Honoring C.T. Fuller

An arena at Willow Brook Farms is dedicated in honor of American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer C.T. "Tom" Fuller.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Plaques at the outdoor arena at Willow Brook Farms honor the late C. T. "Tom" Fuller and the stallion Joe Cody. (Katie Navarra photo)

Plaques at the outdoor arena at Willow Brook Farms honor the late C. T. "Tom" Fuller and the stallion Joe Cody. (Katie Navarra photo)

Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio are considered the proving grounds for today’s reining futurity horses. But ask people who have been involved with the sport in the 1950s through the 1990s, and they’ll have another location to add to the list—the east coast town of Catasaqua, Pennsylvania.

Peter Fuller, left, the son of the late C.T. "Tom" Fuller, and Alexandra, Tom's widow, attended the dedication of the arena. (Katie Navarra photo)

Peter, left, son of the late C.T. "Tom" Fuller, and Alexandra, Tom's widow, attended the dedication. (Katie Navarra photo)

 

Just an hour from Philadelphia, the once rural town that is now succumbing to urban sprawl is home to legendary Willow Brook Farms. There AQHA and National Reining Horse Association Hall of Fame member C.T. “Tom” Fuller hosted the Joe Cody Classic, a reining that took place from 1989 to 2006.

 “This arena is known to have the best sliding ground anywhere in the world,” said Tom's daughter, Holly Fuller McLain. “Tom Fuller knew that making things easy for performance horses inspired excellence. The creation and construction of this area was one very special formula, the secret of which has been lost to time.”

At its peak, the Classic attracted reining’s best talent from across the United States and Canada. The 100 permanent stalls weren’t enough to house all the horses, so more than 150 portable stalls were added under temporary tents. The gentle grassy slope that encircles the far side of the arena was once lined by local townsfolk who brought a picnic lunch to watch horses and their riders compete.

The world famous arena still hosts reining events today. The entries are smaller, the crowds of spectators are missing and only 300 of the farm’s original 1,800 acres remain. Much of the land was taken over by eminent domain.

What remains is a passion for reining. A dedicated group recognized the lasting impact Tom and world champion Joe Cody had on the entire industry. That legacy was honored in an arena dedication ceremony September 1.

“Willow Brook was a mecca for reining,” said Brian Dygert, past president of the NRHA and now general manager of WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona. He worked at Willow Brook Farms as an assistant trainer under Dick Pieper in the late 1980s.

“To know Mr. Fuller was to know one of the kindest, wisest persons. He loved the horses and he loved people,” Brian said.

Employees and Willow Brook associates from yesterday and today attended the ceremony remembering the man, the horse and the facility that helped shaped the sport.

“You can’t think of one without thinking of the other,” Brian added.

Throughout the day, Fuller was described as a kind and generous man. There was no shortage of stories remembering how always looked for the good in this world and offered a helping hand to those who needed it most.

Holly was unable to attend the ceremony, but in a written statement said, “We honor C. T. Fuller and Joe Cody by dedicating this very special arena to him and to Joe Cody. We hope that his dream of making Quarter Horses and Champions an integral part of the Horse Industry fabric will continue for generations to come.”