Horses Return to Harlinsdale

post-title post-title post-title post-title post-title post-title
Article & photos by LaCresha Kolba

Saturday April 2, 2016 was a historic day in Franklin, Tennessee. It was the day that horses returned to W.W. Harlin’s horse farm, Harlinsdale, with its lush pastures and the barn that housed famous Tennessee Walking Horses from the 1940s until the end of the 20th century. The 200-acre farm was established by Harlin in 1933, and is located at the northern gateway to Franklin at 239 Franklin Road. Famous for breeding champion Walking Horses for over 70 years, Harlinsdale is known for its prized stallion, Midnight Sun. The farm plaque about the horse reads: “Bought in 1944 for $4,400, the horse said to be as powerful as the sun and black as midnight, was a two-time World Champion at the Walking Horse Celebration. He sired about two thousand colts and his lineage can be traced to all World Champions but four from 1949-1999. This ‘Walking Horse of the Century’ [who was born in 1940] died in 1965 of colic and was laid to rest near the barn where he was trained.”

In 2004 the Harlin family sold the farm to the City of Franklin to be used as a park. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, the property became a city park in 2007. In 2012 the non-profit group Friends of Franklin Parks was formed to leverage private support to enhance public parks. The group raised more than $1 million to build the Arena. During fundraisers to raise money for roof repair, a common question was asked, “Where are the horses?”
Dr. Monty McInturff, veterinarian and owner of Tennessee Equine Hospital, worked in conjunction with the Friends of Franklin Parks to bring the farm back to life.  Dr. McInturff felt it was important for horses to return to Harlinsdale as a way to include the historic role that horses have played in this area for over 200 years.

Opening a new arena at Harlinsdale was a vision for nearly four years. Sponsors were sought and they found the naming sponsor right their own “backyard” – Tractor Supply Co. (TSC), which is headquartered in Williamson County. Other major corporate sponsors include Franklin Synergy, Infiniti of Cool Springs, and Tennessee Equine Hospital. Equestrians and businesses in the local community have purchased commemorative pavers, contributing to the costs of building the arena. One local business, a photography studio, got on board from the beginning. Michael Gomez, owner of Westlight Studio, has been documenting the Harlinsdale farm since it was still a horse farm.  With his studio just across the street from Harlinsdale, he has chronicled the project and milestone events.

The five-acre site includes the 150’ x 300’ arena, surrounded by grass berms with terraced seating, a scoring pavilion, a warm-up ring, three large fenced paddocks, public restrooms and a concession stand. Friends of Franklin Parks is currently raising funds to complete restoration of the mare barn, which will offer 24 stalls for day use at shows and other equestrian events.

The energy of the Grand Opening was contagious with horses everywhere. Some people brought their horses just to ride on the grounds and be a part of the historic day.  Others came for the fun show, organized by Kathy Lewis.  There was a variety of classes from Hunters, Ranch Riding, Barrel Racing, Driving, and more.

Two of Lewis’ students posed for a photo moment by the cars on display from Infiniti of Cool Springs. Gracie Long, riding her Palomino Rio and her friend Grace Hilty riding her Paint Horse Tex, spoke of their excitement for the facility: “We heard about this through our trainer, Kathy, and wanted to be a part of this day and compete in barrels and poles” Gracie Long said, “It is gorgeous out here. We used to take our dogs out here to the park, so we are really excited to be able to come out and ride.”

“I had a count down on my phone” Grace Hilty added. “This has not been open to horses until today. I am so glad it opened! The schools around here are talking about developing an equestrian team now that this is available to them.”
Kathy Lewis was hard at work running the show. Her own equestrian experience ranges from riding Steeplechase horses to now being a team roper.  She emphasizes safety and encourages everyone at her stable to ride their passion.

“Whether it is jumpers, barrels, or ranch riding, I want people to enjoy their horses, but be safe,” she said. “To have this facility here in Franklin is very exciting. There are other facilities, but there are so many horses [in Franklin]. I see the positive effect this will have on the horse industry here. I would do another show here in a heartbeat! This is a great facility with plenty of trailer parking. We have over 30 trailers here today, and this is only our first show!”

The ceremonies began with the traditional “ribbon cutting,” and a grand entry in which every horse on the grounds was invited to participate. There was a parade of fox hounds from Cedar Knob Hounds, led by MFH Albert Menefee. A Drill Team of 12- to 18-year-old girls from Nolensville, Tennessee showed their precision formation riding. There were carriage horses and ponies, and Saddle Up brought two of their student riders to carry in the U.S. and Tennessee State flags. W. W. Harlin was in the front row of the audience to take in this amazing gift to the Franklin horse community.

With rain prior to the event, footing was a concern, but the small grass arenas held up well. The footing in the main arena was fantastic, because the arena has an extensive drainage system, installed as part of the construction, with a 4” packed quarter-down base and a 2” quarter-down/sand top dressing that can be fluffed or packed as needed. 

The Franklin Polo Academy is currently the main tenant at the facility, where they hold practices, offer lessons, and play matches on the weekends throughout the summer. Their first big polo kickoff match is Friday evening June 3rd, a twilight polo event. This is the only public polo facility in the state of Tennessee.

Jay Sheridan of Friends of Franklin Parks said, “The Tractor Supply Co. Arena is open and we are eager to work with groups to plan and execute wonderful events, both fun and competitive. This facility was built to bring the horses back to Harlinsdale, and we’ve accomplished that. Let’s work together to fill it up every weekend!” More events are already booked at this facility. Horse shows from a reining show, carriage horse show, a walking horse show, dressage event, and polo matches are on the calendar. There will be open riding days, and non-equine events including a music festival and a barbeque festival. 

More events are already book at this facility. Horse shows from a reining show, a carriage horse show, a walking horse show, a dressage event to polo matches are on the calendar. There will be open riding days and non-equine events, including a music festival and a barbeque festival.

Fundraising efforts continue toward the goal of a full restoration of Harlinsdale, including the roof and exterior of the main barn. There are plans to develop trails for trail riding throughout the 200-acre park.

Find more information about Friends of Franklin Parks and Harlinsdale at:, on Facebook:, and on Twitter at:

For more information about the arena, visit: You can book an event by emailing them at: or by calling: 615-674-5388.

For information about polo practices, lessons and matches, visit: or on facebook at Franklin Polo Academy. 

icon Subscribe

to Our Newsletter