Rural Missouri - September 2020 - 42

photo courtesy Audrain County Historical Society

Tom riding Belle Beach, one of his most decorated horses. A postcard Tom sent to his wife, Angie, proclaimed Belle "the biggest horse in the world."
wishing her "many happy returns" because he could not
be with her on her birthday. His travels were not without
success though. In 1919, Tom sent Angie a postcard from
Massachusetts, excited that Belle Beach, one of his most
well-known and decorated horses, "is the biggest horse
in the world." By "biggest" he meant "greatest," humbly
claiming champion honors for Belle Beach rather than
himself.
He won dozens of trophies and ribbons thought to
number in the thousands. In 1930, the St. Louis GlobeDemocrat reported that Tom's friends had given up trying to count them because there were too many. Horses
meant more to the trainer than any prize; he simply piled
his ribbons on the floor of his stables. Unfortunately, most
of them were lost when the stables burned down. What
remains of Tom's collection and the Bass family postcard
archive is now on display at the Audrain County Historical
Museum Complex, in Mexico, Missouri.
While training horses, Tom was aware of their comfort
level. Just as he never beat a horse, he also sought to
minimize pain caused them by poorly designed bits because those then available were built solely to give control
to the rider. To remedy the problem, Tom invented a new
superior design that could give the rider control without
causing pain to the horse. However, he never patented it.
Biographer Bill Downey quoted him saying: "I love horses
... I don't want to make money off the bit."

42

RURAL MISSOURI | SEPTEMBER 2020

Tom suffered a heart attack in 1931 while competing in
a horse show. He did not fall off of the horse. His friends
lifted him out of the saddle and took him home. He survived but never rode a horse again. He died in 1934 at the
age of 75, though his death certificate does not specify
where or how. He left behind his wife, Angie, his son, Inman, and fans throughout the world, who loved him for his
unique way with horses.
His funeral was held on Nov. 26, 1934 at his home in
Mexico, Missouri. The funeral transcript says the service
was officiated by Revs. Leroy Woolrich, William Coleman
and C. E. Richards and attended by mourners from as far
away as Wichita, Kansas.
In 1999, the Missouri House of Representatives announced Tom's induction into The Hall of Famous Missourians, giving him well deserved notoriety which he no
doubt would have humbly refused in a life that spanned
the Gilded Age. Not only had he witnessed the end of slavery, but also the invention of modern mechanization which
transformed the lives of both humans and animals -
something he viewed quite favorably. During an interview
with the Globe-Democrat in 1930, Tom said: "The public is
becoming horse minded ... The coming of the automobiles
eliminated them as work animals, but riding horses are in
greater demand today than ever before."
Welch is a freelance writer from Thompson.



Rural Missouri - September 2020

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