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The Passing Of A Great Friend, Tim Lydon



 


Tim Lydon’s dreams came true when he showed his road pony

at Louisville this year against his daughter, Maureen.

(photo by Mike Setzer)


 

by Bob Funkhouser

With my role in Saddle Horse Report I have had the task/privilege of writing tributes to both people and horses within our industry who have died. All of them are challenging because of wanting to give those individuals the proper respect they are due as well as give our readers a clearer picture of their lives and what made them unique.

Some of these subjects I’ve stressed over writing because I held them in deep esteem for their talents and contributions to the show horse industry. Others have created a roadblock in writing a piece to be proud of because I had been fortunate enough to know them well or to have worked with them in some capacity. Sometimes it’s hard to separate that personal connection.

Just this past week I was faced with my biggest challenge to date: thinking about writing a tribute for one of my closest friends in my adult life. I held him in high esteem and enjoyed an incredibly close relationship that covered a lot of miles over the past 13 years. Most of those miles revolved around horses, horse shows and horse people.

After staring at a blank computer screen for what seemed like hours I decided the best tribute I could write for my friend had already been written. On Wednesday, Nov. 22, I stood before a packed house in the St. Thomas Catholic Church in Millis, Mass., and eulogized this special individual and I believe that said it all.

TIMMY LYDON

The turnout today is a true testament to the man we all knew and loved. While we gather here with heavy hearts, I would ask that each one of you raise your chins and put a smile on your face because Timmy Lydon was one of the luckiest people ever put on this earth. He lived his entire life doing the things he loved most, and he was blessed to have shared his life with two of the most incredible women. . . not to mention his family and friends.

Even though God gave him a small frame, Timmy had a heart big enough for a man 10 times his size. There was room in that heart for each and every person he cared about, no one ever felt shortchanged. At an early age Timmy, along with his brother Tom and sisters Phyllis, Priscilla, Ginney, Dottie and Sally learned what hard work and family were all about. Those were lessons that followed him the rest of his life.

He was the son of a legend, of a Hall of Fame horse trainer. It wasn’t easy to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Lydon. There was a lot asked, there was a lot expected. Tim learned the tricks of the trade from the ground up and set the foundation for what would become the largest part of his life.

Although he learned much about training show horses, he took a slightly different path. He became a blacksmith, a trade he diligently worked at for 45 years. During that time he was the farrier behind champion show horses, Olympic Gold Medal 3-Day Eventers and children’s backyard ponies. His peers held Timmy in the highest esteem all across the country. No matter what regional horse show you attended, someone had a “Timmy story.”

Timmy had many close brothers in the blacksmith fraternity, but a few of them occupied lots of space in that big heart of his. . . David Clancy and his son, David, Garth Bodkin, Gary Houck, Dennis Doubney, Paul Simard, Tim Keller, Rick Howe and John Crider.

Earlier I had mentioned two great women in his life, the first of which was Cathy. For 35 years she was by his side every step of the way. Cathy was there to help Timmy further his career. Always doing for others, they hosted clinics for the Southern New England Farriers Association, a group that recently honored him with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Together they traveled many miles on the horse show circuits and Cathy was there to literally help Timmy with every aspect of his life. She particularly enjoyed critiquing his rides and drives.

They had a son, John, and daughters Dede and Maureen. Nothing made him prouder than his family and then his extended family. The role of “Papa” to Taylor, Matthew, Jake and Emilee was one he cherished deeply. In the winter Timmy loved getting the pond behind the house ready with daughter Dede and son-in-law Jim so that his grandkids and their friends and families had a place to skate and enjoy the winter months. He also greatly enjoyed the times with son John and his wife Traci building decks at both his house and theirs. It was all about family.

It would be hard to love a person anymore than Cathy loved Timmy. Before she was cruelly taken from him by cancer some five years ago, she told him his next wife would be their mutual friend Priscilla. As she was most of the time, Cathy was so right. Tim and Priscilla married on Valentine’s Day of 2003 and right up to the very end they were like giggly high school kids in love for the first time. She jumped right in and became immersed in his horsey lifestyle. She stayed up for our after-show tack room parties listening to horse tale after horse tale, joke after joke. You all know who was
telling most of them!

Priscilla also never wavered when Timmy’s fan club—Courtney, Lil and Sharon—would come banging on the camper door at 2 in the morning until Timmy would walk out in his underwear. At what could have been an awkward time, Priscilla wanted to share Timmy’s life. She learned to carry a towel in the warm up ring, feed peppermints and decorate the tack room. She was one with Tim in every thing he did. Together, they also enjoyed trips to the Cape, the area’s historic lighthouses and restaurants. As Priscilla told me Saturday. . . these were the best four years of her life.

Not only did Tim’s family benefit from his loving presence, the lives of his long list of friends were also greatly enriched. Every morning he would hold court at the local “Breakfast Club” at Bob’s restaurant. Again, there were many good friends from that circle, some of the closest being Lee Mandel, Dave Price, Cliff Burnett and Harold Curran. A fellow horseman, Dave was always here to help Timmy with his barn, the tractor, the horses, whatever needed to be done. I hope you know how much he appreciated you.

Often introduced as his best friend, Lee was not only part of the Breakfast Club, he was Timmy’s idol when it came to one of his other passions, hunting. Now I want to tell you, Timmy had a keen eye for spotting wildlife. Whether it was one of our early morning trips to Dover to work our horses and ponies in the winter or a drive to the Carolinas to look at horses, or on the road to another show. . . Timmy was always spotting deer, wild turkey, fox and other assorted critters. However, when he was in the woods hunting, the deer population seemed to grow instead of decrease. “Elmer Fudd” Lydon always had a story about the one that got away! Lee, being the good friend that he is, made sure Timmy’s freezer was stocked with venison steaks, burgers and sausage, something he took great pride in sharing with his horse friends at our many cookouts.

About 13 years ago, a relatively young Southerner who thought he knew a lot about the horse business and a little about training one, moved to New England. Timmy befriended this “blankety blank” Southerner and soon they became inseparable. The Yankee and the Southerner, Earl and Garland as they became known, formed a most unlikely friendship as their regional backgrounds, styles and age differences were not made for the bond that was formed.

That was one of Timmy’s most endearing qualities. He was a no frills kind of guy and you always knew where you stood with him. If he liked you he liked you and if he didn’t. . . well, that’s another story. It didn’t matter if you were black, white, Hispanic. . . rich, poor, somewhere in between, he crossed all boundaries. He could rub elbows with the elite and he knew all too well what it was like to be in the trenches.

When it came to working horses he taught the Southerner about patience, humility and never giving up. Among those many hours the two spent together in each other’s barns and on the road to W. Springfield, Mass., Deerfield, N.H., Syracuse, N.Y., Quentin, Penn., and Lexington and Louisville, Ky., Timmy also shared his many life experiences.

I stand here today proud to be that blankety blank Southerner. He was like a father, a brother and a best friend all rolled into one. Not only am I a better horseman because of the time I was lucky enough to spend with Timmy, but more importantly I am a better human being. Of all the people I’ve had the privilege of knowing in this business he stands heads and shoulders above the rest when it comes to doing this for the right reasons. It was never ever about the blue ribbons. It was always about the love of the horse and the people involved. . . his own family, the Parkers, the LaSalles, the Fentons, Buddy Braun, Irene York, Wally Kenney, the Lampropouloses, the Sacoccias, Dave Rogers, Ken Logan, Nicholas Villa. . . the list goes on and on and on.

He is the only person I knew who when someone would come up and start complaining about how they couldn’t believe where the judge had tied them. . . including me. . . he would stand there, raise his crooked forefinger into the air, look them straight in the eye and say, “Are you kidding me, you couldn’t beat old Shep today. Your horse’s head was too low. He was lame. You didn’t walk.” And that, my friends, was the watered down G-rated version! He never sugar-coated anything, just told you the way it was. He was just as truthful with his own performances. I can honestly say I’ve never heard him say a bad word about how he was placed in a class.

While blue ribbons were not a part of his focus, there were plenty of those throughout his career. From the early days of wearing the famed plaid coats of Waseeka Farm and leading the legendary Nocturne to wins at the National Morgan Horse Show in Northampton, to putting his daughter, Maureen, into the ring with Sudden Impact and High And Mighty Top Honor, there were many winning moments in his lifetime. In his own unique style he trained, showed and sold Waseeka’s Bold Queen Ann and Waseeka’s Heavenly Ruler with great success. Timmy purchased the gaited horse Admiral’s Tuxedo Junction from Claude Shiflet and won class after class, including the New England Amateur Five-Gaited Championship at Eastern States, a show he cared deeply about.

Then there was the amazing Oz. Going against the advice of several horsemen he
purchased Oz through Tattersalls and with true Lydon grit, proved them all wrong. Oz
became a legend in these parts winning in the five-gaited, three-gaited park, fine harness and pleasure driving divisions. In the wintertime he would hook him to a sleigh giving family and friends rides through the snow.

Timmy’s Morgan horse roots never left him. Sir Echo M.V.P. and The Silver Brook Surprize made the show circuit. The latter was as hard-headed and stubborn as he was, but eventually Timmy won out. . . well, at least most of the time. Just two years ago she won Saddle Horse Report’s High Point Morgan Park Saddle Horse of the Year award for the entire country.

Just this year, one of Timmy’s dreams came true as he got to show on the green shavings of Freedom Hall at the World’s Championship Horse Show, competing against his daughter with the road pony Heartland Double Trouble. The smile still hasn’t left his face as he has told countless people how he stayed right on Maureen’s tail and never let her get out of his vision. When asked why he stayed right behind her the entire class he said, “She told me to go the speed she was going and that’s what I did.” The sight of them lined up side by side in their green silks is something those of us that were there will never forget.

While Timmy enjoyed racking and trotting as much as anyone, giving other people a chance to ride or show his horses gave him even greater enjoyment. Several children benefited from his big heart when he insisted they show his horses because for whatever reason they didn’t have anything to show at the time. He also took great enjoyment in putting the ladies from the hunter barns up on Oz because all they had heard about the American Saddlebred was that they were too high strung for most people to ride. Those ladies didn’t get down until they racked around their indoor arenas with smiles from ear to ear on their faces. Timmy and Oz did more for promoting the breed in a positive light than any group or association could ever dream of doing.

Timmy played horse show father to many, but none like his very own daughter, Maureen. He lived for the phone calls from Kentucky or wherever she might have been showing that week. He was so proud of everything that she has accomplished.

Just this past week Maureen had insisted on coming home to be with her dad. He insisted that she go on to the American Royal and show her ponies. That was a battle Maureen was not going to win. She honored her father’s wishes because the consequences would have been hell. And sure enough on Thursday night, one of the greatest nights of showing in the Saddlebred and Hackney worlds, the ponies she and partner Rich Campbell put into the ring won the UPHA Hackney Pleasure Driving Classic Grand Championship and a reserve in the UPHA Hackney Pony Classic Grand Championship with customer Sharon Lewis. In her final class of the evening, with Timmy driving every step of the way with her, Maureen brought down the house, winning the UPHA Harness Pony Classic Grand Championship herself with Heartland Beautiful Dreamer.

It was the closing chapter on a beautiful lifetime with her father. The next morning she boarded a plane and joined her brother, John, sister Dede and Priscilla by Timmy’s side. His face lit up like a Christmas tree, knowing he could now let go of the pain and suffering and join the other great horsemen in heaven.

I assume most people have a calm, peaceful image of the body’s transition into heaven. I’ll guarantee you Timmy’s was not. He and Oz went racking through the Pearly Gates so dang fast it blew them right off their hinges!!! St. Peter is still trying to find them today.

Horse shows and our lives will never be the same. Timmy, thank you for sharing your honesty, your zest for life, your work ethic and your knowledge with us all. We love you and will never forget you. . .

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