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A Lady Who Absolutely Loved Horses - C. Jean Nalley

by Bob Funkhouser

Throughout the history of the American Saddlebred show horse there have been remarkable women that are icons of the business for long periods of time. Each has given a piece of herself to the breed and has gone to great lengths to enjoy and promote their passion. Clearly, the recently deceased C. Jean Nalley belongs in that group of distinguished matriarchs.

A lifelong resident of Louisville, Ky., who also enjoyed a home in Marco Island, Fla., Jean was born Oct. 22, 1925 to Louis and Hazel Millet. She would marry Joseph Richard Nalley and in 1957 they purchased Krauth Electric Company, an industrial electric equipment distributor and service provider. With the passing of her husband in 1988, Jean took over leadership of the business and remained heavily involved until the time of her June 18 death.

A horse lover her entire life, Jean admired them from a distance for many years while starting a family and running a large business. After the passing of her husband, good friend Don Harris called her and said, "Jean, it’s time to look at getting you a horse again."

That’s all it took and soon she owned Sabina and My Gemini Dream. She called her son, Chris, who was practicing law in Washington D.C. and told him of her purchases and wanted him to come home and evaluate them. A trip home and walking back into barns where fine American Saddlebreds resided was all it took to bring Chris back home to the family business and an equine partnership with his mother that would produce a most impressive list of world’s and reserve world’s champions.

"Her eye for a top horse was uncanny," said Chris. "As a team we were most proud that nearly all of the horses that won world titles were purchased as un-shown prospects."

Redd Crabtree, Bill Wise, Don Harris, Nelson Green and John Biggins are among the trainers whom Jean placed horses with as she and Chris built top of the line show strings. One year at River Ridge Don Harris won all three open championships with Nalley entries: Aurene (Five-Gaited), Nightly Affair (Three-Gaited) and Our Canary Diamond (Fine Harness). Among the other champions that went to the winner’s circle for the Nalley ownership were Streetwise, S.S. Lies & Alibis, Worthy’s Temptress, Pluto, Callaway’s Rockaway and 98 Degrees.

Defying all odds, Jean decided to take her passion from owning and watching her champions to actually showing. At the age of 74, she entered the show ring for the first time, winning a 22-horse Country Pleasure class with Cecile at the May Classic. They went on to win a reserve world’s championship. There would also be victory passes with the exquisite Merchant Prince daughter, Nightly Affair.

Also among her stars was It’s All About Me, the Junior Five-Gaited sensation of 2004 who won River Ridge, Rock Creek, Lexington and Louisville. Additionally, in August of 2005, under the direction of Todd Miles and DeLovely Farm, Jean and Chris proudly stood with Five O’Clock, their newly crowned Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion, who won the title as a five-year-old. In recent years the offspring of many of their former show mares have been making headlines for the Nalleys.

It has been her patience and belief in the young horses she purchased over the years that allowed them to become champions. It has been that same philosophy that she and Chris have used with the homebred youngsters as they now begin to make their marks. In just a short amount of time, World’s Champion Of Champions Voulez Vous, Reserve World’s Champion Twice Nightly, Zippers & Snaps, Temptress Too, Temptress In Town, Nuts And Bolts, Don’t Tempt Me and Nightly Love have all come from the small but blue-blooded band of Nalley broodmares.

As son Chris so eloquently said in his mother’s eulogy, Jean made a difference throughout her life. She lived every day to the fullest and always had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. It is both that smile and the twinkle in her eye that this writer will remember most about this gracious lady. There was never a moment when passing her at a show that she didn’t stop and share a kind word. It was always positive, always proud of her horses and family.

Chris summed his mother up best in his eulogy. "She led a life of positive consequence. She brought the best out in her husband of 44 years, and made him a better person. She imbued her children with a strong base of values and made all of us better people. She has inspired her grandchildren to pursue excellence and to be kind and gentle. Her great-grandchildren will hear stories of "Mama Jean" and in the warmth and tone of the storytellers’ voices, they will know she was a good person who was loved, who made a difference in the lives she touched."

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