Black History Month: Cchampion horse trainer broke barriers, prejudices

by | Feb 25, 2016 | Life & Style

 

By Joe Reavis

Staff Writer

[email protected]

 

Retired horse trainer Herman Benson lived with and broke through racial barriers in a career that took him from the tiny town of Jewett in East Texas to the ranches of the wealthy in Dallas.

In spite of what he encountered, Benson, 72, who now tends his own horses in Nevada and works as a greeter at Walmart in Wylie, declared, “I had a lot of fun doing what I do.”

The horse trainer went to the segregated George Washington Carver High School in Jewett until 1959 when he left school and went to work with a horse trainer named Casey Jones, who was white, cleaning the barn and helping with elite Saddlebred horses.

“He would show me and I would pay attention,” Benson recalled. “It wasn’t long before I knew how to do it myself.”

Because he was young, just 19 years old, Benson said that he worked a lot with the colts on lead lines because he could run fast and stay out in front of the colts. He worked with Jones for more than two years before striking out on his own.

A woman from Allen, Evelyn McLane kept Saddlebreds on a ranch in the Jewett area and one day asked Benson if he would come train them if she moved the horses to her farm at Allen.

“I asked my dad and he said to go,” the 72-year-old recalled. “She gave me a place to live and a car to drive.”

Benson worked for McLane for about 18 months until she died suddenly, and immediately was offered a job as a trainer for Babs Walker of Willow Hill Stables in McKinney. He stayed on the job for 10 years until Walker got out of the horse business and moved to California.

Although the trainer was doing a job he loved, it was not always easy, especially in the early days. He encountered racism in the late 1950s and early 1960s. For example, he was not allowed to be listed as the trainer for a horse, but was placed in the lesser position of groom.

In his first shows, Benson recalled, he would ride a horse into the ring for judging and the judges would turn their backs on him without even looking at the horse. Horse shows were a white man’s domain.

“Mrs. Walker said to keep going and someday someone would look,” the trainer said. When that someday came, the horses he trained started winning. A 1960 newspaper clipping Benson keeps as a souvenir shows a picture of him astride a high-stepping American Saddlebred with a caption noting that the trainer was the first black to compete on the breed’s Southwest Circuit.

The next color barrier to breach on the horse show circuit was lodging. “It was a booger for awhile. We had to stay out with the horses. We couldn’t stay at the hotel,” he noted.

After a time, Benson was allowed to stay in the same hotel in which his employer and her family stayed. His room, though, had to be between two other rooms occupied by members of his employer’s entourage, for his safety. Other black trainers were not so fortunate and Benson recalled that he often would bring them back to the hotel in which he was staying so that they could use the shower after bedding down with the horses.

“To think about it, it was kind of funny to the way things are now,” he said. “I never thought of it any other way. I was thinking of what I had to do.”

What helped get the horse trainer through those times is the positive outlook he always exhibits. He is an optimist and always wears a smile, believing that if you maintain a positive attitude people who might not have liked you at first will change their minds.

After Walker exited the show horse scene, Benson took a job with a high voltage line construction crew. He was then offered a job training Tennessee Walking horses for Dallas billionaire Ross Perot. The trainer worked for Perot for a year, quit for 18 years, then joined him again for 16 years.

“He was a nice fellow to work for,” the 72-year-old said. As part of his job, the trainer often flew across the country on the businessman’s private jet to look at horses. Sometimes Perot would go along and other times Benson was flying solo.

One Christmas the businessman received a camel as a gag gift and instructed Benson to do something with the animal. The trainer taught the camel to pull a sulky, a 2-wheel cart used in trotting horse races.

For full story see the Murphy Monitor at http://www.etypeservices.com/Murphy%20MonitorID247/default.aspx

Herman Benson proudly shows a photo of himself atop a Saddlebred horse in 1960.

Herman Benson proudly shows a photo of himself atop a Saddlebred horse in 1960.

0 Comments

Related News

Send a letter to Santa this Christmas

Send a letter to Santa this Christmas

If you’re the parents/guardians of elementary school-age children, the Monitor is collecting Letters to Santa again this year. The letters will be printed in the December 23 edition of The Murphy Monitor. Please print out the attached document, have your child write...

read more
Dance studio makes its debut

Dance studio makes its debut

Walking into Kaiser Center for the Performing Arts for the first time, patrons might find it hard to believe it was once the site of the former home décor store, Tuesday Morning. Aisles of kitchen gadgets, shower curtains and pet beds have now been replaced with a...

read more
Gardener shares bounty

Gardener shares bounty

 Home gardener Catherine “Cathi” Banks has learned by trial and error how to get the most from the raised bed gardens that have lined her backyard in Murphy for the last six years.  In fact, Banks’ has not only had good luck with her gardening adventure, she...

read more
Homeowner goes on a kitchen garden adventure

Homeowner goes on a kitchen garden adventure

After a few years of growing the typical Texas flowers; pan­sies in the winter, impatiens in the summer in the normal front flowerbeds, homeowner Kori Hendrix realized she wanted more variety and more gardens at her Wylie home. There was ample opportuni­ty to make...

read more
Checklist for new homeowners makes a move easier

Checklist for new homeowners makes a move easier

Now that you’ve closed on your first house, you’re officially a homeowner. However, before you can get comfy in your new place, you need to actually move in. If you’ve never moved into a new house, there are a few things you may not be aware of. As you make plans to...

read more
Hit the trails

Hit the trails

I learned how to ride a bike on a pink glitter bicycle with white wheels, a cute basket, and rainbow tassel handles. As a kid, I spent countless hours ex­ploring the neighborhood streets with my matching pink helmet. Recently, I’ve been enjoying biking once again on...

read more
Set sail for fun times this summer

Set sail for fun times this summer

If I could bottle up a bit of June’s dreamy, luminescent sunshine, I would spritz it all year long to prolong that mag­ical early summer feeling. It’s practically impossible to feel sad this time of year when the outdoors beckons you every day. This is your chance to...

read more
Artisan, inventor fuse marriage, creativity

Artisan, inventor fuse marriage, creativity

Sue Darte blames her daugh­ter and a jewelry making class she took nine years ago for ig­niting a passion for the art of fusing glass. “A retail glass company had a Groupon coupon and I brought my daughter-in-law with me to make two pieces of jewelry,” Sue said. In...

read more
Make Mother’s Day bloom

Make Mother’s Day bloom

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and if you’re fortunate enough to still have your mom or grandmother in your life why not plan a special trip to honor them this year? We all know flowers and lunch are nice but how about escaping town to visit a place where...

read more