U.Va. couple spends weekends horsing
Byers, an executive secretary in Health System Development
at U.Va., has competed in Tennessee walking horse shows for
seven years. Here she rides her favorite Tennessee walker,
Pro. Her husband, Eddie, who works in the Chemistry Department,
grooms and shoes their horses. See "After Hours."
This is the second installment of "After Hours," a new
monthly feature exploring the noteworthy non-work pursuits of
U.Va. faculty and staff. Please submit nominations for future
columns to email@example.com.
U.Va. employees Eddie and Brenda Byers, a horse trade 15 years
ago changed their lives and led them to a pastime that has kept
the family busy ever since -- riding and showing Tennessee walking
They'd gotten a horse that turned out to be difficult, so Brenda
found a local dealer who bought, sold and traded horses at auctions.
She took the horse to his farm and traded it for a 2-year-old
black gelding, whose papers listed him as Go Sun's Perfection.
The couple called him Pro. "I was literally the last person
to look at Pro before he was headed to the meat market,"
said Brenda, an executive secretary in Health System Development.
They nursed him back to health, and took him trail riding in places
like Sugar Hollow and Graves Mountain.
In his off-hours, Eddie Byers, Chemistry Department research
administrator, cares for the family's Tennessee walking horses,
including shoeing them.
years ago, just for the fun of it, they entered Pro in a horse
show in Weyers Cave, where Brenda rode him in the amateur pleasure
class. Pro proved to be a natural with champion ancestry. They
brought home a third-place ribbon, and they were hooked.
Brenda came from a family that always had horses. Her father put
her in the saddle when she was very young, and she later competed
on quarter horses in timed, competitive games called gym khna.
shared her riding hobby with her high-school sweetheart, Eddie.
They married in 1984. Eddie, the Chemistry Department's research
administrator, learned how to shoe horses from Brenda's father,
Roger Morris, a machinist in the Physics Department who now breeds
Tennessee walkers. The family affair also extends to Brenda and
Eddie's two daughters, Kari, 12 and Erin, 10, who each have their
Byerses like to go to the biggest horse show in Virginia, the
Plantation Classic at the Lexington Horse Center, and have gone
to other shows in Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. The girls
competed for the first time this spring.
The family now has five horses, whom they take on trail rides
as well as to shows. The couple says it's a lot of work and takes
up all their time, but it's worth the effort. "It's a clean
family activity for the kids," Eddie noted. But they keep
things in perspective, he said; the ribbons -- they've added up
since Pro's first one -- are, after all, just pieces of silk.
to a horse show is an all-day event, a social gathering as well
as serious competition. In the classes Brenda competes in, there's
no jumping or maneuvering obstacles or clocking. The judge, or
ringmaster, simply watches the horse's gait and how the rider
goes with it -- the "equitation of the rider," Brenda
called it. She competes in several Western and English amateur
classes, differentiated by the style of saddle and the way the
reins are used.
walking horses were bred from Standardbred and Morgan stock more
than 100 years ago and remain the biggest industry in Tennessee
-- even bigger than country music, Brenda said. They're a smooth-gaited
horse, unlike other breeds that give a bumpy ride. "You should
be able to drink a cup of coffee while riding the horse,"
Eddie explained. In fact, there's a competition in which the rider
holds a glass of water.
walkers -- also called plantation walking horses because they
were popular with Southern landowners -- have a distinctive, four-beat
gait called a running walk, where the back legs overstride the
front ones, with three hooves on the ground while one is lifting.
"This gait is inherited and cannot be taught to a horse who
does not possess it naturally," according to the Tennessee
Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association. They are
also known for the way their head dips or bobs.
horses have two other characteristic gaits: a flat-foot walk,
in which the front legs step high, and a canter often called the
rocking-chair gait for its rolling motion.
"They have a wonderful temperament. You can do anything with
them," Brenda said. They can be used for driving cattle and
light farm work, too. "If Brenda had her way, we'd be horse-poor,"
Eddie said. "I'm just the groom and the farrier." Eddie
will also train horses for people who've just gotten a new one
and don't want to be the first to ride it. He'll keep a horse
for four to six weeks at a stretch, "to get him started under
not exactly a trainer or a "horse whisperer" (he hadn't
seen the Robert Redford movie and wasn't familiar with the term),
but he did stress that what makes a good horse is taking time
with it -- while feeding and brushing it, and while getting it
used to the bit and following commands.
do talk to the horse, try to make friends with it. ... Horses
have personalities just like people," Eddie said.