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Johnny, Sit Tight and Ride Light

If there are five people that you meet in heaven when you arrive, then there is a grand group of horsemen and women that were waiting to see Johnny Wellington. How privileged to be one of the five that meets Johnny. Just as Johnny will be waiting to see all the people he loves so dearly.

Johnny Wellington died Saturday, November 20, as the result of a single car accident near his home in Phafftown, N.C., near Winston-Salem. He was 48.

Johnny was the kind of guy who’s legend preceded him. When Johnny walked through the door, you couldn't help but smile and once he started talking, which he loved to do, everyone laughed. He was a true character and he was funny. He was also kind and compassionate and unbelievably competitive.

Wellington showed horses for more than 20 years under the direction of Lewis Eckard at Drowning Creek Farm in Hildebran, N.C. He was known for a group of world and reserve world's champions that included CH Lady Of York, CH Playing With Fire, CH Carolouise, Free Agent, and CH Belleavanti.

"I've known Johnny since he was 16 years old," said Eckard. "I didn't just lose a customer, I lost one of my best friends." Lewis and Johnny met when Johnny was in high school and working for Jimmy Norris. Norris was one of the Carolina's most prominent trainers in the 1940s and 1950s.

Lady of York was the first horse that Eckard trained for Johnny. Wellington and the mare were successful in the amateur five-gaited division at shows throughout the country. "He was real, real fond of that mare, and he was so competitive" said trainer and friend Ted Foreman.

The amateur three-gaited mare CH Playing With Fire, dam of 2002 and 2003 World's Grand Champion Park Horse 98 Degrees, was referred to by Foreman as "one-of-a-kind". "Johnny could ride every hair on her and get it out of her," said Foreman. "She maybe didn't have so much "go", but Johnny rode hard and could make her look her best."

Lewis Eckard expressed the same opinion of Wellington's skills with a horse. "If I could train it, he could ride it," said Eckard. "He probably had the nicest set of hands of any amateur I've ever had the privilege of knowing."

Johnny's name in the Carolinas will always be synonymous with 2000 Reserve World's Champion Amateur Five-Gaited Mare CH Carolouise who won titles throughout the country. "Carolouise was the hometown girl," said Eckard. "She and Johnny were hometown favorites because she was born and raised here. She is in foal to Harlem Globetrotter and Johnny was so looking forward to that. Carolouise has a home for life with the family.

Wellington's current gaited mount CH Belleavanti, also carried him to the winner's circle time and time again, including the 2003 Amateur Five-Gaited Mare Reserve World's Championship. She was a mare that had quite a reputation but made it obvious when she teamed up with Johnny that she loved him and would do as he asked of her.

Just as those who knew Johnny were used to seeing him in the saddle of a top American Saddlebred, they were also used to, and looked forward to, seeing him in the bike of a great road horse. He loved none better perhaps than Free Agent. He took victory pass after victory pass with a huge smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. The more the sight of him speeding down the straightaway scared his wife Stephanie, the more he loved it. He knew what he was doing and he knew he was safe and everything would be okay. He just loved to go fast. The only time he didn't smile was just before going in the ring with one of his horses. He always had his "game face" on and was ready to tear it up.

He loved showing his horses, but nothing compared to watching his beloved daughter Allie ride and drive her horses and pony under the direction of Cash Lovell and Lewis Eckard. Johnny was always on the rail telling her she was doing great. He helped her, he encouraged her and he supported her with every fiber of his being. He was so proud that she was his future.

Parker and Cash Lovell were close friends with Johnny and the entire Allen and Wellington families. An association that grew even closer after Allie joined the list of competitors that show under the direction of Cash Lovell Stables.

"Johnny laughed every day of his life. And every day, he made other people laugh," said Parker Lovell. "He always had an off-the-wall saying or witty comeback that would leave you doubled over laughing. He just loved life, and he loved people and he loved a horse. He was a true and cherished friend. I've seen Cash cry twice in all of our years together. Once was when his daddy died. The other was when Johnny died."

Colloquialisms are defined as regional or local dialect expressions. Those that knew him define them as “Johnnyisms” and it is an accurate statement to say that some of them (maybe most of them) were off the wall: “You know what would look good on you? Me. “Cowboy up”, “Keep a leg on each side”, “You in or out?”, “Up here . . . Yeah boy!”, "I'm sittin' on G, waitin' on O", "If you're waiting on me, you're backing up!", "Send him", "Does the back of your head hurt? Cuz' the front of it is killing me!", "Stay right there in the middle of him", "Yes ma'am, no ma'am, thank you ma'am please, looking up a turkey's rump, pass the peas please", "Blue suede shoes", "Gimme some of that, I know you got it with you", "I believe I would". "Mean Jean, the collecting machine", "Get 'er done!", and "Come up here" are just a few of the well-known "Johnnyisms" that had become his trademark.

As difficult as it is to read now or hear Johnny's signature sayings, hopefully there will come a time when they will once again cause laughter and bring about fond memories of his smiling face.

Allie Wellington is wise enough to know that we will all miss hearing him say those things. She is also wise enough to know that horse people stick together, and while she has to grow up without her dad, those that knew and loved him will become her "surrogate father". They will be the support system for her and her family.

Allie wrote a letter to Johnny that was read at his memorial service for a crowd of more than 800 that lined up around the block to attend and pay their respects. ______________________________________________________________________________

The Life Of My Daddy

My daddy was just one of those people who once you met him, from then on you would recognize his laugh and that smile. Boy did he have the most beautiful smile you would have ever seen. Some of the things you read will seem pretty dumb especially coming from an eleven-year-old.

I will never forget how picky he was about his hair. He may not have had a lot of hair, but I think about how I used to pick on him and laugh and pretend like I was just like him and then he would break into this beautiful smile and we would get the “giggles”.

Another life changing time was when I would drive my road pony. Sometimes I would just laugh at the things he said to Reuben. And I would do anything just to hear what he had to say to that poor little pony once more, but I can’t. And boy could he ride a horse. Once he got on it, it was like he knew what it was thinking. Like Belleavanti, she was a wild one and once he got on her then she was like an angel. And now he’s an angel too. And I imagine that so many people would just do anything to hear him say “get her done” once more. When my three-gaited pony “Tuli” died I thought that it was the worst thing that could happen to a little girl but I didn’t know what I was in for.

Many people say they know how I feel and that it was the same as losing a grandparent but I have some news for them. Not many people know what it is like to lose a parent or most people lose them at an older age but I feel like a woman named Parker Lovell really knows how I feel because she lost her father at nine years old.

So many people do not know how lucky they really are. I am going to have to grow old without a dad. My dad will never see me get my first car, graduate high school, go to college, get married and that’s okay but I just wish people would take advantage of their families and lives because they never know when they’re gonna lose it. My grammar teacher would probably kill me if she read this, but this is a way to express my feelings and I admit that, but there is nothing for me to say.

I am sitting here at 12:30 pm typing and in misery and I can’t stop typing. If you were me, I don’t know how you would react but it is very, very hard. Many people say that whether it is a father, mother or just a best friend that it can never match up to losing a child and I know that my granddaddy and Mimi Joyce could just do something that they would regret, but they haven’t and they are very strong people to have acted so calmly. I know that this isn’t very long, but please understand that this is all I can say about the wonderful things and times my father had. Thank you so much for loving my family because I don’t think I could make it without so many people that are there for me.

- Alexandria Hope Wellington ______________________________________________________________________________

Johnny Wellington was a fierce competitor, father, son, husband and friend to so many. He is survived by his wife Stephanie Allen Wellington, daughter Alexandria Hope Wellington, parents Mr. and Mrs. Thomas (Joyce) Wellington Sr. and Nell Croften Wellington; sister Virginia Webb and husband Bill, sister Georgia Stephenson and husband Jimmy; brother James Wellington, brother Keith Powers and wife Priscilla; four nieces and four nephews; mother-in-law Louise Myers Allen and father-in-law Robert M. Allen Jr.

The horse world, not just in the Carolinas, but throughout this industry, has lost a bright light. Someone with that rare ability to make a sunny day seem sunnier. You just couldn't be mad or sad or unhappy when Johnny walked into the room.

His legacy will be the young horses that grow up to grace the ring in his memory. If she chooses to, his daughter will grow up in this industry, protected and watched over by those who know how much she and her family have lost.

Johnny loved his friends and his family and he loved a horse. So Johnny, "Sit tight and ride light."

The Horseman's Prayer was read at Johnny's memorial service and seems a fitting conclusion to a story that shouldn't have had to have been written in the first place. ______________________________________________________________________________

Horseman’s Prayer

Dearest God in Heaven,

 Give me strength to guide my horse

Make my hands soft and my head clear

 Let my horse understand me, and I him

My heart You have blessed with a special love of these animals,

Let me never lose sight of it. My soul You have gifted with a deep need for them.

Let that need never lessen. Always let my breath catch as the sun gleams on an elegant head.

Always let my throat tighten at the sound of a gentle nicker.

Let the scent of fresh hay and a new bag of grain always be sweet to me.

Let the warm touch of a warm nose on my hand always bring a smile.

 I adore the joy of a warm day on the farm.

The grace and splendor of a running horse,

The thunder of its hooves makes my eyes burn and my heart soar.

Let it always be so.

Dearest God, grant me patience,

For horses and harnessed wind can be flighty.

Let me not frighten or harm them. I am not whole without them.

When I pass from this world, send my soul to no Heaven without them.

For this love You have given me graces my existence.

 I shall cherish it and praise You for it for all time


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