Sept. 24-30, 1999
Study of staff morale shows respect is key
Managers build strong relationships with employees
VA 2020 Science and Technology Planning Commission to hold workshops Sept. 23-25

NEH recognizes two U.Va. web sites

Women's Club entertains Virginia 2020 themes
Q&A - Dean Sondra Stallard on a mission
After Hours - Couple spends weekends horsing around
Housekeepers honored at picnic
Hot Links - Intramural-Recreational Sports
Stephen Cushman publishes narrative on Civil War battle
Woodson Institute fellows announced

In Memoriam

Sounds of Indian flute to fill Old Cabell Hall on Oct. 2


After Hours
U.Va. couple spends weekends horsing around

Nicole R. Hamilton
Brenda 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."

Note: 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

By Anne Bromley

For 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 horses.

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.

Eddie Byers
Brenda Byers
In his off-hours, Eddie Byers, Chemistry Department research administrator, cares for the family's Tennessee walking horses, including shoeing them.

Seven 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.

She 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 own horse.

The 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.

Going 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.

Tennessee 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.

Tennessee 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.

The 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 the saddle."

He's 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.

"I do talk to the horse, try to make friends with it. ... Horses have personalities just like people," Eddie said.


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