Jimmy Dean remembered: Excerpts from Taped Interviews

Jimmie Dean Remembered

Arabian Visions July 1991  Copyright 1991 Used by permission of Arabian Visions

        Jimmie Dean, long-time manager of Selby Stud, died in his sleep at his home in Kentucky during the night of March 21, 1991. In preparing this issue, we asked friends of James Parker Dean to send a few words of remembrance.

Bob & Ginger Detterman, Bo-Gin Arabians, Thousand Oaks, California

        I wish we had met Jimmie Dean 25 years earlier. We learned so much from him in the years we knew him – he was a great friend and source of both knowledge and information. Although I had heard Jimmie’s name ever since I was knee-high to a grass-hopper (my grnadmother had purchased her foundation mares from the Selby Stud in the 1930’s when Jimmie was in charge of the Arabians), it was Azy (Azraff x Poppy) who actually brought us together.

        As we visited breeding farms and horse shows in the late 60’s and early 70’s, we kept seeing individual horses that really appealed to us, and a great number of them were sired by a stallion named Azy, who was bred and owned by Jimmie and Thelma Dean. We decided we had to see this horse, so we gathered up our courage and telephoned the legendary Mr. and Mrs. Dean to make an appointment. The rest is history.

        They were such warm, hospitable and genuine people — you couldn’t help wanting to make them a part of your lives. I’ll never forget the first time we suggested the idea of bringing Azy to California. We had been sitting around after dinner, talking about Arabian horses, and when we approached him with the idea, his answer was an instantaneous and unequivocal “NO!” I believe the only reasons we were ultimately able to get Jimmie and Thelma to let us bring Azy to California three years later were that (1) we would not give up, and (2) we sent a mare back to Kentucky to be bred to Azy, and Jimmie was able to get an idea of how we handled our horses from this mare.

        Jimmie was one of the finest horsemen I’ll ever have the privilege of knowing. He was able to communicate with a horses with his voice and with his hands using great finesse. Horses responded to his gentle touch. The last time he visited us in California, both Azy and Azleta were here, and we wanted to get a picture of Jimmie with these two great old horses that he bred.         I put a halter on Azy and handed the rope to Jimmie, while I went to get Azleta. We decided to take the picture in front of a row of olive trees that are located halfway between Azy’s paddock and the breeding barn. Azy and I had made that trip many times, and Azy and I had an understanding — he would lead quietly until we went throuugh one particular gate, and then he could call the ladies and animate. I didn’t think about that as I headed Jimmie and Azy toward the olive trees — but when Azy went through the gate, he “turned out.” Jimmie simply spoke to Azy and hit him once in the flank with his hand, and Azy stopped, looked at Jimmy, and led the rest of the way to the olive trees quietly. We got our picture, and Jimmie and Azy walked back to Azy’s paddock, with Jimmie talking to Azy the whole way.

        For several months after that day, as Azy and I would walk through that gate on our way to the breeding barn, Azy would look at me as if to ask permission before calling to the ladies, and if I told him to keep quiet, he would! Incidentally, Jimmie told me that it was not necessary to use a stud chain on Azy — even in the breeding barn — and to this day, I haven’t used one on him.

        In all the years we knew him, I never heard Jimmie say an unkind word about anyone. He was the ultimate diplomat. Although we frequently asked for his advice, he never pushed his opinions on us. There is no doubt that his influence upgraded the quality of our breeding stock. During his lifetime, he put us in touch with a number of other breeders across the United States whose goals are similar to ours, and with this network of friends, we expect his influence on our breeding program to continue for many years.


Garth Buchanan, Comar Arabians, Story City, Iowa.

        Fifty years have passed since I made my first (of many) trips to the Selby Arabian Stud, then managed by James P. and Thelma Dean. Thus began what developed into a personal friendship, collaboration on horses and “cross-pollination” of breeding programs which endured the rest of their lives.

        As in years gone by Jimmie and Thelma are in my heart, and in loving memories they will remain inseparable — near impossible to think of one without reminiscing of the other and their ceaseless dedication to the Arabian horse.         Words poorly convey my gratitude for their interest and encouragement through the many years of precious association.  

Sandy Rolland, Sandell Farms, Macomb, Illinois

        I first met Jimmie and Thelma (“Buck”) Dean when I was researching my book, *Raffles, His Sons and Daughters.

        Jimmie and Buck were wonderful to me and they spent hours with me answering questions as I followed them around the farm, helping them feed horses or sitting in Buck’s kitchen peeling potatoes for dinner for her while she related fascinating facts and stories to me about the old foundation horses.

        My sons were about eight and ten when we first met the Deans, and their favorite memory of Jimmie is riding around the farm with him on the manure spreader!

        Jimmie Dean was truly “The Dean” of our Arabian horse world, and he has left a legacy that won’t be matched for generations to come, if ever. His great generosity to come, if ever. His great generosity in sharing his knowledge and his refusal to make negative remarks about others have made him, unfortunately for the rest of us, one of a kind.

        Jimmie and Thelma Dean, I salute you with love and sincere thanks.

Julie K. Smithson, Signature Stud Ltd., London Ohio

        I last spoke with Jimmie on March 14th, just eight days before he died peacefully, in his sleep. James Parker Dean would have been 88 years young had he lived until the 21st of April. I cannot conceive of him as ever being old, for he thought and lived on such a vital, optimistic plane. I remember his musing that he would have to find more recipes for asparagus (his favorite vegetable), because he had seen to it that there’d be more of it than ever to harvest this year from his generous garden.

        My knowledge of Jimmie Dean spanned five years of reading every scrap that I could find about *Raffles, and 51 months of cherished friendship and correspondence, enhanced by two visits to Sanders, Kentucky. Would that I had been blessed to know him for 51 years! The knowledge and appreciation of life, in general, and the Arabian horse, in particular, that I absorbed from Jimmie was priceless.

        Jimmie Dean was to me what he was to many: friend, mentor, father figure, brother, confidant and horseman par excellence. You could say anything to Jimmie; all would be heard by the kindest of ears, the biggest hearts. Jimmie never said an unkind word about, or to , anyone. He advised only with the utmost tact. Kindness, with honesty and integrity, was his forte.

        Once I asked Jimmie what it was like to have actually known *Raffles. He replied that *Raffles “can best be described as an experience without parallel.” He expressed regret that many of those who so admired *Raffles did not have the opportunity to experience him personally.

        To borrow his own words, this is how I feel about Jimmie Dean: I regret that many of you who so admired him did not have the opportunity to experience him personally. He can best be described as an experience without parallel. He was my friend, and I loved him. I miss him greatly.


Jo & Dick Ellis, Ellis’ GreenLea Arabians, Dallas Center, Iowa

        Jimmie Dean — a remarkable person and a great horse breeder and horseman — we feel extremely fortunate to have known him for 35 years.

        When we first met Jimmie he fulfilled the image we expected of “A True Southern Gentleman” and he continued to be that same person for as long as we knew him.

        Jimmie was a man of many talents. We think of him as being a geneticist, a nutritionist, an agronomist, and, although he was not a veterinarian, he was very well versed on horse medications as related to prevention and cure to what may afflict a horse. He had many other areas of expertise which were not directly related to the horse business. Most importantly, he generously applied his good logic to all circumstances. He as widely respected for this broad range of knowledge and was always willing to give advice to any serious Arabian owner or breeder. He liked to help others.

        Whenever we had a puzzling problem relating to the horses or horses business, Jimmie always seemed to be able to come up with good solid reasons, explanations, or suggestions as to how to go about solving them in an honest, business-like, and forthright manner. As some will recall, Jimmie pioneered the consignment auctioning of Arabians in this country. He was determined to operate ethical auctions whereby the buyer and seller had equal opportunity and information. Consignors to his auctions were bound by very strict terms. Some terms recalled were: no reserve bidding, no by bidding or any other kind of illegal or unethical bidding, honest veterinary inspections the day of the sale with all findings announced in the sale ring, and we can remember being required to furnish valid registration papers with our signatures in place as sellers. (The bidders knew that the horse would be sold to the person with the highest bid.) Wouldn’t it have been great if the Arabian horse industry had followed the lead of this brilliant, hones, and ethical horseman by conducting auctions that were a credit to the breed?

        This tribute is to Jimmie but a part of what he was was contributed by his very capable wife Thelma, who preceded him in death. They were a great team, as each supplemented the other so perfectly. They were an inspiration to all who knew them. We feel particularly blessed to have known Jimmie and Thelma Dean.


Ann Jo Hall, Hall Farm Arabians, Lexington, Illinois

        I am glad to have a chance to tell you about some of the feelings and memories I have of our great friend Jimmie Dean.

        I have a lifetime of memories, from early childhood to the very recent past. He was a dear and constant friend to me and so many others. Words like trusted advisor, counselor, the very biggest shoulders to hold me up in the tough times all tell who and what he was.

        When I was grown and ready to start a serious breeding program, I told Jimmie that I wanted to breed a few good horses. He knew what I meant. He took me seriously at my word. Through the years since, I have listened and watched and enjoyed our student-teacher arrangement.

        When I caught on to a principle of his breeding theory I always spoke up by letter, in person, or over the phone and let him know he had gotten another point across. This generally got him to say something like “I always knew you were smart” or “That’s my girl!” or “Glad I could be of help”

        He was a great student of human nature. He was able to make people feel good just by being around him. When I was at his farm or he was at mine we always worked hard fixing fence, building a new breeding set-up or breeding mares. I learned so much and he was so kind and generous with his valuable time.

        We drove thousands of miles hauling horses together. He said we had more fun than other people. It was a riot to be his friend!!! My memories will make me giggle the rest of my life. I will miss you, Jimmie!


Bill Munson, Shalimar Ranch, Harrison, Nebraska

        I first met Jimmie in 1942. At that time I was captain of the Iowa State polo team and a vet student working for Mrs. Garth Knox (later Buchanan). She had a stable of grade school horses and ran an organization for girls called Bit & Spur. Joe Buchanan was stationed in Texas, and in May of that year she went down there to marry him, leaving me in charge.

        The girls had planned a picnic at Boone, Iowa on the Des Moines River. This was in the spring when the river was deep and swift. I was riding Garth’s Arabian stallion Ragin (*Mirage x *Indaia). It was a warm day and we thought we’d swim the horses. It turned out Ragin couldn’t swim a stroke; he started to drown. I was horror-stricken. He had only a hackamore on and went down three times. I went down with him, afraid he’d get caught in the hackamore, which he did. Then I was hit in the head and knocked cold. Someone had to jump in to pull me out. When Garth came home, all she said to me was, “Thank God they got you out.”

        Regin was insured, so Garth gave me a trip to Selby’s to look for a replacement. Mr. Selby had said she could have her choice of the *Mirage sons. That was when I met Jimmie and Thelma. We were there for six days and picked out Ibn Mirage. When it was time to leave, Jimmie said, “Bill, Mr. Selby wants you to have a colt.” So I picked Selmage (Image x *Selmnab), who became a great show horse.

        That was the start of a friendship which lasted from 1942 to 1991. At first our friendship was very horse-oriented, but over the years it transcended that. We could go a week together without once mentioning horses. I always called him “Pappy.” He was the one person I always deferred to.

        Jimmie was the greatest P.R. man I’ve ever known. He could sell you a horse without you even knowing it.

        Jimmie was a very kind, thoughtful person. He wouldn’t say anything bad about anyone or their horses. Jimmie never said anything to hurt your feelings. It’s hard to describe how we felt about him. Bazy Tankersley, Garth Buchanan, Gina Manion, Margaret Shuey, R.B.Field, Dan Gainey, Tish Hewitt, Dick Lodwick, Lois Selby, and Alice Payne felt the same way. We bred our own horses our own way, but Jimmie was at the core of it. We all loved and respected Jimmie Dean.

        Jimmie made Selby’s what it was. Mr. Selby imported the horses, of course, but Jimmie made the Selby Stud a breeding force. For example, Jimmie and Thelma were the ones who started using *Raffles. At the time it seemed like a crazy idea to use a little stallion everyone thought was sterile, but they had faith in him.

        Jimmie probably had more influence on the Gainey program than anyone else. He encouraged Gainey to use Azraff, and he encouraged Garth to use Ferzon. It was Jimmie who bred his mare Azleta (by Azraff) to Dan Gainey’s Ferzon to produce the National Champion Gai Parada. This Azraff/Ferzon nick is one of the greatest in Arabian history.

        Alice Payne was greatly influenced by Jimmie. After she saw some of the *Raffles horses, she wanted to go after as many as she could get. Jimmie knew where they all were, and she used to phone him and pester him about them. One night she called to say where she’d found a certain *Raffles daughter. Jimmie asked why she wanted that mare, and Alice answered it was because she was by *Raffles. Jimmie told her that was the worst reason for wanting a horse he’d ever heard.

        Some of the mares bred to *Raffles were not good mares, so there were good *Raffles horses and bad *Raffles horses. It took Alice some time to learn this, but when she did she became even more particular than Jimmie about mare lines. Alice and I both took that to a further extreme than Jimmie did. But we still loved the man.

        After a certain point in time, Jimmie had no further influence on my breeding program, or for that matter Bazy’s or Alice’s, etc. Once the programs were established to a certain point, we went ahead and bred our own horses. But we all stayed close friends, and we still respected and loved him. Jimmies’s own preference in later years was for the Ferzon/Azraff cross, and he promoted those horses.

        Back in the 40’s Jimmie told me that nobody would ever live long enough to change the Arabian horse. But he was wrong. None of us foresaw the influence some people would have. In the show ring we’re going to a Saddlebred type that is not a true type Arabian horse.

        Many of the people interested in the Saddlebred type have left the breed. The people Jimmie Dean influenced are in the Arabian breed for the long haul. I don’t know of anyone else in the history of the Arabian horse who has touched more people or influenced as many programs as Jimmie Dean.


Carolyn Hasbrook, Twin Brooks Arabians, Ames, Iowa

        I first met Jimmie and Thelma 22 1/2 years ago after the IAHA Convention in Ohio. The last time I saw Jimmie as the 1990 U.S. Nationals in October. The last time I talked to him was two weeks before his death, and I received a letter from him the day he died. Every letter, conversation or personal contact was uplifting and rewarding. He was an inspiration to talk to and one of the most intelligent men I’ve known.

        Jimmie could be funny and mischievous but was always the “Kentucky” gentleman. He was a marvelous cook, knew a great deal about geology and could design and build, or have built, anything he needed. He was building on his house right up until his health gave out.

        When his health problems started, he read everything he could about vitamins, minerals and different foods that might help him, instead of just sitting back and feeling sorry for himself.

        I made a video type of horses and places I knew would be of interest to Jimmie. Upon the urging of Joe Meiman, I sent it with him. He and Joy shared it with Jimmie just four days before he died. It was a long tape, but I understand he watched it more than once, knew the horses and enjoyed it.

        We bought our first stallion from Jimmie and Thelma. He was Phleta’s last foal by Azy. All of our horses trace back to the Selby horses that Jimmie bred or back to horses Jimmie had a hand in crossing (Azraff and Ferzon). Without his influence we would not have the typey Arabians we admire. There are farms and ranches all over the world that feel the same about their horses and breeding programs.

        Almost from the beginning of Arabians in this country through the present and even into the future, James P. Dean has had more influence than any other person in maintaining the typey Arabian. He was a very special man with special talents and will be greatly missed.