Mary Anne Parris: A Horsewoman Who Made Halter Horse History

Mary Anne Parris: A Horsewoman Who Made Halter Horse History

She was one of the first women to make her mark in the halter arena, showing stallions like Mr Impressive.

Mary Ann Parris stands with Mr Impressive in a conformation profile photograph.

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Mary Anne Parris’ story begins in 1943, on the arid, dusty flats of West Texas 30 miles south of Lubbock. The Parris family, fresh from West Virginia, had taken up ranch life. That was perfectly fine for the horse-crazed Mary Anne, who at the age of 9 struck her first horse-trading deal – she and her father would swap a passing grade at school for a horse.

The deal complete, Mary Anne had her very first horse.

A few years and a few horses later, Mary Anne traded up a handful of horses and some bottle lambs for her very first registered American Quarter Horse.

“Her name was Miss Abe,” Mary Anne said. “She was (registration) Number 15527.”

How a Halter Horse Breeding Operation Took Shape

Mary Anne barrel raced Miss Abe and raised a few colts out of her before she swapped those horses for a 2-year-old stallion she bought from employer C.E. Hobgood. Then, she swapped that horse for a 1948 Little Jodie mare named Miss Red Ant.

In 1959, Mary Anne’s high school classmate Joe Kirk Fulton bought high-point halter stallion Aledo Bar from breeder B.F. Phillips Jr., and the deal required a test breed to prove the stallion’s fertility. Mary Anne’s mare was in heat, and so Miss Red Ant produced the very first foal by the Steel Bars stallion, which Mary Anne named Lady Aledo Bar. Mary Anne began to haul the filly, along with her homebred filly, Skipity Miss, as babies.

“They started winning grand championships as yearlings,” Mary Anne said. “That was quite unusual in those days. The more I showed, the more I got interested in it and the further I went.

“I just went on from there,” she continued. “It started out as a hobby and turned into a profession.”

Becoming a Professional Horsewoman

When she went to shows, Mary Anne watched the best showmen she could find – George Tyler and Matlock Rose. She learned from watching how they showed their horses and how they groomed them.

Mary Anne and Judy Hayes were pioneers in the halter pen, becoming some of the first women to successfully show top halter horses.

Mary Anne met Pat Lemmon in 1963, and the women showed together for years. They partnered on the Otoe stallion Hard To Beat, whom Mary Ann bred out of Lady Aledo Bar, now an AQHA Champion. The stallion became an AQHA Champion himself, was named the 1968 high-point halter stallion and went on to become a sire.

“She had an eye for a horse,” Pat said. “She could take one look at a horse and decide whether it’s a good one or forget it. I haven’t known a whole lot of people who were quite as talented as picking out a good horse as Mary Anne was.”

Old-School Halter-Horse Fitting Program

Working during the day, Mary Anne exercised her horses at night. To keep them fit, Mary Anne would fit them in the bar ditches around her barn. Threading the lead rope through the pickup truck window, she would trot the horses for miles through the sandy soil that built up from the Lubbock wind.

“Oh, they just got in excellent shape,” Pat said.

Mr Impressive and Well-Rounded Horses

Mary Anne worked for a number of top outfits, including MBJ Quarter Horses, where she showed Mr Impressive to an open Superior in halter. The stallion also earned the 1976 world champion 2-year-old stallion title with Matlock Rose at the lead, and a year later was top-five in junior western pleasure at the AQHA World Championship Show, open high-point western pleasure stallion and a top-10 open year-end halter horse. In 1978, he earned his open AQHA Champion title.

Mary Anne showed AAA racehorse Diamond Sun Joe to AQHA Champion honors and also showed top horses Mr Cajun (1965 open high-point halter stallion), Lucky Stroke (1983 open AQHA Champion and open performance Register of Merit), and two more top Aledo Bar mares out of Miss Red Ant – AQHA Champions Aledolita Bar and Ima Star Too.

“She was just a good horseman, period,” remembered trainer Dave Williams, who knew Mary Anne for a half century. “She was a good lady and would tell you just like it is. She worked hard and did it all on her own.”

“She was tireless,” Pat said. “She could drive for miles and miles, get to a show at whatever hour it was, put the horses up, get an hour or two of sleep, and then come out and get the horses ready and show. She was just indefatigable. Her horses always were in tiptop shape and excellently groomed. And she was really a talented showman. She could get out there and show stallions, geldings and mares all the same.”

From Quarter Horses to Thoroughbreds

Later in her career, Mary Anne moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and began working with Thoroughbreds, eventually owning Winning Ways Farm near Lexington.

Mary Anne fondly remembered her career with Quarter Horses, and said she most enjoyed showing her own horses, Aledolita Bar, Lady Aledo Bar and Skipity Miss.

“But Mr Impressive was probably my favorite,” she said. “He was just a good horse. We could show him at halter in the morning and show him in pleasure in the afternoon. He was the kind of horse that represents what the Quarter Horse should be, and he had a lot of influence on the breed.”

As for Mary Anne, her fellow horsemen held her in high esteem.

“She (was) just a wonderful person,” Pat said. “I don’t think she had a single enemy. We would go to a horse show, and she knew everybody and everybody knew her.”

Multiple world champion trainer, AQHA Professional Horseman and judge Jeffrey Pait recalls seeing Mary Anne at horse shows when he was a kid.

“You were just in awe of her, because she had those stallions,” he said. “She was a force to be reckoned with, and she held her own with everybody. She showed a lot of good horses. She was quite a horseman and quite a lady.”

Mary Anne died in 2014.