Marilyn Macfarlane and George Schmid following their Three-Gaited Park FMT win with DOUBLE DOG DARE for owner, Nancy Lassiter at the 2019 Dayton Horse Show. (TBH File Photo)
Marilyn Fields Macfarlane, 74
“There are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they have gone the light remains.”
Marylin Fields Macfarlane, Owner, Instructor, and Trainer of Walnut Way Farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, was welcomed by her Lord on August 24, 2020 after a courageous battle with cancer.
Marilyn was born on November 18, 1945 to Christine and Ralph Martin, in Charleston, West Virginia. She adored horses and started riding at age eight, and after persuasive, creative requests to her father, she received her first horse, Red Velvet, a chestnut American Saddlebred. This marked the start of her lifelong commitment to and passion for horses. Her personal tutelage with iconic horsewoman, Helen Crabtree, sparked her quest for equestrian exceptionalism. At the early age of 16, she opened her own Breezy Knoll Stables, where she established a thriving riding program and training barn. She graduated from Morris Harvey College with a B.A. in Education, furthering her expertise in teaching, in Charleston, WV. In 1971, she left Breezy Knoll to take on the Assistant Trainer position at Happy Valley Farms in Rossville Georgia. There, she developed a large winning clientele of her own, and by 1974 she was pursuing her dream of being a Kentucky horse trainer. Continuing in her pioneering ways, Marilyn was the first single woman in Shelby County, Kentucky to get a bank loan for a farm.
Over the next 45 years, Marilyn developed and expanded her beloved Walnut Way Farm, growing it into a renowned training facility and picturesque Kentucky horse farm. Throughout the course of her career, Marilyn guided over 300 World and National Champions to victory, and hosted thousands of students across lessons, summers children’s camps, adult camps, and special training events. Marilyn felt as much pride and joy for her acclaimed champions as she did her dedicated beginners, and in her words, “my heroic school horses are just as revered as my show horse champions”.
Her personal accolades in the equestrian world are legendary. In the saddle, she was a fierce and finessed competitor on her beloved American Saddlebreds. In 1994, she made history as the first woman to win the World Grand Championship Roadster to Bike with her beloved Shining Brightly . Marilyn was the epitome of elegance with her stunning Friesians and antique carriages, performing and competing at the industry’s most prestigious events, including the World Equestrian Games. And with her iconic Hackney ponies, she is remembered for her showmanship, unforgettable style, famous red hair, and dazzling gowns.
Marilyn was a highly respected judge and accomplished leader in the horse industry. She traveled throughout the United States, England and South Africa judging horse shows, World and National Championships and the World Cup. She was a member of the United Professional Horsemen's Association, The United States Equestrian Federation, American Saddlehorse Association, American Hackney Horse Society, the Carriage Association of America, and The World Coaching Club. She was a founding member of the Winter Tournament Association in Kentucky which provided many lesson riders their first opportunity to compete on horseback.
Although Marilyn’s horsemanship was bar none, her true gift was teaching. Marilyn’s “children” were the hundreds of students that she “raised”, influenced and mentored over her 59-year career. Her riders would agree that good sportsmanship, perseverance and endearing love of the horse were paramount in Marilyn’s philosophy. She had a way of giving the toughest lesson but with her finesse and creativity, her lessons were so much fun, and they left the students longing for more. Marilyn was not only a teacher in the saddle, but she taught all her students many important life lessons - of perseverance, courage, confidence, and belonging - that they continue to live by (and pass long). From her published articles on equitation, to her hand-written quotes shared with students, Marilyn always transferred her knowledge with utmost care and dedication to the sport.
Marilyn will be remembered for her exceptional character as no matter what walk of life you came from, Marilyn always made time for everyone. She was selfless, strong, courageous, witty, kind, inspirational, with the epitome of style and dedication to her animals. While a generous caretaker to all of God’s creatures and certainly her many horses, she cherished her feisty Jack Russells, and her famous Swans on Walnut Way’s Swan Lake. Marilyn loved traveling and in particular, exploring the equestrian offerings of the world, and she never met a dance floor that she didn’t conquer.Her emerald eyes sparkled and her laugh warmed your heart. In an effort to share her beloved Shelby County farm and slice of heaven, she developed the premier and award-winning Walnut Way Weddings experience with her best friend Rachel Vetter.
Marilyn was a devoted Christian, and greatly enjoyed her community and spiritual development from Centenary United Methodist Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Marilyn Macfarlane was a true icon. She lived her life with purpose and did it with such grace, as she would say, “Pretty is, as pretty does“. She was a role model like no other and her mission was one that made a great impact in the lives of so many.
Marilyn is preceded in death by her husband Steve. They lived their lives following their shared passion of everything equestrian. She is survived by her sisters, Joyce Trent and Teresa Creech (husband Gary),step-son Stephen Macfarlane (wife Tracy), along with numerous loving nieces, Christy Villa (husband Roberto), Michelle Wells (husband Wes), Tami Evans (husband Larry), nephew Wes Curry (wife Kelli) and other extended family.
Marilyn Macfarlane’s life will be celebrated with a “Hat’s off to Marilyn” at the historic Walnut Way Farm on October 4th, 2020. Time to be announced. Gifts of remembrance to be donations to “Saddlebred Rescue” (www.saddlebredrescue.com) or Saddlebred Rescue, Inc. 6 Meadow Cliff Lane, Hardwick, NJ 07825.
We asked George Schmid to give us a few words about Marilyn:
“Marilyn was one of the most classic ladies I have ever known. She was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. Marilyn was never afraid of hard work. Buying her farm in 1976 and building it into a show place, she lived, ate, drink and slept with her vision of what she wanted her life to be and lived it.
Marilyn touched the hearts and lives of many people she came in contact with. Whether it was a trainer, groom, student or someone off the streets. Everybody loved Marilyn. She would give you the shirt off her back if she felt you deserved it. Always concerned with others and not thinking of herself.
Marilyn truly loved her horses …. She loved animals of all kinds including her swans, of which she has seven now. Always worried that the snapping turtles would get the young, even had turtleman come to the farm to get rid of the snapping turtles.
Marilyn should be a role model for many people old and young. She had a beautiful smile and the attitude that this world will miss forever. God Bless Marilyn.
She is probably driving a four in hand in heaven where she belongs.”