Boyle trainer inducted into Horsemen Hall of Fame

January 12, 2004|HERB BROCK

This was a typical morning for veteran saddlebred horse trainer Bill Wise. He was "up early as usual working the horses" like he's been doing the past 60-plus years. But one day this weekend Wise was up late participating in a once-in-a-lifetime event.

All the early morning workouts over all the years paid off Saturday night at a ceremony in Indianapolis where the Boyle County man received the honor of his life - induction into the Hall of Fame of the United Professional Horsemen's Association.

Along with the induction by the UPHA, which is based in Shelbyville, Tenn., came a plaque whose inscription says, "For contributions to the show horse industry, training abilities and personal conduct."

"It's quite an honor. I'm both pleased and humbled," said Wise, longtime owner of Valhalla Farm on Gwinn Island Road.

"The award and induction were a total surprise to me. My wife (Christine) kept it a secret and did a good job," he said. "I didn't realize I was being inducted until they began making presentations and showing a video program. It dawned on me that I was the person they were honoring.


"I'm finally back to reality this morning, but on Saturday my mouth dropped when I heard my name suddenly being repeatedly mentioned, and it stayed that way until long after the ceremony was over," he said.

Reality for Wise has been a career in the saddlebred horse business that dates back to 1937. During that time he has trained more than 40 world grand champion saddlebreds, with many of those trophies being awarded in the peak years of his career, in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Bill's dedication to saddlebreds and the saddlebred industry is second to none," said Bob Funkhouser of Boston, Mass., a Danville native who worked on Wise's farm for several years and now is editor of Saddle Horse Report. One of the horses Funkhouser worked with during his time at Valhalla was perhaps his mentor's most famous grand champion, Surefire, in 1973-74.

"Whether it was a $500 colt or a multi-thousand-dollar champion, Bill worked hard with every horse he trained to have them ready for the show ring," said Funkhouser. "Whether it was the worst horse in the barn or the best, it didn't matter. Bill gives each horse his full attention, and that work ethic is what a lot of his assistants took with him after working under him."

Wise also has been one of the saddlebred industry's leading innovators, he said.

"Bill had great foresight as far as doing things to develop the business side of the industry," Funkhouser said. "For instance, he developed a program to pay substantial prize money to younger horses. That generated more entries in shows and more interest in the industry."

Funkhouser was one of several former employees of Wise's who went on to become successful in the saddlebred industry as trainers, breeders and in other positions. He and many of them were on hand at Saturday night's ceremony to honor him, including Randy Tabor, one of the industry's top breeders, and Randy Harper one of the industry's top trainers.

"I was very touched by the tributes Bob and the others gave me. They said they were inspired by me. It probably would have been more accurate if they had said they were driven by me," Wise said with a laugh.

Wise, a native of Tennessee, came to Boyle County with his uncle in 1941 to look at saddlebreds at George Gwinn's Gwinn Island Stock Farm. The visit eventually led to Wise's purchasing the farm and renaming it Valhalla.

"You couldn't help but be impressed with the farm, with its history - it dates back to 1778 - and its rolling fields and rock fences," said Wise, who lives on the farm with his wife, Christine. They have three children, Billie Wise of Danville, Linda Sandberg of Long Island, New York, and Kenny Germanis of Fairfax, Va.

Wise said he no longer is on the horse show circuit but is not retired.

"I don't make the circuit any more, though I do show a horse now and then," he said. "But I likely never will officially retire. Working horses is in my blood."

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