by David L. Howard   

As you reflect back on this year’s Celebration, it is difficult to put into words the many special moments, memories and impressive statistics that go into this eleven day extravaganza. As usual, it was a tremendous success by almost any measure and The Celebration continues to rank as one of the premier horse events in the world. 

Statistically, the Celebration stands alone among horse shows. Paid attendance approached a quarter million people and actual attendance for ten nights totaled 162,176, an all time record. And bear in mind that admittance to the day sessions is free and those fans are not reflected in these numbers. 

While entries did not set a record, there were more than enough horses to satisfy even the most horse hungry fan. Entries totaled 5,358 with 2,610 different horses entering the ring 3,627 times. The quality of the horses was at an all time high with numerous classes featuring many multi time World Champions. Getting a ribbon at The Celebration has never been more demanding and winning a World Championship truly challenged the best horses and riders the breed has to offer. 

Horses and riders were riding for more than ribbons and honors as the total prize money and awards is approaching $700,000. The show attracted participants from 42 states and 3 foreign countries, further testimony to the tremendous national and international interest in the Tennessee Walking Horse and its World Championship Show. 

There are many other statistical measures of this year’s show’s success but we won’t recount them here. Suffice it to say, by any measure the 2004 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was one for the ages. 

The judging at our world championship is always a critical component and this year was no exception. It is a very difficult assignment and this year’s panel measured up quite well. Almost without exception, the best horse was crowned the winner but sometimes it was difficult to understand the divergence in the cards of the five men.  

Perhaps this is testimony to the judging system that overcomes really widespread opinions but it is also indicative that horses don’t necessarily make the same show or the same mistakes in front of every judge. There were numerous examples of horses having difficulty in front of one judge but otherwise making a winning show in front of others.  

To be perfectly candid, sometimes a judge makes a mistake or misses a horse, no one is perfect. But when analyzing a particular judge, focus on how he tied all ten places in all classes before forming an opinion. 

A look at some numbers bears this out. There were 51 unanimous ties this year versus 41 last year; winners with four first place votes totaled 43 this year and 52 last year and, finally, there were six winners with no first place ties this year and only one last year.  

The bottom line on a judging panel is did the best horses win …and that was certainly the case this year. 

Finally, what about Jimmy McConnell and The Black Night Shade, the 2004 World Grand Champions. I can think of no trainer more deserving of this honor and he did it the old fashioned way – he earned it! 

This horse has been with Jimmy as his trainer from day one and there have been many challenges along the way. Owners Tom and Judy Waite never lost faith in their horse or the program at Formac Stables. The disappointment of being reserve last year only made this group more committed and Night Shade has not tasted defeat since that night.  Jimmy was the winner of an equally special award that night as he was named Trainer of the Year by his fellow trainers, the highest individual honor a trainer can receive. One thing about Jimmy and Formac, if you have a horse there, he will be ridden and trained and he will be shown.   Indeed, good things do happen to good people!