By Doris Degner-Foster
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
Allen Nabors has worked for years in movies and television, the most memorable for many fans being his role in “The Big Bang Theory” as Penny’s brief love interest, Doug. But if you meet Allen at a horse show, it’s not likely that he’ll bring up the subject.
“It’s something that I enjoyed doing, but I don’t talk about it unless somebody asks me,” Allen said. “I try to stay very humble about that stuff because it doesn’t come off any way other than arrogant if you aren’t being humble about it.”
Perhaps that aspect of his personality is a family trait, or maybe Allen is following the example set by his uncle, the late Jim Nabors, who was known for his TV character Gomer Pyle. Allen explained, “Jim was very, very, humble. Even though Elvis Presley was one of his best friends — Elvis would fly in to see Jim’s shows and Jim had a lot of pictures of him with Elvis — Jim never talked of it in public, but he would tell me stories.”
Allen went on to say in the distinctive voice so much like his Uncle Jim, “Jim would say, ‘This one time me and Elvis,’ or, ‘One time me and Desi and Lucy,’ and then tell a funny story about something they did.”
Allen’s memories of spending time with his uncle are many, including a time in Los Angeles when Jim surprised him with an invitation to lunch with him and Carol Burnett. “It was so much fun to sit down with two famous television actors,” Allen said, adding that he was impressed with how much Carol knew about the business side of the entertainment industry, in addition to her talent as an actress and comedian.
Although Allen enjoyed life in the Hollywood spotlight, he chose to leave Tinsel Town to ride horses and run his own business, ANJumpers, on the East Coast.
Allen grew up in Germantown, Tennessee, near Memphis. His older sister rode so he began riding by the time he was 4 years old. As a pre-teen, he had a pony named Newsreel that did well in the show ring, but unlike his sister, he didn’t pursue equitation competition, instead gravitating toward the jumpers. His parents were supportive of his choices, but encouraged a good work ethic.
“After I got my pony, my parents never bought me another horse,” Allen remembered. “They said, ‘If this is what you really want to do, you’ll figure it out.’”
Allen worked to get rides competing in jumper classes at shows while a teenager at Dave Pellegrini’s Spring Mill Farm northeast of Memphis. At 17, Allen received valuable experience as a working student for a short while with Laura Kraut in 1994 when she was riding Simba Run, the horse she credits with starting her career at the top level.
“I tell these kids now to get away from their trainers and go to work for as many people as you can,” Allen said. “Take little bits of what you learn from everyone to develop your own program. Everybody told me this and it’s true. You may not have the best program at first, but have a program.”
As Allen worked to learn from different trainers, his equestrian career competed for his time with acting jobs after he was noticed in downtown Chicago by television show producers. “It was really just luck,” Allen said. “But it paid the rent.”
The Acting Bug
In Chicago, Allen did various skits on the Jenny Jones show before moving on to the comedy troupe Second City. After honing his acting and comedy skills there for three years, he moved to Los Angeles to advance his acting career.
“When I went out to L.A., I got a good manager and really hustled for 13 or 14 years, and I worked more than most people did,” Allen said. Although his uncle was Jim Nabors, he didn’t try to capitalize on that. “I had to be good and also 99 percent lucky,” he said. “I went through a lot of the TV shows and soap operas. I also did a lot of the sitcom stuff. The last thing I did that everybody knows now is ‘The Big Bang Theory.” It was just a little, tiny part there and that’s all people know. I want to say ‘I did other stuff, too!’ but now since Kaley Cuoco is also on that show and rides, I’m reminded of it all the time.”
In 2011, Allen had a small part in the movie “J. Edgar” with Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Clint Eastwood. He thought that his career might really take off from there, but he said the irony of it was that he didn’t work for a year to the day after that. “I had a good resume and good agent but it’s just the way the business is sometimes, so I started to get burned out.”
He was also uncomfortable with some of the aspects that fame brought, which were especially bothersome when traveling. Allen recalls more than once he was approached by people with less than favorable results when girls recognized him and asked to take a selfie or talk to him, only to have their boyfriends show up and challenge him with typical remarks such as, “You think you’re so cool because you’re on ‘Days of our Lives,’ but you’re not!” It was at those times that he wished for more anonymity to just have a drink at the bar in peace.
The idea of going into the horse business full time on the East Coast started to sound like a good idea, especially since he had continued to ride whenever he could. “I rode for a lot of people in California between acting jobs, and did some work with Bernie Traurig,” Allen said. “I was always riding — when you don’t work for a year, you can only live on residuals for so long.”
Back to Horses
With his eye on making a living, Allen left California and started his business. “The brokest I’ve ever seen people has been in L.A., which was only one of the reasons I decided I was going to go back into the horse business in Florida and the East Coast,” Allen said. “I started by taking the more difficult horses, and since I didn’t have a lot of money I just took horses that I could get and worked with them to get up to grand prix level.”
ANJumpers is in Landrum, South Carolina, and is based in Ocala, Florida, during the winter, but Allen is also on the road competing. “Right now, I have six on the road with me; that’s what I can handle by myself,” Allen said. “I’ve got probably the nicest horses I’ve ever had now. Most of them are 6- or 7-year-olds and the goal is to get them better and better and move up to the next level in the grand prix.”
Since 2018, Allen and 7-year-old Bon Chatsworth Pierre have been in the winner’s circle multiple times. “He’s matured a lot and we’ve won two grand prix, and the 7-year-old Finals in Tryon, and numerous welcome stakes,” Allen said. “He’s a great horse and I’m really excited about him.”
While focusing on showing and improving the horses he has, Allen also works with Jamie Striker of UpCountry Farms to import horses from Europe and the Czech Republic. Buying and selling horses is financially advantageous but there is a downside, especially since Allen doesn’t usually rely on a staff when on the road. “The frustrating part for me is that a good part of the business is buying and selling,” Allen said. “We all have to eat but if it was up to me, I would never sell them. I’m on the road with them by myself a lot so I really get to know them and I get attached.”
Allen is excited and optimistic about the future. “Ten years ago I said, ‘Look how I’m riding now and just think how good I’m going to be in ten years!’ I sucked then and I probably suck now compared to how I’m going to be in another ten years, so just look what I have to look forward to!”
Photos by Shawna Simmons, www.sasequinephotography.com, unless noted otherwise