Richard Nichols trained Tennessee Walking Horses in 1960s

Published 2:36 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2022

BY C.Y. Peters
Star Correspondent
In the spring of 1968, summer was nearing when Lawrence Leonard came to visit Rick Nichols in Elizabethton. Rick attended Hampton and Elizabethton High School and there weren’t many jobs in the area in the late 1960s. Leonard wanted Nichols to go with him North like many people were doing to work in the auto industry. Go West young man was Rick’s offer, so they stuck out their thumbs and headed for California. It was the 19th day of June, and on the 25th, Rick would be 20 years old. Neither one of the men had any money, so they slept under bridges and in honeysuckle patches. Rick liked the bridge better, although it was colder, because he didn’t have to worry about the rattlesnakes.
They hitched a ride on the back of a flatbed truck and traveled 300 miles to New Mexico. Along the way, they were arrested for vagrancy and had to wire home for some money to get back on their way. They made their way to Phoenix, Arizona, where they caught a Trailways bus that took them to Los Angeles.
Broke and hungry, they looked for a job and a place to get something to eat. A man told them to go to the mission where they could stay 2-3 days and get something to eat. There were jobs they could work in the cucumber patches, picking cucumbers. Finding the place, they worked there for three weeks, wearing their fingers raw. Rick and Leonard made only $1.75 an hour but saved enough to get moving on and hitchhiked down to Santa Barbara. Running out of money on the way, they were hungry and stopped at a restaurant to ask if they could work for some food. The owner told them he would feed them a healthy meal and told them if they were ever back that way, they could pay him then.
While in Santa Barbara, a homeless man told them to go to the local mission where they could sleep for the night. There, Rick talked to a preacher who told him about a horse show that was in town. He met a man, by the name of Paul Hughes, who had the 1964 Grand Champion, Little Red Rooster. Rick stated he was the best on Tennessee Walker horses. Paul asked him to ride Candy Kay, who was a tuff horse to ride. Rick mounted the horse, took him about 200 yards and rode him back, and Hughes was amazed. He offered Rick $125.00 a week, room and board, and a truck to drive. Saving up his earnings, Rick bought a new car and a horse. He was training Grand Champion horses and also trained his friend Leonard how to train horses.
Once a man named William Maurice came to the stables looking for someone to play General Sheridan in a play back in Los Angeles. It was like a Broadway show, and many people would attend. At first, Rick told him he had many horses to train and a stable to run, but his boss told him to go ahead and go. It took four days for Rick to train Secret Weapon, the horse for the upcoming play. On the night of the show, it took the make-up people three hours to put Rick’s make-up and costume on to play the General. It wasn’t a big part, but the Tennessee Walking Horse was the main attraction. Over 25,000 people showed up to watch the play that night, and when Rick rode in on Secret Weapon, he had the horse posed, and in rare form. A standing ovation for Rick; his riding skills were a big success. After the show, Rick signed autographs for hours, and the main players in the play just watched as Rick was awarded all of the attention from the fans.
Hollywood wasn’t for Rick; he returned to Tennessee while his friend Lawrence stayed in California until 2004 when he passed away. He became one of the top trainers on the west coast. Rick trained horses, and rode for Paul and Elizabeth Loukerfer and finished third in the Grand Champion horse competition. Rick now resides in Bluff City but is thankful for the time and life lesson he learned as a young man in the 1960s.

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