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UPHA Tom Moore Hall of Fame: John Conatser




Growing up the son of a legend and trying to follow in his footsteps is not for the faint-hearted, especially in a sport as demanding as ours. When that father was the second person inducted into the UPHA Hall of Fame the bar was high and that’s just how the son liked it.

He wasn’t just following his father’s career; the son had his own passion for the American Saddlebred. Starting at an early age he put in the hard work and proved he belonged. Then with dedication, honesty, loyalty and longevity he became and continues to be one of the top horsemen of our time.

The Middle Tennessee State University graduate with a degree in Aerospace Administration, thoroughly enjoyed getting a pilot’s license and still enjoys his time in the sky, however, the call to the barn was too great. After all, he had already gotten a Master’s Degree in horsemanship from his father, in addition to learning from great horsemen like the late Jim B. Robertson for whom our honoree took care of world’s grand champion Forest Song.

Going to Louisville as a professional for the first time in 1973 with his father, our honoree won his first of 10 career Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited World’s Championships. Belle Supreme GTR was that world’s champion. She later became a Broodmare Hall of Fame matron, with such offspring as CH The Phoenix SM and CH The Groomsman.

The next year, on his own at Grape Tree Farm, he won his second consecutive three-year-old walk-trot world’s championship, this one with the beautiful stallion, Sensational Spirit. Other three-year-old greats for our honoree include Shaman, CH Marching Orders, and CH New York’s Perfect Gift. His mastery of a high-headed, four-cornered walk-trot horse has stayed with him throughout out his career, a career which has included the 1980 Three-Gaited World’s Grand Champion Seymour’s Finest Hour.

You would think with three-gaited stars like the above mentioned, tonight’s recipient would be labeled a trainer of great walk-trot horses. Quite the opposite, he has proven to be a trainer of great horses, no matter the division. 

His entries have won the Amateur Five-Gaited World’s Champion of Champions title eight times, the Ladies Five-Gaited World’s Champion of Champions three times, 10 amateur gentlemen’s world’s championships and a Five-Gaited Reserve World’s Grand Championship. 

His gaited horses have always been known for their explosiveness and brilliance. This group would include CH Seymour’s Southern Heir, CH Natural Rights, CH A Touch Of Champagne, CH The Phoenix, See The Sights, CH Range Rover, CH Callaway’s Weatherman, CH Walterway’s Remember Me, CH Swish, CH Callaway’s Criterion and CH The Daily Lottery. Let that list of greats sink in.

Fine Harness: Think back to the sensational Joe Friday lighting up Freedom Hall as the 2006 Three-Year-Old Fine Harness Stallion/Gelding World’s Champion with our honoree. Two years prior to that on Thursday night of the UPHA/American Royal he won the Fine Harness Classic Grand Championship with CH Coco Loco, the Harness Pony Classic Grand Championship with Heartland King Of Kings and the Three-Gaited Classic Grand Championship with CH Marching Orders. A complete horseman indeed.

Much like him, his horses might be wired a little tight, but it’s all about being the best they can be. His formula has also worked well in the pleasure ranks with world’s champion standouts like CH Dom Perignon, CH League Of Nations, CH Just Special, For Reference Only and Callaway’s Kix.

Other world’s and national champions associated with our honoree include CH Zeberdee, Second Souvenir, TNT, Valley Venture, CH Polo Town, CH In My Heart, Metro Heirea, CH Gone Platinum, Real Action, CH-EQ Coco Mojo, Rose Arbor Destiny, Undulata’s Secret Rendezvous, CH Evolution, Spanky McFarland, CH Work It, CH He’s In Style, CH Lulu Guinness, CH That’s Chicago, Undulata’s Johnny Rebel, and I’m On Fire.
Part of our honoree’s passion has been pairing great horses with great riders. Some of those with multiple world’s titles have included Nanci Knox, Karen Waldron, Ceil Wheeler, Cackie Loughlin, Gabe Deknatel, Carol Hillenbrand, Betsy Thomas, and Tracy Garcia.

“I think one of the most interesting things about him is he would rather prepare a team to achieve success rather than show himself, even if that horse could be a top contender with him riding,” said Gabe Deknatel. 
“He thrives on that aspect. As a coach he creates a culture of excellence that goes all the way to the farrier and the caretaker. He will prepare for a one-horse class at a one-day show just as hard and meticulously as he will for the Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship.

“We had a couple of really game horses and he is great at being able to contain those horses without taking their show away and making it a good experience for the rider. He has found ways for me to connect with those horses.

“Pure meticulous effort and figuring out to make it work for horse and rider are what has made him who he is.”
Not only does our honoree love a great show horse (and University of Kentucky sports), he also loves the people and organizations which make up this profession. 

He has served as UPHA Chapter 9 Chairperson twice, served as a UPHA representative on the World’s Championship Horse Show Advisory Board for more than 20 years and is currently chairman of the UPHA Classics committee. 

Mentoring aspiring horsemen and women is another aspect in which he takes great pride. Trainers like Lee Adams Hudson, Joe Elam, Kurt Hufferd, Sarah Barwood Hoover, Jerry Hutson, Peyton Hamilton, Tiffany Wheeler, Scooter Scheurich, Kelly Lockhart, and current Carriage Lane assistant, Beto Ramirez all spent time with this master horseman.

“Intense. It was intense every day working for him, but that was okay because he was right there beside you doing the same thing. He expected a lot of me so I started expecting a lot from myself and that has stayed with me,” said Tiffany Wheeler. 

“His work ethic is also something I’ve taken with me. The amount of time he gives to each horse is amazing. Most of them we would work twice a day, going out to jog or long line 10 or 15 minutes until they were warmed up and relaxed and then we would come in, strip them, put a saddle and bridle on, and go back out.

“On a personal note, when he got hurt it was the same thing that happened to me. It was odd we both had the same injury, however, since I had already had mine I was able to be the mentor and give him advice on what to expect and how to handle it. I was happy to be able to play that role and give back to him.”

Not only has our honoree made an impact on those who have worked for him, he’s also got several peers who share his drive for excellence and appreciation of turning out great show horses.

“He is the consummate horseman,” said Kim Cowart. “He is a perfectionist. He is a great caretaker as well as a great trainer. We have bought several horses from him and there is never a detail left out. He wants the horse to go on and do as well for you as it has for him. He is a professional in every aspect and honest as they come.

“If you don’t want to know the truth, don’t ask him. Not only does he have all my respect as a horseman, he is also a very, very good friend. He and Tammie are first class all the way.”

A 2014 inductee of the World’s Championship Horse Show Hall of Fame, a show which he has attended for 61 consecutive years, John Conatser becomes only the sixth son to follow his dad into the Tom Moore UPHA Hall of Fame. We know Marvin Conatser is beaming with pride.  

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