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Help them walk on: Support the Celebration



reposted from the Times Gazette
written by Sadie Fowler

I don't know if it's because I have a child who's getting old enough to enjoy the horse show in small bits and pieces, or if it's because the weight of the world seems to be lying on the walking horse industry's shoulders -- or maybe both -- but I'm feeling especially drawn to the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration this year.

In the weeks leading up to the show, as much work as there is to be done, I enjoy seeing regular faces from out of state come to town, preparing to show their horses. I've enjoyed getting to know some of these folks over the years, and the excitement they feel as the show draws near each year is contagious.

Equally, visits to the horse show grounds leading up to the show (and during it) -- the sight of friendly faces in the Celebration office, the scent of the donuts as a hot and fresh batch is delivered to the newsroom, the sound of morning announcer Mark Farrar enthusiastically calling winners' names while I'm walking around the barn area -- are all welcome parts of the year in my book.

Years of controversy surrounding allegations of abuse, the good trainers vs. the bad apples, and the outright battle between the industry and humane organizations alleging abuse have taken their toll on this industry.

Anyone who thinks The Celebration is not facing seriously troubled times is simply not tuning in to reality. And anyone who feels these troubles won't affect you, your family or your business might want to think again.

As a once "horse crazy" little girl who moved to this area because of horses, I have come to know many people connected with the industry over the years. These are good people, and for this reason, I choose to believe -- I trust -- that industry reform has taken place. And there are many qualified people from within that continue to fight for reform every day.

Let me share with you words recently shared to me by a friend, and horse show exhibitor, who traveled from many miles away to attend this year's show. In speaking about the state of the industry, this prominent owner/exhibitor said, "If I thought for one minute that my horses were being abused I would pull them out of that barn so fast it would make your head spin."

The next day, I saw young exhibitor Allison Thorson make three victory passes on horses she trains herself. She wins all the time. I can assure you she is not abusing her horses.

Yesterday, I heard of a young boy who has heart issues living out his dream as he showed in the Big Oval. In Wednesday's Times-Gazette, we shared memories of an 87-year-old man who got to ride the legendary Strolling Jim two weeks before he won the first World Grand Championship in 1939.

These are the stories that matter right now, and everyone in town should be talking about them.

But they're not. Why? Because there is a disconnect between our community and the horse industry that is doing nothing but damage to all parties involved.

Is The Celebration perfect? No. Could they perhaps be doing more to engage the local community with components to the show such as a kids zone, pony rides, entertainment, meets and greets? Yes. Are they trying to get to that point? I do believe so.

Resources are an issue for The Celebration right now, and although the event might not be perfect, the show is still a very enjoyable family night out. Trust me, I took my 3-year-old Tuesday night and she had a blast watching the horses "run" around the ring, the "princesses" pass out ribbons, and the endless (and inexpensive) supply of junk food like fried Oreos, donuts, and ice cream she got to indulge in.

Bottom line: Everyone needs each other right now. The horse show, for the economic factors alone, is vitally important to our community -- the community where our children attend schools, enjoy sports, bands, civic clubs (all things directly affected by the show). But beyond that, it's just cool. What other small town can you think of that has sustained an event such as the Celebration for 75 years?

Have you forgotten? Do you disagree?

If so, I ask you to give it one more try. Take the family out this weekend and help our show walk on.

-- Sadie Fowler is the editor of the Times-Gazette and may be reached at sfowler@t-g.com.

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