Tom Bass. Photo: State Historical Society of Missouri.
1859 – 1934
Tom Bass broke down color barriers as a world-class equestrian and trainer of show
horses over a career that spanned half a century. Bass was born into slavery on a
plantation in Boone County, Missouri. As a youngster, he showed natural talent for
handling and riding horses. Around age 20, he moved to Mexico, Missouri, where
he worked at a stable and established a reputation as an expert trainer. Known for his
gentle methods, he invented the Bass bridle bit as a more humane device for leading
Bass operated a stable in Kansas City in the mid-1890s and helped found the
American Royal Horse Show in 1905. He was the first African American to ride in
the competition. Bass trained horses and provided riding instruction for many of the
city’s prominent citizens. He would later travel the world performing and competing in
During his career, Bass performed before five U.S. presidents and earned prizes at every horse show in the country
with his prized mount Belle Beach, collecting more than 2,000 blue ribbons. He was inducted into the Hall of Famous
Missourians in 1999.