Tom Bass

Tom Bass
Tom Bass. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Credited as a founder of the American Royal Horse Show, Tom Bass was lauded for his showmanship skills. For a half century, Bass trained thousands of horses to prance, bow, curtsy, dance, do the cakewalk, and dozens of other tricks.

Bass was born a slave in 1859 in Columbia, Missouri. He moved to Mexico, Missouri, after the Civil War, where he found work as a stable boy. Bass eventually became a trainer and established a reputation for training even the most wild, violent horses.

A true lover of horses, Bass never beat horses and rarely raised his voice. He even invented (but refused to patent) a special bit that is still in use today to ease the pain that horses endure during training.

Bass moved to Kansas City in 1893 where he trained and rode some of the world's most famous horses. A suggestion made by Bass in 1894 led to the formation of Kansas City's first horse show, the American Royal. As a member of the fire department advisory committee on horses, he suggested sponsoring a horse show to raise funds to send Fire Chief George C. Hale to Europe to study types of fire horses.

In his three years in Kansas City, he trained many of the city's wealthiest citizens, including Loula Long Combs. While in Kansas City, Bass also received an invitation by Queen Victoria in 1897 to attend London's diamond jubilee with his famous horse, Miss Rex. He declined the invitation due to his fear of traveling across the ocean.

Bass performed before U.S. Presidents Cleveland, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, and Coolidge. He was also honored by Queen Marie of Romania at the St. Louis Horse Show. During his career, he won competitions at every horse show in the country, earned more than 2,000 blue ribbons, and won championships at two world's fairs. For many years, he was the only African American to exhibit at the American Royal Horse Show, where audiences remembered him as the high-hatted rider of Belle Beach, his most famous mare. Bass' grave marker in Mexico, Missouri, displays a picture of him riding Belle.

Acknowledgement: 

A previous version of this article appears on kchistory.org: http://kchistory.org/content/biography-tom-bass-1859-1934-horse-trainer-...

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Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
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