Red Bank, New Jersey
New York, New York
Clemon Brooks was born in Cadentown, a small Black settlement east of Lexington, Kentucky. His mother, Mary, died when he was three years old and his father, Clem, was a laborer on nearby farms and later with the C&O Railroad.1
When Clemon Brooks was young, he took the family horse and wagon out for a free-wheeling joy ride with a few of his friends. To cover-up his lapse of judgement, Brooks and his friends gathered a wagon load of horse weeds and told his father that’s why he had taken the horse and wagon without permission. His father was pleased and Brooks escaped punishment.2
Little did he know his story-telling skills and love of horses would become his career.
Honing His Horse Skills
At seventeen, Brooks’ first job working with horses was at the Brookdale Farm near Red Bank, New Jersey. Because he was from Kentucky, the workers assumed he was familiar with yearlings. He was not. They gave him a difficult yearling, later named Enchanting, and Brooks managed to bridle him after several attempts. He then followed the horses to racetracks while employed by various trainers including Bennie Creech, who was training for W. R. Coe’s Shoshone Stud Farm.3
Shoshone later became Spindletop Farm in Lexington, Kentucky.
After working at Jamaica, Empire City, Aqueduct and Saratoga racetracks in New York for several years, Brooks hitch-hiked back to Kentucky, leaving his wife and child in New York until he could afford to bring them to Lexington.4
He worked at Shoshone Farm and Faraway Farm before landing at Leslie Combs II’s Spendthrift Farm in 1941, where he worked for more than forty years.5
Stud Man and Showman
Brooks, known as Clem by then, was sent to work with stallion studs. He soon became one of the best stud men in the horse industry.6
One day Brooks was asked to show a visitor around the farm. His ability to weave a good tale led to his becoming a big draw for busloads of visitors touring the state-of-the-art stud barn Combs built. He soon found a way to earn a little money on the side.
In 1956 Nashua arrived at Spindletop for stud duties. He was Horse of the Year and the world’s leading money winner. Nashua and Brooks were soon partners, entertaining visitors together for twenty-five years. Brooks would gather old horseshoes from farriers and offer them to visitors for two dollars a piece, stating they were “off Nashua.” He pointed out he never said they had been “on Nashua.”7
Nashua died in 1982, Combs commissioned artist Liza Todd Tivey, daughter of actress Elizabeth Taylor, to create a half-scale bronze sculpture of Nashua and Brooks as a memorial at Nashua’s grave. The impression of a horseshoe is showing through Brook’s pocket.8
Brooks is one of only a few black horsemen remembered for his captivating narratives that entertained visitors and who has been memorialized in bronze.
Brooks died in 1998 at age ninety-one. He and his wife, Margaret Ross Brooks, who died in 1965, had a daughter and a son.
Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Lexington, Ky. National Archives and Records Administration, 1910.
“National Archives and Records Administration - U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947.”
Wall, Maryjean. “Horse Tales.” Lexington Herald. February 19,1981.
Kirkpatrick, Arthur. “Clem.” Keeneland Magazine. Spring/Summer Limited Edition. 1983.
Mastin, Bettye Lee.”Helen Hayes Sees Beauty in the Beast. Lexington Herald Leader, May 8, 1984.
Bukro, Casey. “Urban Sprawl Threatens Kentucky Bluegrass Region.” The Dallas Morning News, June 16, 1991.
“Clem Brooks, 91, Guided Thousands at Horse Farm” The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), November 27, 1998.
Edwards, Don. “Rainy Weather Triggers Sweet Thoughts of Blue Monday” Lexington Herald Leader, April 6, 1984.
Brooks, Clem, interview by Emily Parker. January 14, 1987, Blacks in Lexington Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Duke, Jacqueline. “Spendthrift Could Leave Pensioners Empty-Handed,” January 9, 1989.
Karon, Frances J. “Running Rough Shod: Clem’s Smile.” August 30, 2010. http://runroughshod.blogspot.com/2010/08/clems-smile.html.
Hewlett, Jennifer. “Clem Brooks 1907-1998.” Lexington Herald Leader, November 25, 1998.
Jordan,Jim. “No Sure Bet Potential Field of Investors Warned of Horse Industry’s Risks Visitors Briefed on Horse Business.” Lexington Herald Leader, October 22, 1983.
Thorbahn, Marilyn. “Horsing around in Lexington.” Tampa Bay Times, June 13, 1993.
Marshall, Mary. Great Breeders and Their Methods: Leslie Combs II and Spendthrift Farm. The Russell Meerdink Company Ltd., 2008.
“Clem Brooks, 91, Guided Thousands at Horse Farm” Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH), November 27, 1998.
Smith-Durisek, Susan. “The Call to the Wall - Kentuckians Have Affinity for Equine Art in All Forms,” May 3, 2008.
When citing this article as a source in Chicago Manual of Style use this format: Last Name
first name of Author, Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry, n.d.“Title of Profile
or Story.” International Museum of the Horse. Accessed date. URL of page cited.
- 1“Horse Tales,” Maryjean Wall, Lexington Herald. February 19, 1981.
- 2Kirkpatrick, Arthur. “Clem.” Keeneland Magazine.
- 3Kirkpatrick, Arthur. “Clem.” Keeneland Magazine.
- 4“Interview with Clem Brooks, January 14, 1987.”
- 5Kirkpatrick, Arthur. “Clem.” Keeneland Magazine.
- 6Kirkpatrick, Arthur. “Clem.” Keeneland Magazine.
- 7Kirkpatrick, Arthur. “Clem.” Keeneland Magazine.
- 8Karon, Frances J. “Running Rough Shod: Clem’s Smile.”