To say Jack Thomas has had a love of horses is probably an understatement. In fact, from the time he was a toddler, he’s had a passion for his equine friends. Some of his earliest memories are of crawling out of his family’s backyard, scrambling over the fence and joining his father at the horse barn. His dad would sit him atop one of the horses, and Thomas said he’d be content for quite some time. The thud of the toddler falling off the horse would usually follow, but Thomas said that wouldn’t stop him from repeating his break-a-way visits with the horses.
Perhaps his love of horses wasn’t the toddler’s only reason to sneak out to the barn; helping his father, Jack Thomas Sr., probably had a little something to do with it, too. Thomas got his love of horses honestly, as his father spent a great deal of his life working with horses.
Thomas’ parents, Morgan County natives, moved to California in 1941. Thomas’ father always had that "Westward draw" and, after moving to California, Jack Sr. managed riding stables. While living in The Golden State, Thomas’ older sister, Jackie, was born and in 1955, the couple welcomed Jack into the world. The Thomas family lived in California for 17 years, until the farm and bridle trails where they lived and worked were swallowed by the ever-expanding San Diego and replaced with shopping centers.
Three-year-old Thomas and his family moved back to Florette in North Alabama. But one thing didn’t change—Jack Sr.’s love of horses. After moving back, he took a construction job in Huntsville working with a gentleman who had Tennessee Walking Horses. Jack Sr. began working with his horses and helping on his Huntsville-area farm.
In 1961, the Thomas family purchased a home across from Morgan Farmers Co-op on Highway 31 in Decatur. True to his passions, Jack Sr. managed the property at Flint Ridge Stables which would eventually become the Morgan County VFW Post.
Despite the fact Thomas was just a child, he was his father’s sidekick. Each day, after the bus would drop him off from school, his father would pick him up and take him to the stables to help for a few hours. And, of course, his summers were consumed with helping with the horses. Thomas’ father continued to work at the VFW stables until 1971, at which point he and his wife bought property in Hartselle and built Thomas Stables.
Just before building his own stables, Jack Sr. made one business decision that would forever change his business. In 1969, a lady named Alma Watts, a friend of a friend, approached him about training her three-year-old Arabian stallion. Jack Sr. was reluctant at first.
"She called my dad, but he was reluctant," Thomas said. "One afternoon, Ms. Watts pulled up with the truck and trailer and said, ‘We want you to take this horse. You’re the person we want to train this horse and we’re going to leave you alone and just let you do it.’ Dad trained the horse and that’s how we got started with Arabians."
The horse’s name was Trique Traque and Thomas described him as a star. Thomas said it was a very, very special horse and, after working with Trique Traque, they became interested in working primarily with Arabians, which was a breed fairly new to the Southeast. Thomas was only 14 when his father began training the horse, but he said he was one of his favorite horses to work with.
Jack Sr. saw a talent in his son as he worked with the horses at the stables, and felt certain one day he would be a jockey. While Thomas was a skilled rider, he decided jockeying was not for him. He chose instead to attend farrier school.
In 1987, Jack Sr. retired and Thomas had the opportunity to purchase the stables. Since then, he’s been following in his father’s footsteps—teaching riding lessons and training horses at Thomas Stables, and he’s still focusing his work on Arabian horses.
When Thomas gets a new student, he’ll gauge their level of experience and, if they’re inexperienced, he’ll match them with a horse that is experienced and "bomb proof," which means they won’t run if the rider becomes unstable.
"It’s very difficult for [new riders] to learn on a horse that isn’t experienced," he said. "If I have a client and they want to buy a horse, we decide where they are and try to fit them with a horse. They may only keep that horse a year or two and, when they’re ready, we’ll step them up to a horse with more potential."
Thomas has had a great deal of luck over the years with his riders and horses. He said they have fun and other riders recognize that and want to board their horses at his stables.
And his riders have shown some beautiful horses. Perhaps the most recent of which is Fire Marshall Bill. Owned by Beth Ruark Wetherford and shown by her oldest son, Chase Wetherford, Fire Marshall Bill won Arabian English Pleasure Junior Owner to Ride for 13 years and under and Reserve National Junior to Ride which allows any youth rider to ride the horse.
It takes a lot of hard work to operate a successful stable like Thomas Stables, and it takes an excellent feed as well which Thomas has found in Alabama Farmers Cooperative’s [AFC] 14% Champions Choice pellets during show season and 12% Champions Choice during the winter months. Thomas also feeds AFC’s Senior Horse Feed.
"I am loyal and they are so good to me at the Co-op," he said. "We buy all of our Senior Horse Feed there. It is great! I even put some of the show horses, who need a little more bloom or weight on them, on the senior feed for a while until they fatten up a bit.
"We don’t feed extra additives. We don’t feed any extra supplements for coats. Our horses are healthy; it’s a testament to the feed because we don’t use a lot of supplements."
Thomas has been buying Co-op feed exclusively for almost 10 years, but his history with the Co-op goes back to those childhood days he spent right alongside his father.
"I can remember going with my dad to the Co-op to buy feed," he said. "It was on South Sparkman at that time. My dad would call and check feed prices, and I still remember they used to have a big board where they wrote the feed prices down. We have used Co-op products forever!"
This fall Thomas fulfilled his goal of retiring by age 55, so he won’t be spending quite as much time at the stables. But his love of horses will no doubt continue to draw him to teach others to ride. He plans to work with horse owners on their farms to help them to become better riders, and the friendly folks at Morgan Farmers Co-op will do their part to support Thomas in his equine endeavors.
Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.