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‘On the map’

Sevierville’s Snappwood Farm is gaining fanfare with its expertly trained, championship-level walking horses
Story and photos by: Chris Villines 8/7/2019

 

Chris Helton takes a break aboard Smoky Mountain Strong, a 2-year-old stallion and one of 26 Tennessee walking horses he trains at Snappwood Farm in Sevierville. Chris puts these horses through the paces to prepare them for horse shows throughout the South, including the prestigious National Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville.
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Jimbo Conner had the will, but not the way to turn his Sevierville walking horse operation, Snappwood Farm, into a premier training facility for his horses and the horses boarded at the farm by outside owners from as far away as California.

Then he met Chris Helton. Everything changed.

With Chris coming on board as trainer in 2013, Snappwood, established in 2004, has steadily climbed the ranks of the industry’s top show-grooming grounds. A Hawkins County native, Chris oversees a stable of 26 equine athletes, putting them through their daily paces to be show-ready.

“We’ll typically get here about 7 o’clock in the morning and train horses all day until around 5 or 6 o’clock,” says Chris, who is assisted in the operation by Brandon Ailshie and Wesley Allen. “It’s a lot to pack into every day, but I love it and can’t imagine doing anything else. These horses are a pleasure to ride.”

For evidence of Snappwood’s ascent, look no further than last year’s National Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, the “Super Bowl” event of the annual show circuit which runs this year on Aug. 21-31. Snappwood leases a satellite barn in Shelbyville.

At the 2018 Celebration, both Jimbo and Chris took home world championships — Chris aboard Playing Gin in the Three-Year-Old World Grand Championship and Jimbo aboard Jose’s Red Rock in the Owner Amateur Novice Riders on Novice Walking Horses World Grand Championship.

“That really put us on the map,” says Jimbo, whose company, Conner Properties, owns several developments in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. “A lot of folks didn’t know much about us, but they do now.”

Jimbo says his sky-high confidence in Chris has only grown over time.

“It only took a year or two of him being here for me to realize that Chris can train with anybody out there,” says Jimbo. “He takes his work seriously, handles himself right, treats people with respect, and has a great reputation in the industry. On top of that, he’s a super trustworthy person who’s pleasant to be around.”

Chris explains that there are checkpoints he looks for in each horse he trains.

“With a good walking horse, you’ve got to have one that’s kind of big, has a long neck, and solid leg definition,” he says. “We want the horse to have that long stride and shake their head hard up and down. There’s a lot to it. You can tell a good one from an average one, even if you know nothing about horses.”

Chris makes a proper nutritional plan for these high-performance animals a priority. Plenty of hay and water are a must. And at the top of their requirements, he stresses, is having a premium-quality feed that provides the essential energy, vitamins, and minerals on a daily basis.

After trying different rations, Chris consulted with Smoky Mountain Farmers Cooperative in Sevierville, where Manager Clint Hodges listened to what the professional trainer was looking for in a feed.

“Right off the bat, Chris told me he didn’t want to go the route of a cheaper feed because he would wind up having to feed more of it, which wouldn’t work out,” Clint says. “When you’re working these performance horses like they do at Snappwood, it can be hard to keep weight on them. They have to travel a lot to shows and may have to ride a in a trailer for several hours. So they have to have a good feed in them to keep feeling well and performing at their best.”

With this in mind, Clint and his Co-op team recommended one feed that checked all the boxes: Co-op Pinnacle 1400 (#321). This pelleted, higher-fat formula is designed to provide performance-level nutrition to horses in a variety of life stages and activity levels.

“I’ve used a lot of different feeds over the years, but the Co-op feed has by far done the best for us,” says Chris, who gets bulk delivery of the Pinnacle ration from Smoky Mountain Farmers Co-op and purchases it by the bag from Bedford Moore Farmers Co-op when in Shelbyville. “You can go through and look at all our horses and see that they stay big and thick and shiny. They’ve got to have that presence about them because if someone comes in here with a horse, they spend a lot of money every month for us to ride that horse and take care of it. They need to look like show horses. The Co-op Pinnacle 1400 helps with that a lot.”

Chris adds that the versatility of Pinnacle 1400 is another plus.

“We raise babies and have foaling mares and the 1400 is good for everything, from the show horse to a mare,” he says.

That’s key, Jimbo says, because these younger horses could be the champions of tomorrow for Snappwood Farm and add to the growing number of blue ribbons they’ve collected.

And these horses will soon have more room to roam. Jimbo purchased 25 acres close to the current farm site and will start construction later this year on a new, enhanced training facility that he hopes to have ready by spring 2020. Among its features will be a covered riding arena that measures 100 feet long by 250 feet wide and a 40-stall barn with state-of-the-art feeding and watering systems.

“We want to have a more useable, horse-friendly facility,” stresses Jimbo. “We’ll have better areas to ride and train. The bottom line is we’re always looking for ways to improve.”

For more information about Snappwood Farms training, call Chris Helton at 423-921-4086. To learn more about Co-op Pinnacle Horse Feeds, visit www.co-opfeeds.com or with the professionals at your local Co-op.

 
 
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