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Mary Anne Hughes


By Tom Brannon

The Mid-South Horse Review has had the privilege of interviewing many horse breeders and trainers over the years, and passing along a bit of their experiences, knowledge, and wisdom.  We were recently honored to talk to Mary Anne Hughes from Hickory Valley, Tenn., now residing in Florida, whose farm in Hickory Valley once produced some very fine Tennessee Walking and gaited horses for field trialing and showing.

Mary Anne grew up in Hickory Valley in the 1940s and 1950s. “My horse connection began at a very young age, with my Shetland pony, and advanced to the breeding of Tennessee Walking horses, starting in 1989,” Hughes recalled. “My grandfather and father were excellent with horses, both riding their saddle horses on the family farm where we lived in Hickory Valley.

“The acquisition of a singlefooting gelding, named Dan, that my Dad traded an A-Model Ford for, allowed me to bond with this ‘renagade’ energetic 14-hand horse, every day after school.  After weeks of climbing on the gate to give him apples, I finally got enough courage to climb on his back without any tack.  We became inseparable for the rest of my teenage years. This amazed everyone in the small town because of Dan’s bad reputation.  Eventually, Dan was sold to a person in a town over 30 miles away. My parents were surprised to hear a horse whinny at breakfast time the next day and looked out the window to see the unbelievable sight of Dan standing there. He had decided to come home!  I was not told about his return home until after I graduated from college in 1957.”

Anne met her future husband, John Parry Hughes, in their sophomore year at Grand Junction High School. His family had moved from North Easton, Mass., to the Ames Plantation near Grand Junction, Tenn. His father (who had emigrated from Wales) was the Ames’ butler and his mother (who had emigrated from Sweden) was the Ames’ head cook. 

While John was in the Navy, joining in 1954 and serving on the Submarine USS Clamagore, Anne was at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. “We kept the letters flowing during that period,” Anne said. Anne graduated from college in 1957 and the couple married on August 7, 1958.

The couple moved to Florida, where Anne taught second grade in Hollywood, Fla. and then served as a Media Specialist, retiring in 1988 after 30 years with the system. John worked for the South Florida Water Management District.

“My career kept me very busy, so my free time didn’t allow my passion for horses for almost ten years,” Anne said. “When John recognized that I was ready to get a horse again, he suggested we go to Hialeah Race Track and buy a Thoroughbred from a claiming race. We selected Makesco, a 7-year-old, 16.2-hand chestnut gelding for me to ride and train as a hunter jumper.  I entered local English shows and began winning ribbons.  I’ll never forget riding back to the stable with the trophy in Hunter under saddle, along with second place in equitation and a third in pleasure. Makesco did me proud!

“At a show in Coral Springs, Florida, the judge, ‘Don’ Julio Valls, asked to see me after the show. John and I were rather perplexed about this, but approached the judge, who was the former head of the Havana Military Academy in Cuba and a refugee from the Baptisia revolution.  He complimented my horse and thought he would be suitable for dressage. His criteria for a good dressage horse were conformation, intelligence, and temperament.  He wanted to know if I would allow him to train and exhibit the horse and, in exchange, he would teach me dressage.”

When Anne and John retired in their early 50s, they decided to move back to the family farm in Tennessee and breed horses.  Of the 250 acres, John personally fenced 65 acres for pasture, and they eventually had as many as 30 horses at one time for riding and breeding stock. Mary Anne was the rider in the family and John, who passed away in 2008, enjoyed running the farm.

Their farm was only two miles from Ames Plantation, so they participated in the field trials and other activities at Ames, including the Bird Dog National Championship. They also got many referrals and buyers of TWHs from field trailers.  Horses bred and raised by the Hughes found homes throughout the United States and Canada.  For many years they would donate a colt to the Ames Plantation auction to help raise funds for the field trials.

Mary Anne did not lose her passion for showing either, but switched to TWH shows, including the Celebration in Shelbyville. “Itallied up the number of breeds that I had ridden before selecting the outstanding TWH and was surprised to learn that I had the opportunity to ride over 18 different breeds,” she said. She liked to show young colts and fillies in halter classes and once got a purchase offer from another contestant whose strategy was to buy the competition, so that his horse would always win. Mary Anne declined the offer.

John’s nephew Nicholas Hughes began coming down from Ohio at age 14 to spend the summer at the farm and help train and show the horses. Each summer Nicholas would take on a new project horse.  Nicholas eventually attended Mississippi State University and now rides and shows horses at his home in Ohio.

One of Mary Anne’s favorite stallions was Poison, out of the Pusher line, and one of her favorite fillies was Lettus Mahhvlus Poison, who she showed and won with at shows in Pulaski and Jackson, Tenn., Ohio, and Corinth, Miss.  Mahhhvelous Poison won Horse of the Year in Ohio. “Our breeding was expanding, with foals galore in the spring. We purchased a blue roan mare from Mississippi and bred her to Silver Design, which resulted in some beautiful foals. “
In her later years, Mary Anne liked to trail ride with her friends in Hickory Valley on her favorite TWH, Bullet’s Ricochet.She would also occasionally join a fox hunt or hunter pace in the area.

Now living in Florida and no longer able to ride or run her farm, Mary Anne has many fond memories of her horses. She has also made several new friends who are previous horse owners at her new home in Florida. They all get to share their past experiences and stories about their horses.

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