Canadian Times


of the Tennessee Walking Horse

  September 2002

 PEARL TOMPKINS 1905 – 1995


Pearl Tompkins, the first Honourary Member of the CRTWH, bred Tennessee Walking Horses in Big Arm Montana.  Although introduced to Walking Horses in the early 1940’s, she didn’t purchase her first registered TWH until 1957.  Pearl is typical of most of us when she says,  “Gettin’ in the Walking Horse business was not planned.  I bought my first Walkers because I liked them and wanted to own one.  I liked Walkers because of their comfort, intelligence and gentle nature”.

When I met Pearl, I had no idea of the impact this colourful crusty lady had on TWH’s in Canada.  The more I learn about the history of TWH in Canada the more I appreciate her contribution.


The best way to know Pearl is to listen to Pearl.




“Well, Marjorie, you asked me to tell you what I look for in a breeding stallion.”

“The first thing I look at in a horse, whether it’s going to be a breeding stud, or a broodmare or whatever, I look at its head first.  If he has a bad head, you don’t want him no matter what the rest of him is.”

“Unless some person who has been training the horse has spoiled his disposition, to look at a horse that hasn’t been ruined, I just look at his head and I know what he is.  His disposition shows right there.”

“If he’s got big eyes on the side of his face so he can really see like he ought to, he’s got small ears, alert, and just a flat out pretty head, because his head tells you what his disposition is – his natural disposition – and unless he has a naturally good disposition, what good is he?  You want him to pass that on?” “So, pick him out with a good head.”

“And then he needs a short back, and above all, another thing I really look for is a long shoulder and that shoulder is supposed to start at the back of his withers.  And then a slanted line up from the point of his shoulder.  But the reason for that is because he needs that long shoulder, for we’re talking here of a horse that’s going to be real active.  He needs to get that front end out from under him whether he’s a show horse or chasing a cow or going down the road, he needs to be able to walk free and easy.  So with a long shoulder and a long hip he is going to have a short back, and a short back is what I look for.  I just don’t like long backs.”

“Mr. Brantley and other good trainers in Tennessee have told me that a horse’s neck is supposed to come up out of his shoulders.  You just don’t want a neck that kind of drops off in front of his shoulders.  It’s just as logical as anything.  If he’s got his head up in the air and he’s got a good long shoulder, he can work his front end.”

“If you just take a horse that’s well proportioned – evenly.  You don’t want one with a long slim belly on him.  He needs substance.  I guess that’s what you get if you pick one that’s sort of compact.”

“And you start there, and he’s got a pretty head, he’s got a good neck and a good shoulder and a good back and a good hind end, and his legs are straight and strong, then, or course, you want his way of going  But if he’s got the right conformation, I think he’ll have the right way of going.  Usually he will.”

“I put that good disposition #1 – I wouldn’t have a mean stud, no matter how good he was.  Then also I’d want him to have his natural way of going – Just that good easy way.”

“I don’t know how much more I can tell you.  I can just see the picture in my mind.  But I’ve tried to because you have a lot of good horses now up there in Canada.  And we know there are a lot of them.  But I would still say that a good head is essential – because that’s where his brains are – and that kind of goes along with disposition too.  Wide between the eyes, and big eyes that look at you, and if somebody hasn’t already spoiled that horse, he’s just going to be alright.”

“You want a stallion’s colts to look like he looks, so when you are picking out a stud, pick one out that you think is consistently enough bred.  Sometimes you’re lucky, even with a stud with a pedigree that, as the old saying goes, has  “a dog from every town’ and all that stuff.  Once in a while you’ve got that kind of a horse.  But I’m a firm believer in bloodlines.”




“The first meeting I went to in Tennessee, I went down there because that outfit in Tennessee was going to fix it so we up there in Montana didn’t have any registered horses.   There was only one thing for anybody to do in our bunch, and I got elected to go down there and meet ‘em.   They didn’t have any more idea how big this country is than flying.  When they found out we were trying to get our colts registered up there where I was, in the frozen north, they told us what we ought to do.”

“They said, ‘you just get a couple of guys together and go out and bring in all them horses and we’ll just send our crew up there, a couple of guys in a pickup, and you just bring all your horses to this one place and then we’ll inspect ‘em and we’ll register them and everything just goin ’be hunky dory’.”

“Imagine.”  I said, ‘If you guys do what you think you’re going to do, you’re going to kill the walking horse in our country and Canada.”  And they said, ‘Oh, we don’t have to worry about Canada.’  That’s what they said, right there in that meeting.  They didn’t have any idea what they were talking about.”

Apparently, Pearl made her point.  Those fellows in
the pickup truck never did show up in Montana.




“I guess I proved that when I studied in that isolated winter – I didn’t have any T.V. and I had very few callers that winter – kind of snowed in up there – and I really studied my books, all winter long, just concentrated on that, until I knew that the bloodline I wanted was the Merry Boys.”

“And I’ll never forget, when I had studied all winter (you want to remember that was a darn long while ago) I called Mr. Brantley up – Mr. French Brantley – because I thought, after all that studying around, I thought who but Mr. Brantley would know?  I knew he was honest; that is one thing I knew, that Mr. Brantley was strictly honest.  I called him up and I said, ‘I want a stallion with all the Merry Boy blood I can get, and I don’t want a drop of Midnight Sun’.  And I heard Mr. Brantley snort on the phone, because that was a radical thing to say.  Midnight Sun was in his heyday at that same time and I understood that all right.  Except that I did not want the bigger type:  I wanted the little Merry Boy type.”

“And it just didn’t seem like I was going to get a stud that was all Merry Boy because Midnight Sun was really up there then.  That was the time when he and Merry Go Boy were rivals and having their feuds, and sometimes one would win and sometimes the other, so there was no choice there.  It just boiled down to the different types that they were.  And Ben Green’s book was where I got really, really everything.  I studied everything I could get and I was just nothing else but lucky when Mr. Brantley finally said, after we’d stood and talked for half an hour, (and he didn’t know who the dickens I was, up there in the frozen North) but finally, and I can hear his voice yet, he said, ‘You know, I’ve got a little stallion, but he’s awful small.’  And then he told me that the stud was all Merry Boy – and I bought him sight unseen.  I sent Mr. Brantley a cheque for that stud.”

“Now this is the most important thing.  Just remember I had studied everything I could get my hands on and Merry Boy was the type I wanted.  I knew very well that there were two types.  I had no use for the bigger type – never did.  And if you want to go back in your horse history also, here’s a thing that’s kind of funny.  The old timers said, ‘No good little horse ever beat a good big one.’  Well, you know there’s a lot of logic there.  But that is why, though, that little gem, is the reason I think that those boys in Tennessee would pick the bigger horse.  Longer legs, and well naturally, it’s just as the old timers said. Just as true as it could be.  But I wasn’t out for speed or something like that.  It was disposition I was looking for and a natural way of going.  Like the book came out and said, Merry Go Boy traveled like the fairy in the dell.  And he did, and he passed it on too.”

“And the reason I feel he passed it on pretty good is because he is pretty concentrated.  There isn’t much of anything else in him.  But anyway, I just happened to be plumb lucky – I don’t suppose that there was another stud in Tennessee that could say that he was Merry Boy on both sides.”

“I want everybody to understand, if they listen to anything I say, that I am NOT belittling Midnight Sun.  I’ve got all the respect in the world for that old kid.  It’s just that he was not my kind of horse.  So if whoever wants that type of a horse, that is the type to go for.”




“As I see it, Pearl Tompkins was one of the main outlets for the walking horse in the northwest.  She was one of the first to import walking horses into that area on a pretty good scale.  And it goes without saying that she has the reputation of being honest in her dealings with horses.  She used to come back (to Tennessee) to buy horses that she would take back to Montana.  She always tried to get those horses into the hands of people who would appreciate them.  She engineered the horse pretty well up in that area.  When she put her approval on a horse, it meant something.  She certainly played a prominent role.  Pearl Tompkins truly loves the walking Horse.  I believe she feels she does people a favour by introducing them to the walking horse.  And she rejoices with the owner when she sells a colt and it’s a success.”



“They make just darned good cow horses.  They can do anything any Quarter Horse can do, only they do it easier.  That’s what I’ve always said – they just do it easier.”

“And if you’ve never ridden one, well you’ve still got the biggest thrill of your life comin’.”

“I saw a two year –old filly that was good enough to be a ‘suitcase’ to bring up a Go Boy’s Shadow horse.”

“He didn’t look like much, he was a little thin, but I fattened him up until I darn near killed him.”

“The mark of a good stallion is his colts.  I never envisioned in my wildest dream having the horses I now have but Shadow’s Brantley was the greatest thing that happened to my business.”

“So then they found out that the colts from Go Boy and Midnight Sun were what they called a ‘golden cross’.  They had Go Boy’s way of going and Midnight Sun’s power and size, and they put those two top notch ingredients together and, Boy, that’s where they had their ‘golden cross’.  But I say that the bad thing about that was they just forgot all about trying to hang onto the Go Boy OR the Midnight Sun stuff.  They forgot all about that.”

“In all the years I’ve raised horses I’ve never yet had a vet have to help a colt out of a mare.  Exercise is what they have to have.  The ones that have trouble are the ones kept in a small lot, and can’t get out and exercise.  And I’ll tell you another theory you can read in the books that is wrong – they say this mare’s going to have a colt, so she’s gone off and hid herself.  Mares don’t go off and hide.  Most of them want to be right there where the rest of the mares are, because those others will protect her.

“Well you don’t keep all studs.”

“It’s something my whole darn life is tied up in.”


THANKS TO: WALKING HORSE NEWS (1985, 1993), Marjorie Lacy,
Jo-Anne McDonald, Jo Kingsland