Reiner February 2012 : Page 72


NRHA Legend – Bill Horn

Craig Johnson, Mitch Zuckerman and Frank Costantini

A few letters we have received honoring the legendary Bill Horn.

The NRHA Reiner hopes you enjoy, as we did, reading the following letters we received about the legendary Bill Horn.

I used to think bill horn was my enemy. Don't get me wrong, he is a major reason I started reining. I saw him do things that put me in awe of what could be done on a horse. Yet eventually, every time I tried to win a reining, he was there to make it hard. It turns out that he was my greatest motivator. I believe now that he wasn't so much trying to beat me, though he did regularly, and often he was actually trying to make me better . . . which he did regularly and often. I can't say that we became close friends, he will always be Bill to me, yet the measure of respect, honor, and admiration I have for him runs very deep.

Bill played a worthy game with passion, recklessness, integrity, and the horse he started with. He had many good horses in his time. The fact that he won with them is no stretch to anyone's reasoning. What was more impressive was how often he could win with a horse of average talent and relatively little time. It turns out Bill never really needed a good horse . . . he just needed A Horse.

There are many memories of BH at the shows, flying around the arena, with seemingly no concern whether it might be a wreck or a victory. Perhaps that's why there were so many victories. He had a way of getting out in front of trouble to the point that the horse would save them both by performing beyond its own abilities. It was magical to watch, even though it often caused the rest of us to watch him from behind, sometimes a bit peeved, when it came time to get the ribbons. He always had a chance. He always made the most of it.

If there ever is another bronze made of Bill Horn, it should be of two things. Number one, his hands. They were gifted hands, knowing how much and more importantly . . . when. Bill didn't have to think about what to do, it just happened. In fact, thinking would have only gotten in the way of the magic that was in those hands. The other bronze should be of his butt. He had more feel from his seat on what a horse was doing than any man I've known. His butt could tell the future, his hands could alter it.

Bill was not a great technical teacher. Not because he couldn't explain what he was doing, but because more often than not, he didn't know. And he didn't care. He rode by feel. However, there was one particular day that I made an unscheduled trip to Ohio to discover whatever secrets he was willing to leak on the mysteries of what he did. I was in luck. We did not go to the track to ride. We did not watch videos. We never even got on horses. As luck would have it, it was Bill's day for golf. We played. In those few hours I was able to piece together why he rode the way he did. I heard about focus, feel, timing, the wonder of possibilities, and the necessity of playing the shot you have been given. More than that, I saw it. I would have missed those things had we been on horses.

Bill used few words when he actually did offer a suggestion on how to do something with a horse. His rollbacks were simply "go the other way." His lead changes were "when you get to the middle, change directions." His stops were "say whoa and pull." It was always that simple for him. And any advice on how to show was equally as short. "Good luck and don't ___ ____ ___." The blanks were reserved for his final three or four words of encouragement. It seems many have different words that filled in that crucial blank spot. For my daughter Sarah, when she was little, they were "don't color outside the lines." When she got older they were "don't leave anything left."

I was fortunate to do three clinics with Bill. He never did very many. Most never got what he tried to share. Few words, a demonstration, and then fill in the blanks yourself. It has always been the words unsaid that meant so much to those he cared enough about to make you fill them in yourself. He knew where the real game was played. Words can't describe it, but if you listened beyond what you could hear, you would catch the mystery. Only inspiration and try could make the impossible a reality. He was inspiring, and he made you try.

The sport of Reining has changed many times over the years, and Bill is responsible for most of those changes. He always found another level. His changes were fair, honest, and done the way a cowboy should do them with high expectations for the horse and integrity with his fellow horsemen. He never took another man's horse. Bill conducted himself by the unwritten code of training and true horseman's law. Perhaps he should have written them down. Some changes aren't always for the best.

Bill will be remembered. Partly for what he accomplished, but mostly for what he inspired. Possibilities. The buckles may fade, but the vision caught by those who watched will continue to create whatever is next. The silence will continue to motivate those who actually listened for decades to come. And the many stories of a man who became the cowboy that gave Reining a legend will live on forever.

Bill Horn now rides the white horses. Rest in peace.

– Craig Johnson

Dear NRHA Reiners


ALL OF BILL HORN'S AKA "BH" NRHA and NCHA accomplishments can be looked up. But it's just as important to know the Man for insight into who he really was.

There were many facets to Bill Horn. Some horse trainers see horses as a means to an end, which is to do well in horse shows. Bill was very competitive as his show record attests to. The difference was that he was a true horseman with a love for horses. I saw him work a horse hard, but never in an abusive way. Once BH, Kim and me went out to visit Miss White Trash who was retired. BH went "missing." We found him on the front lawn with his belt around White Trash's neck allowing her to graze.

Another thing people should know about BH is that he had a beautiful sense of humor. He used to "get" me often. When Trashadeous was being honored and inducted into the NRHA Hall of Fame Bill told me that we had to give a speech! Once up in front of the audience I saw BH take out his readers and a piece of paper. I thought, "He is really going to give a speech. One has to realize that was very un-BH like. He looked at the paper, smiled and said, "I'm glad you like him, so do I." End of speech!

Once at the (All American Quarter Horse) Congress there was a table with many people eating. Bill was sitting next to a little girl, Farley. He put a spoon onto his nose, which somehow stuck, and he told the girl that was his elephant trunk. He was entertaining this little one. Yes, that was also the "Great BH."

Many thought of BH as unapproachable, but he would help anybody who asked for help, not just with horses. BH was generous to a fault.

Many learned a lot from Bill Horn. One lesson I will never forget is when I saw BH's wife Kim, instructing him at a show. This was in the early stages of our relationship and I found it presumptuous that someone would give instruction to the "Great Bill Horn." I found the courage to ask him about it. He looked at me and stated, "The greatest golfers have coaches that aren't great golfers themselves. Everybody should have a coach and Kim is mine, she has a great eye. He possessed wisdom that many didn't see. I will never forget that and I've had a coach ever since.

Thanks Bill Horn aka BH.

– Mitch Zuckerman

Fellow Reiners


I Originally Thought It Would Be Easy To write a few paragraphs about the passing of Bill Horn. I would just regurgitate the statistics about all that he accomplished during his lifetime. The NRHA Futurity wins, including his last on a horse my wife Susan and I had the good fortune of owning named Spirit Of Five, the Derby victories, the Open World Championships, how I had the honor of inducting him into the NRHA Hall of Fame, introducing Bill as the NRHA's first Million Dollar Money earning rider, etc., etc., etc.

Then I came to a realization – how do you capsulate more than 35 years into three or four paragraphs? I am not intelligent enough, nor do I have the communication skills, to do that! I also realized that I wasn't there when Bill began his lifetime journey that gave us all so many memories.

I know that Bill didn't ride a horse until he was 22, 23, or 25 depending on who you talk to about it. Bill himself told me that he was 23 and it was at his brother Paul's place.

I wasn't around when he went to work riding horses and breaking colts for John Goodfellow. Then I started hearing some of the early rumblings about one of Dale Wilkinson's help that could "get a lot done!" Assistant trainers weren't in vogue as of yet. Cell phones and the internet were beyond even the wildest of imaginations and rumors took awhile to get across the state of Ohio.

I wasn't there when Bill won the Reining on Continental King after the tie with his brother Paul and Clark Bradley in Springfield, Ohio. I wasn't there when he handed the mare Im Great Too to Bob Feuerstein at the Congress after their winning run and said, "I bet they thought I was going to chump 'em." Miss White Trash was second again and Bill owned and showed her! Let me just add a little background to Miss White Trash. She was by the legendary Hall of Famer Mr Gun Smoke and she was out of a mare named Little Miss Hank. Little Miss Hank was by Hank H by the immortal King! She was the first horse Bill owned and she was purchased for him by Pearlie Horn. Pearlie Horn was Bill's mother. Not only was she the dam of Miss White Trash, but she is the grand dam of the great Trashadeous! Aside from being great horses, this speaks to the reason that these individuals had a special place in Bill's heart throughout his life!

I wasn't around when Little Miss Hank foaled the great White Trash, but I was the one who had to tell Bill that she had passed and watched the tears come to both our eyes as Bill was preparing Trashadeous. Bill was getting ready to do a demonstration for all of us reiners at the United States Equestrian Team (USET) Festival of Champions in Gladstone, New Jersey. The purpose of the demonstration was to showcase Reining as it was about to become the first western discipline to be recognized by the then USET, the then American Horse Show Association (AHSA), and ultimately the International Equestrian Federation (FEI).

This was during the same time as the NRHA Derby was being held in Oklahoma City. I won't say it didn't take a little coaxing, but Bill Horn once again realized the impact that a demonstration of this nature could have on the entire reining world and knew he'd better go to New Jersey and get it done. George Morris, the famed show jumper, Chef d'Equipe of the Olympic team, and world-renowned coach was asked what he thought of Bill's pre-demonstration warm up. Mr. Morris stated that in his opinion, everyone from the show jumping arena should be watching Mr. Horn, and I quote loosely, "minimum input, maximum effort. A true example of lightness and feel!" One of the "greatest" describing another of the "greats!" Yes, I was there for that one!

I had the privilege and honor of being around for many of Bill's accomplishments in the arena. Most importantly, I had the privilege to get to know Bill Horn – the man. Bob Julian, an old and dear friend, introduced me to Bill. A couple of years later Bob and I stumbled up Bill's drive when Mal Maguire and Rick Weaver worked for him. So did Don Boyd. The rest, as they say, is history! We were at each other's family weddings and funerals; I was the organist for Bill and Kim. Yes these were wild and crazy times! The stories didn't have to be embellished a bit! Bill's older brother Morris and I decided that most of what happened back then would probably land us all in jail today and we probably wouldn't want our children or grandchildren copying the lifestyle!

That said there is quite a bit that they could learn. Bill Horn was truly a reluctant icon! Quiet, modest, unassuming. I always thought that people were truly missing a tremendous part of Bill's talent if they only got to watch him in the show pen. He was a magician at home on the track! I know. I was there! Not every day, but quite a few. After I was elected President of the NRHA in 1998, I met Bill at the bar. He bought me a drink and said, "I'm going to give you a little advice, "Always do what is in the best interest of NRHA. Do that and you'll be fine." He shook my hand, finished his drink and went to ride. He loved his life, his horses, fellow reiners, his family, and his wife Kim. He only knew how to give all he had in him, no less. For 50 years he showed reining horses that he himself trained. The physical effort and worn out body parts go hand-in-hand. When Bill passed, there was nothing left! He gave all that he had.

We should all be so lucky!

– Frank Costantini

Read the full article at

Previous Page  Next Page

Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here