AQHA World and Congress Champion Tom Chown passed away on Monday at the age of 67.
Chown was born in in California and started riding by the time he was 4, when he started helping his grandfather, Reno Chown, prepare Palominos for the Rose Parade. Tom’s father, Clarence Chown, trained horses and built western movie sets in Hollywood, until 1964, when he started the Rawhide Ranch in Bonsall, California, where some of the industry’s top trainers – Charlie Cole, Brad Jewett and Matt Mills – learned to ride. Breaking colts was a daily chore for Tom. His father brought in wild horses by the double-loaded stack trailers, for his boys to break. Little did Tom and his half-brothers know that those experiences would someday serve as the base upon which they would each build their own World Championship careers. Leonard Davis earned his AQHA World Championship title in Working Cow Horse. Troy Davis captured a WCHA Championship title; Robert Chown claimed an AQHA World Championship title in Reining and Tom in Western Pleasure.
By the time he turned 14, Tom had already begun training horses for the public, showing at the California open shows in most all events. He took as many as 14 horses to the contests but had to have someone else transport them as he was not yet old enough to drive. His nickname was “boy trainer” and Tom spent hours observing, making mental notes on what worked and what didn’t work. He developed his own style by watching some of California’s greatest professional horsemen – Bobby Ingersol, Ronnie Richards, Bill Ink, John Hoyt (from Arizona) and Les Vogt.
When he was 24 years old, Tom met Jerry Vawter, who taught him the conformation and pedigree of the breeding business and convinced him to participate in American Quarter Horse Association shows. His first stop was the Arizona Sun Circuit where he first saw Jerry Wells, Tommy Manion, Larry Sullivant and Matlock Rose. He ended up selling four of the five horses he took there. By October, Tom found himself in the market for a couple of Reining horses so he headed to the All-American Quarter Horse Congress for the first time. He has said that it only took one trip there to know that one day he would himself compete there.
Through Vawter, Tom became friends with Sullivant, who was from Gainesville, Texas. Chown began traveling with Sullivant and Manion buying and selling horses together and before long Tom realized Texas was the place to be. Land was purchased in Pilot Point and he established Tom Chown/Willowtree Farm. Not long after moving to Texas, Manion asked Tom for some help with a 1979 brown stallion by Docs Hotrodder and out of Miss Clique, that he had in for training in western events. Tom thought he was such a trainable horse that he decided to to buy him. With the help of Vic and Shirleyne Clotts, Hotrodders Jet Set was soon purchased and Tom’s career as a stallion owner began. Over the next decades, Tom would be associated with many other highly decorated stallions, like Radical Rodder, Protect Your Assets, Triples, Hot Impulse, Don’t Skip Zip, Eternal Impression, Simply Hot, Hot Pretense, Hot Attraction and Green With Invy.
Chown and his (then) wife, Carrie Oakley, raised AQHA Reserve World Champion My Bodys Hot, a 1988 bay mare by Hotrodders Jet Set and out of Carrie’s mare, Delea Siemon (also inducted into the NSBA Hall of Fame in the Breeding Horse Category in 2007). In 1990 Tom claimed a unanimous AQHA World Championship title in the 2-Year-Old Open Western Pleasure on My Bodys Hot by placing first on all five judges’ cards.
Tom and Carrie also raised AQHA World Champion and NSBA Hall of Fame sire Radical Rodder and sold him to Diane Chilton-Harper and her husband, Dr. Howard Harper, of Pilot Point, as a yearling. Tom broke him as a 2-year-old and showed him to a bronze championship in the 2-Year-Old Open Western Pleasure at the 1993 AQHA World Championship Show, where he was the highest placing stallion in the class.
Throughout his career, Tom Chown had the opportunity to show such decorated horses as Radical Looking, Shes Sultry Hot and Rhapsody In The Rain. He earned Congress Championships and Reserve Championships in Reining and Western Riding in addition to Western Pleasure and trained and coached Congress Champions in Horsemanship and Trail. In addition, Chown earned World Championship titles from the PHBA and APHA.
In 2006 Chown was inducted into the NSBA Hall of Fame in the Individual Category and in 2007 he was one of 70 professionals called upon by the AQHA and NSBA to meet and develop a standardized system by which all Western Pleasure exhibitors are judged.
In 2014 Chown established Tom Chown Horsemanship and he has been conducting training clinics in Horsemanship, Showmanship, Pleasure and Western Riding all over the United States and in Europe. He also helped establish successful breeding programs, contributing to facility design and equine management strategies.
Chown is survived by a son, Mathew, Gainesville; daughters, Amber (Rob) Chambers, San Diego, California; Courtney (Aaron) Moses, Gainsville, Texas.