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Remembering One Of The Old School Greats - Rex Parkinson

by Sally Grieme

The horse world lost a great friend on June 21, 2010 with the passing of Rex Parkinson. Parkinson was a trainer and judge of Hackneys, American Saddlebreds and Standerdbred road horses. A World War II veteran, Parkinson was laid to rest on June 24 in Long Creek, Ill. He was buried with full military honors conducted by the Macon County Honor Guard.

Parkinson started his career with horses early in life. Although his father was a Standerdbred trainer, Rex and his older brother, Max, decided to try their hands at Saddlebreds and ponies. They opened their first public training stable together in Peoria, Ill. Rex was 17 years old.

He continued to build his career in the horse business, becoming more successful with each show season. In 1950, his success multiplied when he commented to a friend at a horse show in Morton, Ill., "If I ever need a catch rider for a horse, I’m going to get that girl." He was speaking of Shirley Simcox, who not only went on to be a catch rider for him the next show season, but to become his wife on Dec. 8, 1951. "Rex was my best friend. He was my partner in life, my partner in business and the love of my life," said Shirley Parkinson.

The two made their home in Decatur, Ill., operating a public training stable for over 40 years. In 1953, daughter Vicki (Whitmer) was born and from a very early age she also became a part of the family business. The Parkinsons went on to win championships and world’s championships too numerous to mention. But everyone has their favorites, and Shirley remembered a few of Rex’s. "He loved our harness pony, Rhythm Spirit, who we raised. Of the road ponies, Whiplash and Bold Spirit were probably his two favorites."

Over the span of his 70-plus year career, Parkinson remained true to Illinois, according to wife Shirley, who sighted the Illinois State Fair as Parkinson’s favorite horse show. "Rex was adamant that we support the Illinois State Fair. He firmly believed that each state’s fair is the hub of that state’s economy," recalled Shirley.

Parkinson served on the Illinois State Fair Advisory Board for several years. He also served as president of the American Saddlebred Breeders’ Association of Illinois, served on the UPHA Board, the Mid-West Hackney Association Board, the Midwest Horse Show Association Board and was past president of the American Road Horse and Pony Association. Parkinson was a respected USEF judge for over 45 years, and in 1998 received the Outstanding Judge’s Career Award. He was inducted into the UPHA Hall of Fame in 1994, and received their Distinguished Service Award. He also received a Distinguished Service Award from the Mid-West Hackney Association and the American Hackney Society, and was inducted into the Kentucky State Fair Horse Show Hall of Fame as well.

In 1995, Parkinson made the decision to retire and did so the following year. "He walked in the house one day and said, ‘We’re going to retire.’ I said, ‘Fine with me’." But a smooth retirement was not in the cards for the Parkinsons. "In 1996 Rex had to have a hip replaced, our barn burned down and Rex had a stroke," Shirley remembered.

But despite his health issues and bad luck, Parkinson maintained his sense of humor. "He was always quick-witted, and I never saw him speechless," added Shirley. "We went to Louisville in 1996 to watch the show. Rex purchased a piece of jewelry for me at the horse show that was a gold ribbon with a sapphire in the center and diamond streamers. He wanted me to have a blue ribbon from Louisville that year."

Parkinson’s favorite quote, "the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a person," rang true for him even after his stroke. He was still a spectator at his favorite horse shows despite his physical limitations. He enjoyed seeing his friends, and of course, watching the ponies and horses, which always remained such an integral part of his life.

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