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The King Takes His Throne

by Bob Funkhouser
How do you replace a legend? How do you replace a succession of legends? You do it with a King that has been a legend in a different way.

CH Imperator, certainly the most celebrated gaited gelding of all time, was the first American Saddlebred to be represented at the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions. Following his death, CH Sky Watch joined the likes of John Henry, Cigar, and Rambling Willie in the Hall of Champions. He too was a legend in his own time and he too was a personality that loved people and attention. Another perfect fit for the Horse Park where thousands upon thousands visit annually. When Sky Watch joined Imperator in heaven, undoubtedly for another series of rematches, the question among those associated with the Horse Park was, "What do we do now?" The answer? CH Gypsy Supreme.

Unlike his predecessors, Gypsy Supreme did not wear the crown of Five-Gaited World's Grand Champion, however, year in and year out for a span of 10 years he ruled like no other in a number of divisions winning world's championships with five different riders. In the year 2000 Horse World Magazine ran a comprehensive poll asking readers to vote for horses in different categories and he was named People's Choice Overall Horse Of The Decade among the likes of CH Winter Day, CH A Sweet Treat, Harlem Globetrotter, and Prize Contender. Gypsy Supreme was also voted People's Choice Five-Gaited Horse Of The Decade. These were credentials more than worthy of occupying the throne in the Hall of Champions alongside the greats of other breeds. A look at his show ring record more than entitles him this lofty recognition, but more important than his seven world's championships, two world's grand championships, four reserve world's grand championships, and two reserve world's championship is the lives that he touched along the way. He represented the very best of the American Saddlebred at every stop along the way. "He's just the greatest horse I've ever been around," said his last trainer Kim Cowart. "He is my absolute favorite. I've never been so sick as the day we delivered him to the Horse Park. I'm glad he's there and enjoying a great life of retirement, but I sure do miss him. I was the only one that took care of him while he was with us. When I hay every morning I still expect to look down and have him nicker at me."

"I feel very lucky to have had the privilege to work him," echoed Don Judd who selected Gypsy for Jackie Stred. "No horse has had a bigger heart. He was a thrill to ride and put into the ring. I have nothing but good thoughts about him."

Gypsy Supreme's life started with very humble beginnings. It was a blue-collar American success story.

"I got him as a yearling," recalled Missouri breeder Jim Stewart. "Kalarama's Gypsy Lady was in here to breed to Supreme Justice, the sire of Chansonette Supreme. Gypsy, who was by Sultan's Flashdance was just nine days old on the mare's side. We bred her and sent her home but she turned up empty. The next spring they sent her back to breed again and this scraggly colt is still with the mare, he hadn't been weaned. I ended up buying the mare and him because they were cheap.

"As a coming two-year-old he started growing and was game, game, game, just like he is today. We started working him and a few of these Missouri dealers saw him and wanted to steal him from me. Donnie Pugh, Dale's son, gaited him. Now Donnie is a good horseman, but very slow and methodical. I wanted to get this horse shown, but Donnie kept saying he wasn't ready for the full bridle, wasn't ready for this and wasn't ready for that. He came in one day and I told him, 'we're taking the blinkers off and putting the full bridle on.' Gypsy wore that curb bit like he had worn it all his life."

The first show for Gypsy Supreme was the Boone County Fair and while he caught everyone's attention, including judge Nelson Green, it wasn't the beginning Stewart had hoped for. "We took him to Boone County and he got third," said Stewart. "I thought we won, but Nelson [Green] thought he was too much horse."

"Yeah, I remember him," said Green. "He was third out of three. "He was just the wildest horse. He came in having a big time. He'd run to one end flagging himself and blowing and snorting, then he'd stop and come back the other side doing the same thing. He wasn't trying to be bad, he was just like some teenage kid going to town for the first time."

A few weeks later Stewart and Pugh loaded up the gelding and headed for the Illinois State Fair. "He had never been off the farm except that one trip to Boone County," said Stewart. "He had never walked on pavement, never heard all those fireworks they do at the Fair. He was scared to death. He almost threw Donnie in the warm up ring and then as we were going in something else scared him and he almost ran over me. I took my cap off and smacked him in the ass and he went through that gate and put on some kind of horse show and won the class. Lynda Freseth bought him that night. Saturday night after the show Lynda rode him and you have never seen such a horse."

"I was sitting there talking to Kim Crumpler and Jeanne Pettry and this horse caught my eye," said Lynda Freseth. "He was a big ole scraggly thing and he had trouble cantering, but I'm thinking, 'this is a nice horse.' About that time Crumpler figures out I have dropped out of the conversation and he looks up and says, 'huh, that is a nice horse.' I take off for the gate and three or four others are there. After his victory pass I step inside the gate and tell Donnie [Pugh] that I need to talk to him about this horse. He said the owner would be there soon.

"I go back to the stalls and meet Jim Stewart and tell him I want this horse. He says, 'Now this horse is going to cost a lot of money.' I asked how much and he told me and I said I'll take him. I went back and called Andy [Freseth] and he was asleep. I told him that he needed to wake up and listed to what I was telling him. I told him I bought a horse and he said, 'oh, that's nice.' I said, no, you don't understand I bought this gaited horse but we need a buyer."

As it turned out they got Ann Marie Brickzen to buy Gypsy Supreme, but there was still a lot of work to be done to get him to the top. He was still a raw prospect in the making. As Lynda said, "He was a big long-legged colt with a lot of heart, but he didn't have the longest neck so I didn't know if he could be a great horse because his neck just wasn't long enough."

That was the Illinois State Fair and the next week at Louisville, Gypsy Supreme went along with them. It was one of many trips that Andy Freseth will never forget with "Jordan", a name they gave him after Michael Jordan.

"From the beginning there was always a story with Jordan," said Freseth. "Rob Tanner and Steve Macfarlane wanted a price on him and I had never ridden him yet. I worked him and he wasn't all that good. As it turned out, he never was the same horse working as he was showing. Rob thought we were nuts.

"Then I took him home and took his shoes off because I couldn't rack him. We did some work and then took him to Kansas City and the first way he was pretty good and then the second way we got into trouble and ended up fifth. Lynda heard Donna Moore tell someone he was going to be a nice horse so that gave me some encouragement."

Freseth went home and continued to work that winter, breaking Jordan to jog and continuing to work on his shoeing. According to Freseth he was not a horse that would impress you in the jog cart. In fact, Barry Yount was there shoeing one day while Freseth was jogging him and he asked Lynda, "What's that?" She replied, "Gypsy Supreme." "You mean that's the one all the hype is about."

All winter Andy Freseth tried aluminum plates with no pads trying to get him to rack better. He also worked hard at trying to get him to wear the curb bit better.

"About four weeks before Des Moines I put his show shoes on," recalled Freseth. "When we got to Des Moines he kicked the window out of his stall and those windows are high. Getting him ready for his class was one of the worst experiences I've ever had. He had a huge hump in his back and was just all over the place. I didn't want to show him, because we couldn't have beaten anyone the way he was working. He wouldn't trot. We took the stretchies off and he wouldn't rack a step. Lynda said, 'oh he'll be all right.' We started going towards the ring and I remembered Dick Obenauf telling me that he like to rack a horse uphill, that if they could do that they could rack anywhere.

"As we started getting closer to the ring he started losing the hump in his back and there was a slight hill there where the warm up ring was so I asked him to rack and away he went. I was feeling a little better and then we headed to the ring for the class and about 50 feet from the gate I had to shorten up on my reins as he got really high headed and started using his legs. I couldn't get to the rail the first way trotting, but he kept getting better with each gait. The second way of the ring I kept hearing all this noise as people were pounding the aluminum bleachers and I asked Lynda, 'what's that.' She said, 'They're doing that for you.' We won the class."

Milwaukee was the next stop for Gypsy Supreme and as Andy was warming him up for this one, it was more of the same. According to Freseth, Bonnie Byrne was watching them and she asked the caretaker, "Do you think Andy wants to go in. He looks terrible."

"As we trotted across the street to the ring he kept getting bigger and bigger," said Andy, and when we hit the gate he was as big as that building. We won the class beating Day To Remember, a horse Lynda said we would never beat, however, it wasn't unanimous." They went to Midwest for the junior stake, but Gypsy hadn't been working well and it was 100 degrees. Freseth didn't have much confidence that this was going to turn out well, especially since Onion was showing there.

"They told me he [Onion] was going to show in harness so I wouldn't get all nervous, but he showed under saddle. I went in thinking we were beat, but the longer we went the better he got. My horse threw a shoe and I went slow gaiting down the middle and got the crowd going and he just got better and better.

"We won that one and went to Lexington and now I was really nervous. He was to show Monday night but with the bad storm they canceled the show and we had to show Tuesday morning, giving me yet another day to get all worked up. We showed and he won with his first unanimous decision and now people were expecting us to win. I did have a lot of people tell me he would never win Louisville because he couldn't trot good enough so I went home and went to work on his trot. "At Louisville I had Mark Hulse help me, because Lynda had horses before and after my class," continued Andy. "Gypsy just didn't give you much confidence until you got close to the gate, yet Mark was saying he looks great. I was wondering what was wrong. We went down the chute first like you had to do and I went past Mark and he said, 'Keep doing what you're doing' and went past Bonnie Byrne on the rail and she said the same thing so I knew I was all right. We won that one unanimously."

Friday night in the junior championship it was a different story. Gypsy was so game and durable that you had to do your homework or you would be in trouble according to Freseth. "The second class was difficult," said Andy. "We struggled. When we turned around I had no slow gait or rack and then I remembered something Shirley Parkinson had told me once when I had gotten in trouble racking a horse. She told me to pull in the middle to fix something and let the horse regroup and then go back out slow gaiting so that's what I did. I called time out and Lynda and Mark both came in. I told Lynda to pull the boots off and she said, 'no.' I told her again and she said, 'no.' She said, 'We'll fix this curb chain but we're not taking these boots off.' Mark, not wanting to be in the middle of this said, 'Andy I think you'll be all right.' We went back out okay and won the Junior Five-Gaited World's Grand Championship."

Early the next morning Andy flew to the Minnesota State Fair and it still hadn't sunk in. He thought, "Okay, we won." It wasn't until Lynda called him there and told him it was unanimous that Andy realized what they had done.

It just kept getting better. Ann Marie Brickzen showed Gypsy at the Wisconsin Futurity and won with him in their debut performance. Next they took Kansas City by storm winning the Junior Five-Gaited Stake there as well.

"He's just a super horse," said Lynda Freseth. "There may be a few open horses that have been just as grand, but there haven't been any greater than him for what he has done for so many different riders and trainers."

Hoppy Bennett purchased Gypsy Supreme for Christine Broder following Ann Marie Brickzen's winning ride at Kansas City and the next year (1992) Broder was extremely successful winning the Ladies Five-Gaited Gelding World's Championship and the Ladies Five-Gaited Reserve World's Grand Championship.

From there he went to John Biggins who had selected the great gelding for Jill Sando (Shiflet). Besides several other wins, Jill and Gypsy won the Ladies Five-Gaited Gelding World's Championship and the Ladies Five-Gaited Reserve World's Grand Championship. The next season they went undefeated, with Gypsy winning a third ladies gelding stake at Louisville as well as the Ladies Five-Gaited World's Grand Championship. They would come back in '95 to win the Ladies Five-Gaited Gelding World's Championship once again.

In an earlier interview she referred to Gypsy as "a very interesting person. He wants to play with you in the stall. When you get on him he's all business, yet when he was let down for the winter, we used to go trail riding."

"When I first got him I had trouble consistently racking him," said Shiflet's trainer, John Biggins. "I lightened him up front and added more weight behind until I got him where I wanted him and then started putting it back on the front and taking it from behind. I loved this horse, but I used to get the worst dreams about him. I would worry that he wouldn't do this and wouldn't do that. I even quit drinking all together thinking, 'I'm not going to have any chance of messing this up.' Soon the help wanted me to start drinking again.

"This horse made Andy Freseth and I best friends. I knew Andy to say hi to him, but after I got Gypsy I was on the telephone with him constantly asking him what he did and telling him what I was doing. It has turned into a great friendship."

"I would tell John, 'No that won't work, I've already tried it.' I even asked him a couple of times if he survived a few of the things he tried. We had a lot of fun working this horse over the phone", commented Freseth.

"He [Gypsy Supreme] has such a huge heart," said Biggins. "He was fun to have, but always on the edge. He ranks right at the top of the list of horses I've had."

From Kentucky, Gypsy moved to Florida with trainer Don Judd and new owners Walt and Jackie Stred. He didn't get to show at Louisville that first year as Judd was judging but they did win everywhere they showed, including Lexington and Kansas City. Early the next season the Streds sent Gypsy to Nelson Green and they won at River Ridge, Devon, and Lexington before winning the Ladies Five-Gaited Gelding World's Championship and the Ladies Five-Gaited Reserve World's Grand Championship.

"I got him at a point in his career that he was what you call a campaigner," said Green. "He knew his job. At home you wondered if this was the same horse you saw at the horse shows. He was a fun horse that you could always count on. He was just a grand horse."

The next year, Gypsy would have yet another assignment. Peter and Kim Cowart were looking for a gaited horse for a new customer who was just out of the academy ranks, yet had the resources and the desire to have a top horse.

"I knew we wanted the very best horse we could buy, but it had to be something that Emily [Hess] was going to be able to ride," said Kim Cowart. "She hadn't ridden a gaited horse before, heck she was barely out of academy. We knew Gypsy was a great horse and he had been around the ring several times.

"I always thought he was cool, but until you've touched him, you can't appreciated what a great horse he is. I was never disappointed with him. I worried about his soundness, but never his heart. He would sometimes give you 200 percent, but never less than 110. He had been so great, I felt a lot of pressure. I didn't care what other people thought, I just wanted to do him justice. "He was a big-time powerhouse, deceiving in his size, yet he was like a kid in his stall. He always played around and we kept these orange cones in his stall that Biggins used to give him. He would pick them up and throw them around the stall or out of it if it didn't have a ceiling. We went through several of them a year.

The Cowart/Hess team did do "The King" justice as Emily won major titles all across the country, also setting up a great rivalry with Will Cannon and CH Moonchance. In her first year she won seven blues and championships as well as the 14-17 reserve grand championship at Lexington, the 14-15 world's championship, and the 14-17 reserve world's grand championship. "I didn't know much about him," explained Emily Hess. "I saw Jackie win a class with him and I was excited about the opportunity to go and try him, but I didn't realize what a special horse he was. The morning we went to look at him Kim and Peter put me on Diamond Flight, a gaited horse in their barn. I had only ridden a gaited horse one other time.

"We flew up to Nelson's [Green] and he was a real slow horse to warm up. It had been about 10 minutes and I'm thinking, 'This is what we're all excited about. He could have gone in country pleasure.' Then all of a sudden it was like you turned on a light switch and this big, powerful horse emerged. I got on and did pretty well considering. My parents were happy with my ride and you couldn't wipe the smile off my face."

They debuted at Pro-Am in 1998 and won both classes with only a few mistakes. "Peter told me I was about 60 percent and wasn't ready to handle any more just yet," recalled Emily. "Then we went to Statesville and it was even less competition, but a good confidence builder. Lexington was my first real test. I won the 14 & under class and Kristen [Bagdasarian] won the 15-17 class with The Homecoming Hero. Since we were stablemates Kim and Peter didn't really want us to show back against each other, but it was more of an issue than it needed to be. We didn't know until that afternoon if we were both showing, but we did and Kristen won and I was second. I was so happy for her as it was her last juvenile year."

At Louisville Emily and "The King" won a world title in their first trip on the green shavings, something she will never forget. "I showed at Louisville for the first time the year before so I didn't think about going there and winning with Gypsy. It was more than I could have ever hoped for."

And what's it like to ride one of the greatest gaited horses of all time? "It's incredible," explained Emily. "It's a little frightening at first because he is so huge, but I always trusted him. He gave me so much confidence and taught me how to use the ring. Out of the ring he's like a huge puppy. He likes to nip at you and is very playful. He just has tons of personality. He will also eat anything. Two of his favorites are bananas and watermelon.

"I'm so thankful my parents gave me the opportunity to have this wonderful horse and that we didn't have to sell him," she continued. "I didn't think he should have to teach another girl to ride. When Kim showed him for the last time, I wished I could have shown because he is so much fun, but I also wanted Kim to have a go. She deserved to have that opportunity. I don't think there will be another one like him."

So having completed his mission, The King now resides in the life of luxury at the Kentucky Horse Park among some of the greatest equine personalities the world has ever known. And just to let them know that he is the King, Gypsy recently took his cone and threw it out of his stall as one of the other horses was being presented. He still thinks all of the attention should go to him.

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