with the five-year-old Tipsy Gypsy for Amateur Five-Gaited competition. John won the 2007 UPHA Park Pleasure Classic title at Bonnie Blue with the Deknatels’ Proof Perfect.


New faces have joined the team. Candace and Fritz Miele and their daughter, Corbin Smith, moved to Carriage Lane in 2002, Corbin’s final year as a junior exhibitor. They brought Bongo and CH The Chicago Sun Times with them.


“John brought Bongo and Corbin around to a perfect situation,” Candace said, explaining that John moved the team into the five-gaited show pleasure division. At Louisville, Corbin and Bongo won their qualifier and the Five-Gaited Show Pleasure Champion of Championships.


This year, Candace has taken John’s place in the fine harness buggy behind Coco Loco. They made their debut at Bonnie Blue, winning the Amateur Fine Harness Championship after a reserve in the qualifier. John is also working three-year-old Walterway’s Believe In Me, a full brother to CH Walterway’s Remember Me.


Tracy Garcia became part of the Conatser group in 2004. John selected That’s Chicago for Garcia’s three-gaited mount. In 2005, they started the season winning the Ladies Three-Gaited Championship at Bonnie Blue and a pair of titles at Midwest. In August, they were crowned the ladies 15.2 and over world’s champions. The following year, Garcia and For Reference Only won the blue in one section of Louisville’s adult show pleasure stake. Today, she has a broodmare, a yearling and weanlings with Carriage Lane.


John showed Mary Sally Aylward’s world’s champion fine harness horse, Gone Platinum, to four straight victories at Bonnie Blue and Midwest this spring. He has the 2006 UPHA Park Pleasure National Champion, The Rock Star, back in winning form for Dirk Peterson of Locksley Hall LLC. Emily Druckman and League Of Nations are a comparatively-new junior exhibitor country pleasure team with a pair of wins at Midwest Charity already in their 2007 record book.


“The last few years, I’ve had amateur riders who were very successful with young horses,” John said, commenting on how the industry has changed. “Tara Duff was undefeated with In My Heart when the mare was just a three-year-old.”


Carol Hillenbrand purchased the three-year-old. John showed her once in 2002 before Hillenbrand took over the reins. A few years later, Hillenbrand moved CH Swish to Carriage Lane and has added Just Special to her Saddlebred collection.


The Hillenbrand/Conatser team was thrilled

with CH Swish’s American Royal win.


“John is the most professional horseman I’ve ever been with,” the many-times world’s champion rider said. “The way he trains his horses and riders, we know exactly what he expects. We feel very prepared and very well taken care of. And the most important thing: he loves my horses as much as I do.”


As successful as Hillenbrand has been, she says she “rarely feels good about my rides. One of the biggest highlights in my career was riding In My Heart at Blue Ridge and beating CH Yes It’s True in the amateur walk-trot championship. That was the best ride I ever had on her. I was thrilled with my last ride on Swish at the American Royal. John had him prepared beautifully.”


Being reunited with Tammie has been an added plus for Hillenbrand. “It’s fun to be back with her. We’ve known each other for 21 years, since we rode at Biggins together.”


Betsy Thomas of Baton Rouge, La., has become one of Hillenbrand’s newer running buddies – and a valued client of the Conatsers. She brought her three-year-old New York’s Perfect Gift to Carriage Lane in the summer of 2005. Fortunately, John didn’t have a three-year-old walk-trot horse to show.


“I called on John’s birthday and asked if he would take my horse,” Thomas said. “When I made it clear I was moving, he said OK.”


John doffed his hat for his victory pass

on New York’s Perfect Gift.


It has been an ideal match. In August, John and ‘Rudy’ (as he is known at home) won the Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited World’s Championship. They won the Junior Three-Gaited 15.2 and Over title at Louisville 2006 and suffered the first defeat of their career in the Three-Gaited Grand Championship. Thomas was on the sidelines, anxiously awaiting her turn in the saddle. That opportunity came at Bonnie Blue this year. Thomas told of that journey.


“I had been nervous for a year,” she said. “John told me I would only do as well as the amount of effort I put into it. I bought California Girl for a practice horse and to show until Rudy was ready for me. I went to Kentucky every other week so when I showed Rudy I wouldn’t embarrass John or myself.”


Thomas had sprained her wrist the day before she was due to show at Bonnie Blue. She didn’t let that stop them.


“John told me I’d waited five years to show this horse,” she said with a laugh. They left the Virginia Horse Center as Amateur Three-Gaited Champions and Grand Champions, a feat they repeated at Midwest Charity.


“John is a wonderful person – a good friend and very professional. He and I just hit it off. He has given me more confidence with my horses than anyone I’ve ever met. I ride Rudy at home and he says ‘perfect.’ He is trying to build my confidence; he’s good at doing that without being obvious,” she explained.


“John likes to have fun like anyone else but he is very serious about his work. It’s comforting to know your trainer is talented and takes his job that seriously. It’s fun to sit back at the barn before getting ready to show. He’s as nervous as you are. He takes time to make you feel good.”


Make no mistake; the Conatsers are a team. Tammie no longer grooms (unless she just feels like doing so.) She does handle all the administrative work, assists John by riding or jogging horses and interacts with their clients.


“My primary job is taking care of the mares and babies. That’s first thing in the morning and the last thing at night,” Tammie said. “We don’t have a lot of them, but they are very good. John and I own three: Cocoloba by King Of Highpoint, Cloverleaf’s Pocketful of Miracles by The Irish Connection and the Catalyst daughter Callaway’s Carey Shannon. We have three outside mares: Tracey Garcia’s Callaway’s Little Dipper, Metro Heirea and In My Heart.


Tammie says she’s “happy to be around the barn and with such nice horses. I’ve learned more about horses and particularly American Saddlebreds by grooming than I ever did by sitting in the stands at the shows. You don’t get very far by sitting back and waiting for someone else to do it.”


According to the Deknatels, “Tammie has very much the same kind of commitment John does. She has shared the barn responsibility in a great many ways. She’s brought an outside viewpoint into John’s life as well as the opportunity to do some things that are not totally horse-related. They have the same interests, desires and vision of what Carriage Lane should be.”


Tammie’s being “such a people person” makes her a huge part of the business, Hillenbrand says. Betsy Thomas takes it a step further saying, “Tammie is a doll. John’s so lucky to have her.”


So just who is John Conatser? That he is a superb horseman is a given. Clients call him the consummate professional. But beyond that, he is an interesting individual.


“I’m just a person who wants to do whatever he does to the best of his ability,” John said in response to that question. “Basically, I am someone who gets up and tries to do that every day. You have to be able to fight through the monotony of the daily regime at the barn, to go to work with a purpose every day. If there is a key to anyone’s success, it’s being able to go to work with a purpose. We do that.


“The little realm that we share doesn’t really give you time to know the entire person,” he continued. “Being in the horse business, you’re exposed to a lot of very interesting people; you see some extraordinary things. A lot of the world that very few people have the opportunity to see has been opened to me. I’ve been there and done that a lot of times.”


Been there and done that includes fishing with Knight or with some of his clients. It means playing golf with the late Randy Tabor, Bill Wise and Mike Felty. He and Tammie are huge sports, and particularly UK, fans. It also means keeping up with the world we live in.


“I read the newspaper the first thing every day,” he said, explaining his interest in history and world affairs. He likes to talk a little politics and world events.


“Man’s inability to get it right impresses me,” John continued. “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. People are not smart enough to learn from history’s mistakes and to be more compassionate toward one another.”


Hillenbrand and Thomas agree that John is a very serious person. “He’s proud of his ability and he should be,” Hillenbrand, the northerner of the duo, said. “Betsy and I have a goal to make him laugh at himself. He’s so serious that it doesn’t happen often enough. He probably cringes every time we walk in the barn.”


Whether enjoying the simple, basic things such as sitting on the back porch and enjoying the doves’ cooing, the smell of fresh cut grass and of the hayfields when you drive past – working with his horses and clients – or looking for that next great horse, John Conatser is a content man with a life full of opportunities ahead of him. He is at the top of his profession, with clients who love him for his professional skills and for who he is.


John has a soft spot for all animals,

including the barn goat, Jeannette.

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