Leonard Culbreth: More than a horseman

Published 12:54 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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LANDRUM—Charles Leonard Culbreth, known to most as Leonard, has lived a life unlike any other. His story represents a time when Polk County was more rural and opportunities often lay away from home. 

At 89 years old, Leonard has built a wealth of experience working in all phases of caring for horses, from breaking to breeding. Over the years, he delivered over a thousand foals in his working life, including foaling Hall of Fame thoroughbred Winning Colors, one of three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby. 

Winning Colors was known for being temperamental and dangerous. “She was big and strong and mean. You had to coach her to the door and snap the chain on you. You didn’t go in the stall with her,” Leonard said.

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Born on the edge of Polk County, Leonard left his home at the young age of 15 in search of a better life. He discovered his affinity for hard work and horses, leading him to some of the country’s most famous and prominent horse farms. His mother was unsure about her son leaving home at such a young age, but in the end, Leonard’s decision would lead him to a remarkable career. 

“I began working for George Webster, and the opportunity to travel with showhorses came up. We traveled all over, including to Madison Square Garden,” Leonard said. Leonard usually worked as a farm manager or assistant farm manager, going with the vets and keeping track of and foaling the mares. He even turned a foal when they weren’t coming out right. 

Over the years, he worked in many of the major equestrian centers of the country in Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky. The Kentucky horse farm he worked on was Gainesway in Lexington, and he stayed there until he retired at 72 and moved back to Landrum. Upon returning to Landrum, Leonard worked at the Cotton Patch, known for hosting the 1956 and 1960 U.S. Olympic Trials. 

At the farms where he worked, he was responsible for everything from the hay to caring for and breaking the horses and the people working on the farm. He was always on call, often foaling one horse, getting home and having to run back out to foal another. He even survived a severe horse kick after foaling a mare that broke his jaw. 

“I’ve been thrown off, dragged, and about everything that can happen to you,” Leonard recalls. 

Leonard’s successes don’t end at the barn or the pasture gate. He was married to his wife Ola Mae Culbreth of Landrum for 68 years, whom he met at the Rock Grill in Tryon, until her passing in 2022. He is also the father of a daughter, Patsy, and has two grandsons.

Throughout his career, Leonard has remained dedicated to his work and his family. His dedication to hard work and horses has earned him a reputation as a skilled horseman, but his humility, resilience and dedication have truly set him apart. As he looks back on a life well-lived, Culbreth remains grateful for the opportunities he’s had and the people he’s met along the way. His story is of perseverance, hard work, and dedication to a craft he truly loves.