The 55th Annual National Trainers’ Show was held in Cooper Steel Arena March 15th through the 18th on the show grounds of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. This marks the first Tennessee Walking Horse show in the newly title sponsored Cooper Steel Arena, replacing the old naming rights holder, Calsonic Arena.

Additionally, it was the first walking horse show held on the newly installed footing inside Cooper Steel Arena. Opinions varied leading up to the show as to how the new footing would react to a walking horse event. The opinions were unanimous from the first night to the end of the show with resounding positive feedback on the new surface.

Middle Tennessee has experienced a mostly warm winter with several 70 degree days in the month of February. However, after the first day of the 55th annual show the temperatures dipped below freezing and created an extremely cold environment, especially in the warm-up and inspection areas.

Each year the National Trainers’ Show is looked upon as the opening to show season, however this year several shows preceded the kickoff show including The Pennyroyal and Heart of Dixie Spring Showcase. Even with shows prior, the Trainers’ Show still suffered in entries as many of the industry’s trainers just aren’t ready to break out their horses this early in the year.

In total, this year’s show had 339 paid entries, which despite the rumor mill during the show, was 10 more paid entries than last year. The 2021 National Trainers’ Show had 411 entries, which breaking the 400 entry threshold is historically good for the March date. In 2020, due to Covid, the show was held in the fall and had over 500 entries, yet that was a condensed season due to impacts of the pandemic. Inspection each year is highly scrutinized at the first show. Just days prior to the start of the show the USDA put out its report on what to expect in 2023, and it included an emphasis on reducing the number of people in the warm-up area and enforcing the three-person limit with each horse in inspection. This was a success during the show, and industry participants, with a couple small reminders, complied with the focus on the rule. In addition, the USDA will not return any horses to DQPs if they have first been inspected and passed by the DQP and then found in violation by a USDA VMO. They will continue to refer horses, other than those found bilaterally sore, to the DQPs for inspection if the VMO is the first person to look at the horse.

Although cold weather always presents challenges, inspection numbers were not altogether different from last year. SHOW inspected 325 entries this year, which was 10 more than last year. SHOW took information on 37 entries, eight of which were post-show referrals from the USDA. The 89% compliance rate was the same as it was in 2022. The USDA took information on five horses behind the DQPs in 2023, one of which was post-show. That number was 12 at last year’s show.

The 55th Annual National Trainers’ Show was judged by Brent Grider, Dickie Scrivner and David Sisk. The trio agreed unanimously 50 times in the 74 class schedule, which included five one-horse classes. If you remove those classes the group unanimously agreed 65% of the time. In another 20 classes, two of the three judges agreed and there were four classes where all three judges tied a different horse.

As has become commonplace, the winning was spread across many different people and training barns. In total, 36 different trainers/ barns won a blue ribbon. Formac Stables led the blue ribbon count with six, while Equinox Farms took home five blue ribbons. Callaway Stables, Myatt Manor, Joe Lester Stables and 4G all left the weekend with four blue ribbons. Taking home three were Maple Hollow Farm, Finish Line Farms, Spencer Benedict Stables and Leigh Stuart, who won all three equitation classes.

Although the entries were light at the show, the stake class provided some much needed excitement with Mr. True Blue and R.M. Kellett exciting the crowd with their performance. Mr. True Blue was second at last year’s show with owner Jake Jacobs in the saddle, but since that performance Mr. True Blue is undefeated on a five class winning streak. That streak includes both the World and World Grand Championship Four-Year-Old performances by Kellett at last year’s Celebration. In just one year, Mr. True Blue has dramatically increased his resume and profile as one of the industry’s top talents.

Full class coverage, including results and judges’ cards can be found here. In addition, full class videos for all 74 classes can be found on ReporTV, here.