For most of us, the irrevocable age of emancipation and its accompanying right of passage into adulthood concludes at 21. By age 21, child prodigy Mozart had already composed several pieces that, as he settled into Vienna and continued to churn out his brilliant compositional legacy, logged him into the chronicles of musical legend. By age 21, German-born college drop-out, Jawed Karim, left a U.S. college campus for his garage where he worked diligently with two pals on a concept that eventually sold to Google for a reported $64 million. That brainstorm, incidentally, was a video-sharing web site you may have heard of. It’s called YouTube.
But what of draft horse stallions–if they ever live to see 21? Few stallions hold fast to their health and vitality at that age, much less their life, and for most stallions at 21, virility is a ghost in memory only. Conversely, while that assertion applies to most stallions, it did not and still does not apply to perhaps the oldest living Shire stallion in North America and certainly one of the oldest in the world, Cowerslane Nomination. He, too, has enjoyed an authentic milestone at age 21 by putting on the ground a Best American-Bred and National Champion Shire stallion, Tally Ho Titan. Titan, however, wasn’t his first champion offspring. Not by a long shot. Two daughters who served as herd matriarchs and put champion get on the ground themselves have long since come and gone. His geldings have ruled the Shire performance classes and have caught the eye of more than two fingers’ worth of black Clyde teamsters. One son made history in the under saddle world and has yet to be unseated by any other Shire–and sold for a record $29,000 as a ten-year-old. He ranked, incidentally, 91st in the nation among nearly 1,000 horses listed in the United States Dressage Federation of all breeds. Yes, he was ranked against the Trakheners and Oldenburgs among others, not just the secular sandbox of Shire only, and he even had his own warmblood registration number.
Paradoxically, Cowerslane Nomination, the illustrious Shire stallion himself who lays claim to the shining stars he sired over the years was never shown: the reason was an injury that left an unsightly mass of scar tissue on one foot. Though he now, at a spry 24 years of age, wears a thick blanket during the bitter cold of winter to help him keep warm, and is served two hot meals morning and evening with supplements that some would consider extravagant, the perky senior stallion who is, by all accounts, more than just a “little long in the tooth” still settles 100% of the mares he stands to. He is very active and rules his domain with authority, keeping up with the mares and foals while running at large in the summer pastures of Tally Ho Shires in Rifle, Colorado.
This story begins about 70 years ago when Liverpool’s Edgar Parrington served in the British Royal Air Force flying bombers during WW II. While flying the sorties, it was customary to shout "tally ho" immediately before releasing the bombs from the plane. After the war and after his time in the military during which he served as a farrier, Edgar Parrington moved his family, including 2-year-old son John Parrington, to Canada, migrating shortly thereafter to the U.S. where they eventually settled in the Rockies of Colorado and opened a ski lodge they aptly called the Tally Ho Inn. The draft horse passion that followed Edgar Parrington from England set him into motion, and after two decades of life in the Rockies and continued discussions with his grown son John, the family decided that draft horses would uniquely and appropriately complement their business. In 1974, with the acquisition of cattle and a spread of property in Fraser, Tally Ho Ranch was founded and the Parringtons promptly christened it with a pair of black Clydesdales, a colt and a filly, that Edgar and John located in Boulder. The colt was gelded. When the filly turned three, they began searching earnestly for a black Clydesdale stallion to breed to their mare and start their dream herd of feather footed draft horses. As luck would have it, they could find nothing in a Clydesdale model, but instead stumbled across a black Shire stallion, and thus the story of Tally Ho Shires began.
In the beginning, there were only a handful of mares. Edgar Parrington passed the project to John who became more and more dedicated to the Shire. From those mares and that first Shire stallion, John Parrington and his wife, Nila, began raising a few foals along with their children, keeping the fillies each year to build the herd. Incidentally, the Parringtons did keep all four of their children; Kim, Rob, Jeff, and Tim and built up the family work force that helped with the ski lodge and maintained their slowly expanding Shire horse numbers that were used for hauling hay to feed the cattle and to provide sleigh rides for lodge guests.
In 1979, John purchased a stallion from Fred Weintraub and Alex Rose of Bigfoot Ranch in California. His name was Bigfoot Dirty Harry. Bigfoot Superman was eventually added as John and Nila became more serious about producing the best Shires they could–conceding that this was no longer just a hobby. When Harry died of colic and Superman was sold, John considered importing. As fate would have it, his first choice of a black colt with four high whites could not be brought to the states, and in his disappointment, he consulted with foremost Shire importer, Arlin Wareing of Blackfoot, Idaho.
Arlin had already scouted out some great prospects that year, and one was at Farnah House Farm, in Duffield, Derbyshire, England, where Jim Yates of Cowerslane Shire Horses had a black colt with a black front leg from his stallion, Tremoelgoch Donald. Arlin deemed the colt quite valuable to the scant genetic range of U.S. Shire blood at that time, and in spite of that vexing black leg that John was more than just mildly disappointed with, when the promising yearling colt was ready to make the trip across the Atlantic, John Parrington’s Tally Ho Shires of Fraser, Colorado, was poised to acquire the stallion prospect. Perched at an elevation of over 8,500 feet, the black-legged second-choice Cowerslane Nomination was added to the growing collection of Shire mares that, oddly enough, existed near one of Colorado’s famed matterhorns, Winterpark.
“I can still remember those winters up in Fraser,” John’s daughter, Kim Murchison, says while removing harness from a Tally Ho gelding after a recent cart win in Oklahoma. “It was bitterly cold, and unless you lived there you could not relate to the meaning of winter as we knew it. The snow was so high that the fence disappeared. So did cars, outbuildings, road signs and mailboxes. The horses walked right over the top of the fences for months at a time on packed snow–they were on the honor system. And so were we kids. We loved it when the snow was so deep you could step onto the roof of the house and slide off the other end.”
A winter with average snowfalls of 30 feet isn’t something that most of us relate to, nor is a mean temperature of 32 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit that earned Fraser the title for the coldest incorporated town in the lower 48. It also has the shortest growing season in the country with an average of only four to seven days which means that it can and does get frost 365 days a year. Though Fraser flashes the banner for “Icebox of the Nation,” International Falls, Minnesota, disputed that declaration and set the two towns into a longtime rivalry over who is officially the coldest.
“I don’t think that debate will ever be settled,” Kim says. “But I can tell you this, in Fraser you don’t even think about raising your own tomatoes.” Kim is leading her 18.2 hh gelding back to his stall in the humid draft horse barn in Oklahoma City. “It was extremely, viciously and relentlessly cold and snowy in Fraser. And that short growing season not only eliminated our tomato prospects, it proffered us some smaller horses. People might argue with that, but when we eventually moved the horses down from the mountains and into a gentler climate, we saw bigger foals and larger mature horses. There were likely other factors besides the endless cold season that contributed to those smaller Shires in Fraser, but our breeding program saw a prolific boom when we moved the horses to Garfield County.”
Eventually, the Tally Ho Inn of Fraser had given way to Tally Ho Construction of Rifle, and John and Nila relocated the family and their horses to a river-bottom farm in Garfield County at a more modest elevation of 5,500 feet. They are still there, and John’s reverence for English and American Shires has remained a bastion in his life–one he now shares with daughter and general manager of Tally Ho Shires, Kim Murchison.
Kim’s inference to smaller size pertains to the well-bred Cowerslane Nomination whose lineage included members of respectable stature. One such powerhouse in his pedigree is Hainton Warrant, a horse Arlin Wareing describes as a big-boned horse with tremendous presence who was also a great-moving horse. This Peterborough Spring Show champion was eventually imported by Arlin for Nelson Brinkerhoff of Michigan. But it was Hainton Jim who was perhaps the most impressive horse in Cowerslane Nomination’s pedigree, a large horse who at one time held the record for producing more champions in England than any other horse until he was overtaken by the illustrious Hillmoor Enterprise. And on the subject stallion, Hainton Warrant, echoes of his influence can be seen today in some of the horses in the Tally Ho Shire retinue, one being Tally Ho Bentley who bears a striking resemblance to Warrant with his mass and bone. “Cowerslane Nomination had this big name,” Kim says. “But in spite of the large horses in his background, he never reached 17 hh, nor did many of the other horses that matured on our Fraser property.”
By the time the Parringtons had settled into their new digs above the Colorado River just west of Glenwood Springs, the little stallion with the long-handle Cowerslane Nomination was up for barn name review. “Nation” didn’t fit, nor, most certainly, did “Cow.” It was due to Kim’s grandfather, Edgar Parrington, that the name “Govy” was affixed to the black-legged import. “My papa grew up near Liverpool, and when he was young, everyone in his village called him ‘The Governor.’ It was a sign of respect and was a nickname that followed him to this country. When the subject of a barn name came up for our stallion, my Dad suggested ‘Govy’ in honor of my papa, and that was that. Today, nearly everyone knows of our stallion as Govy and that’s what they call him.”
Long before the Govy-sired succession of Tally Ho Shires began filling Don Langille’s show barn in Meeker, Oklahoma, the Parringtons started the way most of us do, learning as we go and seeking advice from successful peers. Kim and her dad fitted and handled the horses themselves, often consulting with Sheila Grange, who at that time, lived nearby in Glenwood Springs. “When Sheila was at Argonaut Farm, she taught me so much. I remember standing at the rail during the National Western Stock Show in Denver and watching her drive, telling myself that someday I was going to show just like she did.”By the time Kim was 16, two Govy offspring were old enough to compete in harness: Bess and Baron. “Bess was one of the foundation mares that Govy put on the ground. She did very well in halter and I showed her in every performance class I could. Baron was one of the best-moving geldings we ever had and I used him in the lead of the tandem. It’s hard to believe that was 15 years ago. And both of those offspring have since passed.”
Like everyone else’s horses, the Shires of Tally Ho have been improved upon over time with a selective breeding program. “Our horses have evolved like everyone else’s. When we started out, we didn’t have the kind of horses we do now. What amazes me is that we have turned over our brood mare line a few times, and yet, Govy consistently put the right kind of horses on the ground no matter what we stood him to. Tally Ho Titan is a first-rate testament to that. So are his progeny one generation down, such as Aimee and Bentley. One longtime feature of our horses is healthy legs. I don’t know of any Tally Ho-bred horses that broke down early. Govy throws a clean joint and a decent foot, something we believe is a solid contributor to health, useable soundness and longevity.”
Perhaps the most ubiquitous and winning of the traits that Govy infuses into his get are the charming, sensible and reliable dispositions that attract so many novice draft horse people to Tally Ho Shires each year. Temperament seems to be the hands-down and most significant reason for the following the old stallion enjoys.
“It was 2002, before we ever put the Shire hitch together,” Kim says. “I had a breeding operation and of course, like everyone else, I sold the offspring to pay for hay and equipment and eventually replacement mares and another imported stallion. My husband was growing increasingly frustrated because each year I sold all the hitch gelding prospects. We hosted a driving clinic that year and used my father-in-law’s Percherons to teach the students. We had people from both coasts sign up with one person from Washington state coming out who later played a key role in launching the gelding hitch. Shires had not been a lifelong dream for her, but after driving the Percherons, she felt that the Shires were better suited for her novice status. She bought four horses from me on the spot and took them home to start Sauk Mountain Shires. My husband, Shad, was not just disappointed, he wouldn’t even speak to me because of the two colts I sold to her in that group of four. The two weanlings were a beautifully matched pair that he was convinced were the best I had ever put on the ground. And as it turned out, they were. But with a winter hay bill only a month away, I had to part with the colts and contend with his man-pout.
“Things have a way of working out. Sauk Mountain Shires brought the horses back to the Colorado Regional Shire Show the following year and stayed with us. We couldn’t believe what we saw when she took them off the trailer. The yearling was stretchy and athletic, and he had all the right parts. He was a Cowerslane grandson, just beautiful, as were the other three Cowerslane sons; a yearling and two 2-year-olds. The following year, Sauk Mountain Shires came back for the show and we promptly started them in harness. The owner was able to drive the youngsters from the get-go, and she has never looked back. Sauk Mountain Shires was a family endeavor and they were relatively new to draft horses, yet they were enamored of these calm Shires and were able to confidently handle them. That disposition is what sells my horses to this day.
“Eventually, circumstances for Sauk Mountain Shires and the friendship that resulted from our association landed the four horses–much to my husband’s delight–back at Tally Ho Shires on a more permanent basis. As everyone knows, it’s tough to get horses out on the road by yourself, but we joined efforts and were able to show the horses. Those four geldings are the foundation hitch–the first Tally Ho-bred Shires to pull Shad’s custom built wagon that he designed and constructed himself–and today, at eight and nine years old, those geldings are our main performers in harness. For Tally Ho Shires and Sauk Mountain Shires, we couldn’t be happier or more proud of the original Fab Four of which three are Govy sons and the fourth is a grandson.”
The most renowned of the four geldings is 18.2 hh wheeler and former National Reserve Champion gelding, Tally Ho Bentley. Kim’s face glows when she talks about him. “He is Govy’s most famous grandson, a colt from Bess who was a long-time producer for us. Bentley was superb in harness at the National Shire Show in Oklahoma this year. The older he gets, the better he gets, and for a big horse he can sure move. Like many of Govy’s get and grand-get, Ben is a very late bloomer. He grew until he was seven years old, and it’s really not unusual for our horses to take their time maturing,” she laughs. “But when they finally arrive, they arrive with stomp.”
Sauk Mountain Shires is not alone in the praises they have for Govy. On the opposite coast, Bar Harbor, Maine’s Wild Iris Ranch is just as enthusiastic about the old stallion. “Cowerslane Nomination is a wonder horse,” owner Sandi Read states. “I love the style and temperament that stallion is known for. It shows in every baby on the ground.”
For Sandi Read, a Morgan was going to make her the ideal trail horse. That’s what she was determined to find that fall day back in 2005 as she considered the Morgans presented to her for consideration at Argonaut Farms in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. After a while, she strolled off to give more thought to the spirited Morgans that she knew in her heart were too much horse for her at this juncture in her life. Hiking around the gorgeous farm, she scaled a hill and came to a stone wall pasture where the three remaining Argonaut Shires–a 2-year-old named Argonaut’s Nomination Truman, and the last two Shires of the Argonaut hitch, 28-year-old Doc & Ed, were grazing. “No one was around so I scrambled over the wall and Truman trotted right up to me, put his head on my shoulder and I was in love. All thoughts of getting a trail horse left my mind and were replaced by dreams of driving Truman. I had always loved drafts and went to every Budweiser Clydesdale appearance I could find. This was a chance for me to at last acquire one of the heavy horses. Truman wasn't for sale but I was persistent and his owner finally relented and Truman came home with me. Thus, began our journey together with neither of us knowing a thing about driving. I learned that his sire was Govy, and after a bit of research, I knew that with those genetics, he had everything going for him. Like Govy's other offspring, Truman had very tidy joints and a nice foot. He also proved to be gentle, smart and was a fast learner. He was extremely patient while I repeatedly made mistakes fastening harness and hooking carts. When harness slipped off his back because I hadn't fastened it properly, Truman would just stand there and wait for me to throw it back up on his back. I should also mention that he wasn’t small: he weighs about 2,100 lbs. and stands over 18 hh. Like all Govy babies, he was slow to grow up and now at seven years old I think he has finally reached his full height.”
Argonaut's Nomination Truman, by the way, was the last Shire bred at Argonaut. His dam died of colic shortly after he was born, and Sheila Grange, the barn manager at the time, bottle fed him until he was old enough to keep Doc and Ed company.
“Like other Govy offspring owners, my love affair with this Shire gelding continues, and Truman has nabbed several champion gelding awards and has placed very well in cart classes. I really enjoy driving him and we try to attend as many draft horse shows as our schedule allows. I might add that I was so taken with Truman, I have since purchased three other Shires including a filly also sired by Govy. They are each wonderful horses with the kind of attitude that keeps you devoted for life.”
Perhaps the most radical recruit that Govy is credited with is Nancy Fry of Echo Valley Shires in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, one of the most renowned owners of a Cowerslane Nomination offspring in the U.S., but not in the traditional sense. Though her story is emphatically far from the norm, her life with Tally Ho King Arthur is no less captivating. The Shire stallion that Nancy purchased at an auction remains today the most acclaimed Shire in the United States Dressage Federation history with scores that not only nabbed him the Shire championship three years running, but scores that prevailed luminous in the top 10% of all breeds in United States Dressage Federation competition. His unprecedented triumph put Echo Valley Shires on the map as a breeder of top-shelf riding Shires. Eventually, it was King Arthur’s fame that encouraged other under-saddle admirers to step up to the plate including one of the most recognized groups in the U.S., the Shire Riders of Norco, California, who enjoy Tournament of Roses Parade fame.
Over the years, a string of family members including matriarchs in the brood mare contingent–all sired by Govy–and colts and geldings throughout the Tally Ho brigade have laid claim to Regional and National titles. From 1994 to 2005, the get from Govy were laying claim to successes from Peublo to Los Angeles; as a weanling, Tally Ho Legend was National Reserve Grand Champion Shire stallion. Tally Ho Royal Laddie was also the National Reserve Grand Champion Shire stallion as was Tally Ho King Arthur. Both Tally Ho Lady Midnight and Englander’s Mae West–two of Govy’s most prolific daughters–were winners on the show circuit and in the breeding barn. Tally Ho Griffin was Reserve Grand Champion Gelding in Los Angeles at the 2004 Western Regional Shire Show, the same year Tally Ho Buckley claimed Junior Champion stallion. In 2005, at the National Shire Show in Rifle, Colorado, it was Bentley, Buckley and Dickens who took top honors in the unicorn class with fancy lead horse Tally Ho Dickens catching a lot of attention. “We’ve had several people offer to take him off our hands,” Kim laughs. “He’s the best moving horse Govy ever put on the ground."By 2008, it was obvious that the 22-year-old Govy was not losing any ground where champion Shires were concerned. It was the yearling Tally Ho Titan handled by Don Langille that launched a show ring onslaught with wins from Denver to Harrisburg. Titan was Supreme Draft Stallion under judge Brian Coleman at the National Western Stock Show, and later that year he collected the National Grand Champion Stallion title at Harrisburg under judge Marion Young. He also won Best American-Bred Shire Stallion.
“Govy is one of those stallions that is so rare,” Kim tells me. “He was a genetic stroke of luck, one of those horses who put great horses on the ground for two decades. And to look at him you would never guess it, my little stallion who isn’t even 17 hh.”
Today, John Parrington is still as proud of his Shires as when he began. “You’ll breed horses for 30 years before you get another one of these,” he says, slapping the rump of a massive home-bred gelding that he is obviously fond of. It is impossible to mistake the pride and devotion that drives him as he hooks the tugs up on the britchen and drives a team out of the alley toward a forecart. “It’s amazing what that old horse has done for us, and it’s funny when people visit. You tell them that the foundation of horses on this farm is from the old stallion we imported 23 years ago, the one standing over there along the fence line. You watch them working that mental calculator in silence as they try to absorb what you’re saying. You have to assure them that their math is right.”
And though most of his time is consumed as a contractor putting up Sentinel buildings in Garfield County, John never misses their annual farming day, a local event they host on a chosen spring weekend that draws in visitors and draft horse owners alike with the Shires of Tally Ho leading the event by plowing and harrowing the pastures.
“These days we grow some pretty big foals. And the tomatoes do pretty well here, too.”