By Mark McGee

Spring is on the way and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is busy remodeling and rejuvenating the facilities just in time for the 55th Annual National Walking Horse Trainers’ Show, March 13-16, 2024.

Cooper Steel has done more than put its name on the arena at the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration Grounds. They have placed their stamp of quality throughout the facility.

“We were so excited to have this opportunity to help bring new life to the arena. It has been great to watch the transformation, which we hope will help attract many quality events to this community,” said Cooper Steel CEO Gary Cooper.

Warren Wells, TWHNC CEO, is anxious to see the reactions of walking horse fans when they arrive for the Trainers’ Show. Tennessee Walking Horse enthusiasts of all sorts are going to be walking into a new and improved facility with renovations inside and out, resulting in a totally new and improved look, new restrooms and brand new hospitality areas.

“When you pull up to Cooper Steel Arena the first thing you see is the entire building has been painted a different color, a lot closer to the Cooper Steel colors with two different grays and black,” Wells said. “There is an all-new façade which looks awesome with all of the new brickwork ane wood accents. There is all new concrete in light gray and dark gray in front of the arena, and it really completes the look of the exterior.”

“What we call the storefront, every piece of metal came out. There is new metal, new glass and new doors. It got a complete facelift.”

The new exterior is impressive, but the interior is just as stunning.

“As you walk into the arena, the first thing you see on the back wall is the huge Cooper Steel logo,” Wells said. “All the metal at that end is covered and it has a very clean, bright look.”

Bathrooms also have been completely redone with new floors, new stalls and new paint. “I think our visitors are really going to love that,” Wells said. “The bathrooms were in great need of updating, and this renovation allowed us to really improve those facilities.” 

Not only does Cooper Steel Arena look better, it is also going to sound better. The speaker system, which was original to the building when it was opened in 1989, has been replaced. The Trainers’ Show will be the first to use the new system.

Kim and Scott Leonard’s Professional Audio Designs out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has designed the new system, tuned it and installed it. 

“The Leonards are walking horse people,” Wells said. “They have a home here in Shelbyville and love our horse. It was nice to have such a top-notch company with ties to our industry.”

With the new system, the organ music can be plugged in directly so everyone, regardless of where they are sitting in the arena, will be able to hear it at the same level. The announcer’s sound will also be enhanced.

Wells added that film crews will be able to pick up audio directly into their cameras. Crowd microphones are going to be positioned around the arena to pick up crowd noise for camera crews to give you the feel you are in the middle of the action. The new sound system will also benefit the Hall of Fame Room inside the arena.

“One issue we had with the Hall of Fame Room was however loud the announcer was in the ring, it was that loud on the inside of the room,” Wells said. “We didn’t have a separate control. Now the room will have its own independent controls with the sound projecting throughout the room.”

The Hall of Fame Room has also undergone a complete remodeling as well. “There are new floors, painted ceilings and walls and a completely new bar area,” Wells said. “There are new windows and doors. There is new lighting as well, which just accentuated the improvements. The Hall of Fame is now one of the most impressive rooms on the showgrounds, and will be a really good place for the Walking Horse industry and people and businesses in Shelbyville to use.”

Despite all of the work, there is still more ahead. “We are going to surround the VIP parking in front of the arena with nice ornamental fencing like the David L. Howard entrance gate,” Wells said. “It is going to be beautiful. We have a lot more landscaping to do to spruce up the arena area as well. Another vendor with Tennessee Walking Horse ties, Jacobs Fencing, will be used for this project.”

“We are super grateful for everything the Cooper Steel family has done in helping us to better market this arena. The renovations have exceeded our expectations, and will allow Cooper Steel Arena and The Celebration to offer one of the best equine arenas and venues in the country. We can’t thank them enough for all of their work.”

Outside on the grounds all three shower houses are being replaced in the RV parks. “Talking to prospective shows around the country, one thing that hurts us is our shower houses in the RV areas,’ Wells said. “The showers were in really bad shape. No one said they could fix them. 

“Denali Construction in town has torn down all three buildings. The color scheme will match Cooper Steel Arena with gray and black. It is going to help us offer a lot more to our customers. The new shower buildings should help us recruit some new events and add additional comfort to our current lineup of events.”