Rural Missouri Magazine

Carrying on a legacy
At Callaway Hills Stables,
Lenore "Tony" Weldon continues a proud tradition
of raising champion horses

by Jarrett Medlin
Breeding manager Rick Berry leads a brood mare toward a holding pen at Callaway Hills Stables in New Bloomfield. The saddlebred horse farm has dominated the world of show horses for generations.

Through his thin eyeglasses, Redd Crabtree can glimpse the future while reflecting on the past. At Callaway Hills Stables, he walks past stalls containing elegant saddlebred horses and scribbles comments on a small notepad. He then shares his thoughts with the farm’s head trainer, Burt Honaker.

“You might let that gray mare slow down a little and go at her own pace,” he says. “Don’t push her too much.”

Burt listens carefully to Redd’s every word and makes a mental note to follow the advice. Like any follower of the American Saddlebred industry, the young trainer realizes the spry, 71-year-old man with the note pad isn’t just any horse trainer. He is responsible for training the horse that made Callaway Hills, served by Callaway Electric Cooperative, among the most respected stables in the world.

Burt Honaker, head trainer at the stables, rides Born with Style and practices racking, or getting the horse to lift its legs high in the air. Racking is just one of many steps that go into training and “finishing” a show horse.

On 500 acres near New Bloomfield, just north of Jefferson City, Callaway Hills continues its legacy as one of the top saddlebred stables in the country.

“I’ve impressed upon a number of employees how special this place really is,” says Redd. “There will never be anything like it again.”

Redd still remembers the story well. Callaway Hills was founded in 1944, when Betty Goshorn — daughter of the Jefferson City News-Tribune’s publisher and, later, the wife of Bill Weldon — had a training barn built and purchased the first generation of Callaway Hills’ horses.

Among those mares was the mother of champion mare Kate Shriver, named after Betty’s grandmother. On May 3, 1966, Kate gave birth to a colt that would, in turn, birth a whole new generation of champion saddlebreds.

That stallion, which Betty dubbed Will Shriver, showed little promise at first. In fact, some insisted the young horse was so hard to handle that he should be gelded or put down. Instead, Betty called a trainer in Kentucky named Redd Crabtree.

Redd recalls first seeing Will Shriver at a horse show in Lexington, Ky. At the time, he thought Will was nice but “not anything special.” He knew he had a long way to go.
“I had to work him awfully hard,” Redd recalls, more than 30 years later.

“Sometimes I felt like I was working him way too hard, but he thrived on it.”

Legendary stallion Will Shriver defeated every challenger he showed against for four straight years before retiring in 1976. At his retirement ceremony, he stands with his trainer and the Weldon family. From left to right are caretaker James Rook, trainer Redd Crabtree and the Weldons — Betty, Bill, Sally and Tony.

The chestnut-colored stallion learned to lift his legs higher than any competitor and impressed judges all over the nation with his effortless motion, speed and precise gaits. During the 1970s, Will Shriver defeated every challenger he showed against for four straight years. He won the Five-Gaited division and the Grand Champion Stake at every major show in which he participated.

After his retirement in 1976, he went on to sire many more champion horses. Will died in 1991, but his legacy carries on at Callaway Hills, where his heirs continue to produce some of the best saddlebreds in the nation.

“What is so refreshing is that the sons of Will Shriver have been as successful, if not more successful, than he was as a breeding horse,” says Redd. “That’s been really gratifying to all of us, everybody in the horse business, because we all benefit when breeding horses are successful.”

Callaway Hills Stables covers 500 acres. The farm, home to dozens of champion saddlebreds, was established in 1944 by Betty Weldon.

Even after Will’s death, Callaway Hills thrived under the watchful eye of Betty Weldon. In addition to the stables, she ran the News-Tribune, the Fulton Sun and the California Democrat and started Jefferson City’s KRCG-TV in 1954, the first television station ever founded by a woman. She also remained well-known and respected as the owner and manager at Callaway Hills Stables.

In the late 1990s, however, her health began to decline and she had to turn over more responsibilities to others. She set up a trust to oversee the Weldon Holding Co., which included Callaway Hills Stables and the News Tribune Co., and appointed her daughter, Lenore “Tony” Weldon, and two long-time News-Tribune employees.

Lenore “Tony” Weldon visits with Redd Crabtree, trainer of famed show horse Will Shriver. After other trustees of the stables tried to sell Callaway Hills in 2005, Tony challenged the decision in court and won. Now, she oversees the business and continues the legacy started so long ago by her mother.

The stables continued under the management of the holding company’s seven-member board. On May 31, 2005, however, with Betty unable to voice her opinion, the board met and voted 5-1 to close the stables because of projected financial losses. At that meeting, Tony stormed out of the room before ever casting her vote, bent on stopping the sale.

“It was just so disrespectful to my mother,” she recalls. “I couldn’t just go home and let horse trailers pull up and take pregnant mares with babies at their side and sell them at a horse sale in Kentucky. I had to at least go down trying. There was no thought of acting any other way.”

Tony, a law school graduate, sued the two newspaper executives and asked for an injunction. Several months later, a judge ruled in her favor. Callaway Hills was saved — but the future leadership of the stables remained in question.

Rick Berry prepares shots for horses before his morning rounds. After working for 13 years on the training side, Rick became breeding manager last year. Every day, he checks all of Callaway Hills Stables’ 270 horses to ensure their health.

Although Tony had shown horses for years, she’d never ran the daily affairs of the stables. She’d long overseen an animal shelter on the grounds and had served as publisher of the Fulton Sun since 1996, after a decade of practicing law for Kentucky and Missouri state government. But with her siblings, Gifford and Sally, showing no interest in running the stables, she was left to take over as Callaway Hills Stables’ general manager.

About her new role, she says, “I went to a fundraiser awhile back and it mentioned the three G’s: guts, glory and grace. I always say that my mom has guts and she’s got a lot of the glory, but I think it’s up to me to follow through with the grace of how this farm is going to be handled.”

Today, she runs the farm with the help of breeding manager Rick Berry, head trainer Burt Honaker and 26 other employees. The farm, which is divided by old and new Highways 54, includes a breeding barn, a training barn and a portion of land for retired saddlebreds. In all, the grounds house 270 horses.

Rick, husband of Rural Missouri Associate Editor Heather Berry, oversees the breeding and health of the horses, while Burt trains them — an ongoing process that takes years. From teaching them to wear saddles to improving their gaits, he currently works with 61 saddlebreds

A colt born from an embryo transplant trots alongside its surrogate mother, a quarterhorse recipient mare. This colt is one of 70 to be born this year at Callaway Hills Stables. The young horses rarely wander more than a few feet from their surrogate mother’s sides. Below Left: Callaway Hills Stables covers 500 acres. The farm, home to dozens of champion saddlebreds, was established in 1944 by Betty Weldon.

Burt, who can recall as a child watching tapes of Betty Weldon and Redd Crabtree showing Will Shriver at horse shows, understands the legacy he’s helping to carry on. “It’s really an honor to say I work here,” he says.

Occasionally, he’s able to learn from Redd, the man who helped give Callaway Hills its reputation, when the legendary trainer visits the stables to offer advice.

Redd wants to ensure the stables continue the proud tradition they started so long ago by working with Tony. And, at this critical point in the stables’ history, Tony is finally ready to take the reins.
“Regardless of what happens, I’m going to make sure that the bloodlines continue and Callaway Hills lives on,” she says.

For more information, call Callaway Hills Stables at (573) 896-4226.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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