HANNIBAL – During the sixth anniversary celebration at Jim's Journey, The Huck Finn Freedom Center, Tom Bass, a former slave who became a famous horse trainer, was portrayed by historical re-enactor John Anderson of Kansas City, Mo.

HANNIBAL – During the sixth anniversary celebration at Jim's Journey, The Huck Finn Freedom Center, Tom Bass, a former slave who became a famous horse trainer, was portrayed by historical re-enactor John Anderson of Kansas City, Mo.

Bass, of Mexico, Mo., was Anderson's great-great-great uncle, and was finally accepted as a black man in horse racing arenas. Pretending to be giving a graduation address, Anderson - as Bass - offered advice on living in “the arena of life.”

Before his program, Anderson posed for photos with Cheyenne, a trained horse brought by Kate McMillen from her New London, Mo., stable.

As Bass, Anderson said his success as a horse trainer and rider was due to his many “squires,” beginning with his mother, who was forced to leave him to be raised by grandparents when he was born in 1858 in a slave shack.

“Grandpa was a carriage driver,” he said. “He gave me my first riding lesson at age 3. … I got along with the horses. I listened to them and shared their pain, and they could sense mine.

“I rode by myself at age 4 and at age 6 was jumping fences,” Bass continued, adding. “My secret is I treat them as special friends.

“There is no better medicine on the shelf than the feel of a good ride on the back of a horse.”

When he was older Bass got a job with a horse sales company owned by Joe Potts and eventually became a horse trainer. He credited Potts for “putting me into the white male dominated arena” of horse racing.

Bass opened his stable in 1883 and became known as “the Jackie Robinson of the horse world.”

Bass organized the first American Royal horse show and represented Missouri at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.

When he invented the Bass bit, which protects a horse's mouth during training, he did not get a patent, explaining, “I gave it to all the horses in the world.”

His wife, Angie, was one of his squires. Others included Theodore Roosevelt, before he became president, when “He needed a horse for New York riding trails.”

Bass said he met presidents, and he called the Vanderbilts squires, “for sponsoring me to have the opportunity to be the first colored athlete to perform at Madison Square Gardens.”

He said Queen Victoria wanted him to bring his horses to her Diamond Jubilee at Buckingham Palace, but he declined, telling her, “Me and horses don't make good sailors. The queen understood.”

Some of his horses were also considered squires, including Belle Beach. He said she “stood up on her hind legs and waved and curtseyed gracefully.” And once during a performance he had his horse cant backward.

Bass closed his address to the graduates with advice about living in the arena of life. “Hold your head up high. Go out and continue your ride. And never ride alone. Always have squires.”

bdarr@courierpost.com