Consummate Teacher

By James B. Keogh -- December 19, 2003, was a cold, wintry day in Central Kentucky, and a very dark day for the horse industry. It marked the death of Joseph L. Taylor, co-owner of Taylor Made Farm and former manager of Gainesway Farm.

I am among those greatly influenced by Joe, the lessons he taught me influencing my every step in the horse business. The most important lesson he taught everyone he came in contact with was humility. With Joe, life was never about Joe. He had the same common touch with all he met, whether a groom or wealthy owner. He was so genuine, a humble man who was always quick to deflect praise and attention away from himself.

Though many knew him for his work with horses, they were in fact secondary in his life. The lives of the people he touched, the horsemen he mentored, and the countless deeds of goodness he performed were much more important.

Joe Taylor has the distinction of having educated more than 50 farm owners and managers. Today there are 38 active farm managers and owners in Central Kentucky that learned from Joe Taylor. I am blessed to count myself among them.

When hiring a foreman or manager, Joe would always ask their address. If a viable candidate, he would drive by and take a look at their property. "If they don't keep their premises neat and tidy, they won't mine," he told me.

Morality meant everything to Joe, and he had a simple philosophy when dealing with horse traders that often had to be guided by their conscience. He would say, "If you wouldn't be comfortable reading about it in the newspaper, don't do it."

Joe's signature was that for many years he drove black New Yorkers. What many don't know is that numerous times, when an emergency would happen and there was no time to call an ambulance, Joe would place a sick foal in his back seat and rush off to the vet clinic. Among those that owe their lives to Joe's back seat were Dancing Brave and Sam Who.

Joe was a true visionary in his quest to build a better farm and provide the safest care for horses. He was the first to realize that to minimize the risk for fire and disease on large stallion farms one should segregate the stallion population. This is a practice that has been incorporated on every major stallion farm in the world today.

When it came to building barns, Joe's advice was sought by people throughout the industry. He was responsible for the design of some of the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing barns in Central Kentucky. Joe told me that on one occasion as a young boy he saw a neighbor's barn burn to the ground. He never forgot that and always designed his barns from block. He believed in proper ventilation and maximizing the use of natural light.

In 1993, after much persuasion from family and friends, Joe wrote the Complete Guide to Breeding and Raising Racehorses. The book was an instant success and became a must read for everyone serious about setting up a horse farm.

Joe also was instrumental in forming the Taylor Made Farm intern program that provides a well-rounded education to young people from around the world who wish to pursue a career in the horse industry.

Well known for his practical jokes, Joe gave night watchmen the hardest time. He would turn off his car lights as he neared a barn to avoid the night watchman's attention. One late night after driving home with Joe from Turfway Park, he neared the foaling barn at Gainesway. With a clear view of the night watchman, we sat quietly as the man nodded off. Joe then told me to go into the barn and move the mare out of the foaling stall into another stall across the hall. Once I was back in the car Joe called the night watchman to inquire about the mare in the foaling stall. You can imagine what a fright he had.

Joe never lost sight of the human aspect of the business. He was a leader who had the ability to see the good in everyone. A great friend has been lost but his inspiration will live on.

James B. Keogh owns Grovendale, a Thoroughbred sales and management company in Versailles, Ky.