By MARK MCGEE
In 1966, deaths in the Vietnam War tripled prompting an increase in anti-war protest. Actor, and future president Ronald Reagan, was elected governor of California. People were watching “Star Trek” and “Batman” on their TVs and listening to The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”, Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” and The Beatles’ “Revolver”. “The Sound of Music” won “Best Picture” at the Academy Awards.
And Betty Sain, a 23-year-old from Bell Buckle, Tenn., won the Junior Walking Horse class at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. She then became the first woman to not only compete in the World Grand Championship Stake, but the first woman to win it aboard Shakers Shocker. She is also the second youngest rider to win the World Grand Championship Stake.
“It was a different time,” Sain said Sunday during “Lunch With The Legends” sponsored by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association Sunday afternoon at the Hall of Fame room in Cooper Steel Arena. “The world used to stand still for the Celebration. Hopefully it will be that way again.”
Also signing, talking with fans and participating in a Q&A session were amateur champion Janice Fostek from Roanoke, Virginia, and trainers R.M. Kellett of Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Howard Hamilton from Jackson, Tenn.
Trainer John Allan Callaway, who made the first step to a third World Grand Championship Saturday night aboard Justified Honors in Division B of the Walking Stallions, Five Years and Over class with a unanimous blue ribbon ride, was unable to attend.
Mark Farrar, CEO of the TWHBEA, estimated around 50 fans attended the event, which emphasizes the promotion of the Tennessee Walking Horse for young fans and exhibitors.
To show the difference in the times, especially in the walking horse world, Sain and Shaker’s Shocker competed against 67 horses requiring three workouts in the Junior class. In the World Grand Championship, she rode against 12 horses.
“There weren’t any split classes back then,” Sain said. “When you ride with that many horses, you are six deep. You prayed for three workouts so you could show your horse.”
When she entered the ring for the “Big Stake” with her four-year-old the sellout crowd greeted her enthusiastically though not everyone was happy to see her compete.
“There were some who frowned upon the idea that we were going to compete in the Grand Championship,” Sain said. “We entered about five minutes before the deadline.
“Shocker was in good shape. He was young. He was strong. I saw no reason he wouldn’t be a good contender for the championship. I thought he should have the chance to show everyone what kind of horse he was.”
Before then announcer Emmitt Guy called “No. 35” as the winner, the roar which had built up during the class was even more deafening.
“It was so loud that we couldn’t hear the announcer calling the gaits,” Sain said. “The judges had to use hand signals.”
Sired by 1960 World Grand Champion Mack K’s Handshaker, Sain knew from the beginning her big, black stallion was a special horse.
“It was his disposition and his ability,” Sain said. “He loved the show ring. He was a big powerhouse of a horse. He sounded like a freight training coming around that ring.
“He shook his head right down to his shoulders. He had a long stroke like that.”
Sain’s fame extended nationally. She was a contestant on the old “To Tell The Truth” game show in New York City where a panel had to decide which of three contestants was telling the truth. Sain lost when her other contestants struggled with questions and the panel members decided Sain was telling the truth about being the first female World Grand Championship rider.
“That was a real experience,” Sain said. “The other two had never been around horses. It was very entertaining walking down the streets of New York at four in the morning wearing a riding suit and carrying two suits for the other contestants. Everybody I saw asked me, ‘where’s your horse?’
Ten years later Judy Martin would become the second woman to win the World Grand Championship aboard Shades of Carbon. Vicki Self and Flashy Pride won in 1991.
Sain believes the horse should be the focus and she wants people to know what Shaker’s Shocker accomplished.
“He was incredible to make the shows he did and not make any mistakes,” Sain said. “When you ride against that many horses and under the pressure you experience at that time he listened and never made a mistake.
“Shocker never saw a ring except when he went to a show. We trained in the back fields in Bell Buckle. You might see a rabbit or a ground hog or whatever when we were riding. As I said, it was a totally different time period.”