Yet it is the horses in the pasture that intrigue so many of the visitors to Graceland. Objects may paint the picture of a man, but a horse can reflect a man's being, somehow capturing spirit and soul.
However only one horse remains since Elvis' death August 16, 1977: Ebony's Double, a 31 year-old, registered Tennessee Walking Horse, the last living horse that he purchased.
Ebony's Double resides in the pastures and barn on the property at Graceland, the home of Elvis, in Memphis, Tenn. He shares his paddocks with two other horses, Ebony's Secret Threat, Sun's Reflection.
Together they are on display for all the King's adoring fans, enjoying the lush bermuda paddocks behind the mansion. The horses are cared for with 24 hour a day attention by a staff specifically assigned to the herd.
The original barn, built by the previous owner Dr. Thomas Moore who had it for his show cattle, still stands as the primary working facility for the horses. It is kept in immaculate shape: not a cobweb to be found; no pile left standing for long. Each horse has an individual stall with name plate and cooling fans. They are bathed often in the summer and vacuumed regularly in the winter. An alternate section of the barn is like a small arena with an 'open door policy' for the horses; a haven from inclement whether or to take a nap in the shade.
Ebony's Double is a picture of age, yet maintained grace; a living vessel that is the spirit of Elvis.
'Elvis was fascinated by Walking Horses', says Alene Alexander, barn supervisor at Graceland. 'He loved to watch them work'. Ebony's Double was a two year-old when Elvis first saw him at the George L. Lennox farm, near Collierville, home of the renowned Carbon Copy.
Ebony's Double captivated Elvis with more than an impressive gait, however. As Alene tells the story, he was wearing red leg wraps which against his black body was an striking combination for Elvis. So much so, that Elvis offered to buy the horse. The son of 1962 World Champion Ebony Masterpiece was delivered to Graceland by the Lennox farm without the red leg wraps. Elvis was not certain that this horse was the same he had purchased. 'So he had them put the red leg wraps back on', says Alene. Elvis then knew this was his horse.
Ebony's Double joined many other horses while at Graceland, the herd reaching as high as twenty.
It seems Elvis could not get enough of horses and the pleasure they gave him, especially time he spent riding with friends. 'Elvis bought horses, trucks and trailers for everyone,' says Alene.
'At that time, that was the thing to have. He was such a generous man'.
In a June 1999 article for EQUUS magazine, Christine Barakat wrote of Elvis' horsemanship.
'In the 'Sincerely Elvis' museum, I was captivated by an old home movie of Elvis riding in a paddock at Graceland. In fact, I watched the film many times. It was clear that Elvis wasn't just a 'movie star cowboy' - he was actually a very good rider, with kind hands, a secure seat and good sense of balance. The museum also displayed the singer's well-used saddles, bridles and muddy boots: It was obvious Elvis loved and enjoyed his horses as much as I do my own'. 'When Elvis learned to ride, he was told he had to cool out his horse carefully by walking him,' Alene says. 'So he'd ride for 15 minutes and then walk the horse three times as long. Everyone teased him about that, but he wanted to be sure the horse was properly cooled'.
Ebony's Double was never shown in competition, yet, in 1983, he found himself on the greatest stage of the Walking Horse world. Ebony's Double was invited to be officially retired at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in a ceremony usually reserved for horses earning world championships. The trip to Shelbyville was hard on Ebony's legs and the day of the ceremony he was having difficulty finding his gait.
There was a great deal of worry among the contingent, including Elvis' wife, Priscilla, who was in attendance for the special ceremony. Yet, with 40,000 expectant people filling the stands, they knew they could not disappoint. When Ebony's Double entered the arena, with Alene up, 'something magical happened,' she says. 'He smoothed out and showed beautifully'. At the Celebration, in memory of Elvis, the Graceland Challenge Trophy is presented to the winner of the Junior Walking Horse Championship Stake.
When Graceland opened to the public in 1982, there were four other horses: Rising Sun, a registered Palomino Quarter Horse, was Elvis' favorite; Memphis, an unregistered Walking Horse; Moriah, a Shetland pony which he purchased for Lisa Marie to ride; and Mare Ingram, a mixed-grade bay horse which was named, in a turn of 'fair play,' for Memphis Mayor Ingram who had renamed a stretch of Highway 51, 'Elvis Presley Boulevard'.
'It is Graceland's policy to always have horses at Graceland,' says Alene. 'Elvis bought Graceland so he could have horses. His first acquisition was a pair of mules for his father, Vernon'.
Standing with the policy of Graceland, they continue to reflect the composition of the horses when they pass away. 'When we replace a horse, we try to stay as true to the bloodlines as possible'.
Such is the case with Sun's Reflection, purchased in 1988 after Rising Sun passed in 1986. Sun's Reflection is also a Golden Palomino, not only related in bloodline as a cousin, but also purchased from the same man, Robert Boyd, who sold Elvis Rising Sun. 'There will always be a Golden Palomino at Graceland', states Alene.
There have been numerous other horses at Graceland, which although unrelated, have been adopted or donated to provide retiring horses a good home. Since all three are getting up in age, 'we just don't want to risk them being injured by other and younger horses since they are getting so old'.
The pursuit of adoption reflects the compassion Elvis had for horses, and even for animals in general, a trait shared equally by Priscilla and Lisa Marie.
When Priscilla and Lisa Marie make return trips to Graceland, a fairly regular occurrence, the never fail to visit the barn. 'They always come spend time here at the barn', says Alene, 'to pet, brush and feed the horses'.
The barn and horses certainly must serve as a welcome and comforting haven, as they must have been for Elvis. A place to provide sanctuary and pleasure. The apparent luxury of being a Graceland horse does not depict the gravity of caring for an senior horse and the effort put out by an extremely dedicated staff.
With the opening of Graceland in 1982, Alene Alexander had signed on to be a tour guide. When she saw the horses, she immediately put a resume together to offer to care for the horses. Being a Walking Horse owner and having shown a world champion, Miss Go Girl, Jack Soden, President and CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., did not hesitate to appointed her Graceland's stable supervisor.
Her dedication to the horses mirrors the commitment of Graceland to maintain the remembrance of Elvis.
'The executive staff has never denied any request concerning the care of the horses,' Alene reports. 'I tell them what I need and I get it. Their concern for the horses is without question'.
Dr. Susanne Taylor is the 'house' vet on call 24 hours a day. 'She is available to us whenever we need her. Given her experience with caring for senior horses we could not ask for better'.
Lim Couch served as a farrier for Elvis during his lifetime, and continues in that capacity today for Graceland. In addition to keeping the horses properly shod, the owner of Mid-South Farrier Supply in Hernando, Miss. keeps the stables fully stocked with all their vitamin, nutrition, hoof care, and horse grooming supplies.
Senior Associate Cecil Carney is 'the mystery employee'. 'He is the only employee of Graceland who no one ever sees', jokes Alene. Arriving early in the morning and late in the evenings after Graceland is closed, the stealthy stable hand's work rarely goes unnoticed. Without fail, seven days a week Cecil feeds, cleans, bails hay, and keeps the pastures green. Associate Susan Couch, daughter of Lim, manages the daytime chores, feeding and grooming. 'She keeps our horses the best they can be kept'. Susan has been working there for just over a year and came at a critical time in Old Ebony's life. The Walking Horse had dropped over 100 pounds in a short period of time and Graceland feared the worst for him. But Susan recalled an article she read in the Mid-South Horse Review about how Sandra Jackson of Oxford, Miss. had restored the health of her senior Walking Horse by feeding him a diet of warm mash composed of beet pulp and mixed feed soaked in mineral oil and water.
The situation for Jackson's horse was similar to Ebony's, his teeth were worn and painful, making eating difficult and consumption inadequate. The palatable mash recipe provided the necessary nutrients to help Ebony put the weight back on. 'Now they get a 'hot lunch' three times a day', says Susan, who prepares the meals for the horses each day. 'I really believe that we have gained at least ten more years with this horse,' remarks Alene.
However, it seems Ebony's Double does have a bit of a sweet tooth and indulges in the occasional sugar cookie and Pepsi from a can, a trick Elvis had taught him. He does not follow Elvis' penchant for fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but does like a peanut butter cracker every once in a while.
Despite the treats, diets and work on the horses are a very serious endeavor, coupled with heaps of loving care. 'A running joke around here is that the horses around the world all share a dream of getting to retire at Graceland'. writes Todd Morgan, Director of Media and Creative Development for Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., in an official response to a visitors' inquiry. 'Another running joke amongst our very well treated employees is that the real dream job around here is to be a Graceland horse. These babies each have individualized health care, individualized diets, lavish love and attention, a vet on call 24 hours a day'.
Sadness at Graceland Stable as Sun''s Reflection Passes Away
Elvis Presley - Rising Sun and other Horses at Graceland
Rescued horses go to Graceland (2008)
Ebony's Double, Last of Elvis Presley's Horses, Dies at Age 32