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Johnny Vardeman: Horse hooves left lifelong tracks for local riders
A young George Law sits astride his pony. - photo by For The Times

Hoofnotes: Writing about when horse lovers used to ride all around Gainesville and kept horses in their backyards stirred others’ memories of that golden time.

Johnny Vardeman

Nolie Joiner Motes still keeps horses at her place near Murrayville, but while she was growing up, her father, Dr. Hart Joiner, let her keep a horse in their backyard barn on Dixon Drive. While other children had their bicycles, Nolie and friends had their horses. They thought it was cool to ride up to the drive-in window at the Dairy Queen.

She was among those Marion and Sue Hope trained to ride. She also took lessons when Lakeview Academy offered them.

They would ride out what is now Old Cornelia Highway and visit the Ray Burches’ big red barn.

It’s a funny memory today, but it was serious business when Nolie and friends tore up the City Park football field racing their horses up and down it. The Joiners paid for the damage.

Gloria Bloodworth Colter kept her horse behind the Bloodworths’ Green Street Circle home. She and fellow horse lovers would ride up Thompson Bridge Road all the way to the Concord Baptist Church area. She remembers when Thompson Bridge was one lane over the Chattahoochee River before Lake Lanier formed. Cars would stop to let the horse riders cross safely.

Such outings often included a picnic and perhaps a swim in a stream to cool off after a hot ride.

Helen Law Perry remembers her father, George Law, talking about riding his pony on Ridgewood Avenue, near where he grew up. He once broke his arm jumping off the pony as he had seen cowboys do in Western movies.

Women have been riding horses forever, but men had an attitude about them for a long time. The Gainesville News commented in 1906 that “Given a good horse, a woman could ruin it in less than a year. ... Nowadays,” the article continued, “women know how to handle a horse, those who have brains ... so this question of sex is not important as it once was. It will not be long before almost any horse without a reasonable disposition can be safely trusted to a woman and be driven without damage.”

Horse trading was a big business all over Northeast Georgia in the early 1900s before automobiles began running the animals off the roads. The Northeast Georgia Horse Swappers Convention usually was an annual event held in Gainesville in the fall. E.L. Tatum was regularly trading horses at the Simmons Barn.

Blacksmithing was a booming business back then. John Merck shoed horses at 96 Athens St., and Leon Gaines would do the same nearby at the intersection of Athens, Green and Church streets. Gaines would shoe horses for 60 cents.

That was in the same area where Bagwell’s Barn operated for many years. Many longtime residents can remember that barn about where the old Athens Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway, began. Before Bagwell’s Barn, Bagwells had a successful buggy and wagon-making enterprise on South Main Street.

Other businesses related to horses and mules thrived. Leather companies in Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Buford and other locations in the area made saddles and other accessories. Gainesville Harness Co. provided harnesses, of course, bridles and other gear for the horse or mule owner. Paul S. Barrett was the owner.

Gainesville Fire Department used horses to pull their fire wagons. By 1916, it had a fire truck, and city leaders predicted it would not be long before they would not have to keep horses at the firehouses.

The Candler Horse Guards were part of a workhorse parade presented around Gainesville’s square. Prizes were awarded in several horse categories. Horses came from farms or from businesses using them in their work.

The Horse Guards were an important part of kind of a state militia in the early 20th century. They existed for years, however, before they had their own horses. In 1917, they were awarded government horses for their use. Apparently they had operated either without horses or used their own. It was “a considerable hindrance” without horses, the local newspaper understated.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at

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