The 70th version of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration will go down as a success following 11 days and nights of competition in Shelbyville.

The horses are the drawing card for Tennessee’s oldest continually running event and when the entry deadline passed on August 5th, 4,222 entries had been made prior to the show.

“We were extremely pleased to see an increase in pre-entries,” said Celebration CEO and Show Chairman Dr. Doyle Meadows.  “Seeing an increase was important because it reversed a five-year period of declining entry numbers.”

The total number of entries increases after the show’s preliminary classes are completed and championship entries are made. 2,188 different horses made a total of 4,689 entries, including championship entries.  That represents a decrease of 55 over the total in 2007, less than one-third of an entry per class.  The 2,188 different horses entered are 36 more than last year.  Out of the total number of entries, 2,907 were actually presented in the showring, which is slightly less than showed in 2007, but still one of the highest percentages (62%) in recent years.

“To me, that is one of the most telling statistics about our entries,” continued Meadows. “It’s very gratifying to see the number of horses that come through that entry gate…even though the total number of entries may be down a bit.  It speaks loudly to the type of horses the trainers are presenting for inspection.  All credit for this should go to the owners, trainers, and exhibitors in the walking horse industry. It’s their hard work and dedication to the breed, and the excitement of the fans, that makes this world championship horse show what it is.”

The Celebration® added several new measures to the event in 2007 designed to ensure the health and safety of the horses on the Grounds, the integrity of the show, and the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.  Those measures were strengthened further in 2008.

Getting that many horses to the showring in a timely fashion is not an easy job.  The United States Department of Agriculture and National Horse Show Commission (NHSC) handle all inspections at the Celebration.

The success of the 2008 Celebration has not gone unnoticed by officials in state government.

“I feel the industry has made tremendous strides (since 2006),” said Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, during an appearance at the TWHBEA National Futurity.  “There is a much better feeling.  I really feel good about it.  It’s such an important industry to our state, a signature industry.  It may not be as big as Dolly Parton or Elvis, but it’s big.”

Bredesen, while not an owner, has been a proud rider on numerous occasions.

“In most parades I go to, I ride a Tennessee Walking Horse.  I take great pride in this breed.”

While no attendance records were broken in 2008, the numbers were still very encouraging to Celebration officials.  A total of 139,695 fans streamed through the historic gates of the Celebration Grounds.  The paid-attendance was also large with 215,096 tickets being sold for the ten nights of competition.

Weather can always have an effect on attendance at an outdoor event, such as The Celebration®.  Two nights of competition (Monday and Tuesday) were directly affected by steady rains that were the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay.

Once the weather broke on Wednesday, attendance picked back up to the levels of the previous year.

“With high fuel prices and the overall state of the economy, we are pleased with our attendance numbers this year.  But with the product we saw in the ring this year, we certainly have something very good to work with,” Meadows said. “Our board, our staff, and I can’t thank the fans enough who came in large numbers this year. It tells us that the product we’re presenting is what the public wants to see…beautiful and talented horses, great riders, and a terrific overall atmosphere.”

The show culminated with the crowning of “Santana’s El Nino” as the new World Grand Champion Tennessee Walking Horse®, owned by Michael and Ann Jones of Lafayette, GA.  Santana’s El Nino gave trainer Link Webb of Lewisburg his very first World Grand Champion ride.

In addition to fifteen performances in the ring, The Celebration® featured a gigantic trade fair, nightly music in Celebration Plaza, five post-show street parties, stable decorating contest, TWHBEA Clinics, the WHT Auxiliary Dog Show, Barbecue Cookout, and many other activities.

“When you boil it down, it was a good year at The Celebration®,” remarked Meadows. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t be working hard every day to find ways to make the World’s Greatest Horse Show even better.  We will.”