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Kids swarm Shelbyville for day of horsing around

By Sadie Fowler

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — About 2000 students from Shelbyville and other parts of Middle Tennessee packed the seats of the Calsonic Arena Friday, March 9 for the inaugural Kids In Education Day. Sponsored by FAST and spearheaded by Jerry Harris, the event served as a way to promote the Tennessee Walking Horse through a day of exposure to various aspects of the breed.

Several schools from within the Bedford County attended, but no one could out-do Liberty School, which sent all 600 of its students to the event. 

“It’s good for the kids in our community and surrounding communities to see what goes on with the horses,” said Cort Huffman, Liberty principal. “Most probably don’t get to go to the horse show so this will be as close as they get to it. I think it was a great idea and the kids had fun with it and were excited. 

His group included students from kindergarten through 8th grade, and Huffman said he was appreciative of the great accommodations they received from organizers. Initially, they were only planning to take the older kids, but plans changed.

“I called Jerry Harris and asked him if we could include the rest of the students and he said, ‘come on,’” he said. “I saw kids coming to school this morning who never wear boots wearing boots and hats … The line-up of horses they have here today is really good as well.”

After welcoming the students, Mike Davis with FAST addressed the crowd, along with brief comments from Celebration CEO Mike Inman, prior to a flag demonstration and a parade of horses. This showcased the various divisions of the breed and included many of the industry’s best, ranging to tiny Lexi Kofer aboard lead line champ Rascal Flatts all the way up to 20-year-old stallion, The Golden Sovereign.

This tried and true champion’s owner, Virginia Stewart was among local horse enthusiasts in attendance and left feeling inspired by the day’s event.

“I think this is amazing. It’s good for the kids, the community and the industry, and perhaps some of these children will get excited and maybe talk their parents into buying a horse or getting involved,” she said, later adding that kids were still lined up at 1:30 to take a turn riding some of the many flat shod horses on hand. “To me, that was very exciting.”

Many industry and community leaders also attended, agreeing with Stewart’s assessment. David Williams, breeding manager of Rising Star, was among industry supporters.

“This is the first time for something like this and those putting it together did a phenomenal job,” Williams said. “We need to have more things like this. It’s wonderful for us as an industry to be out here with all these kids. It really makes us, and the participants, feel good. Look around, I think some of the participants doing the demos had as much or more fun as the kids.”

A few kids wore two hats Friday, being both students and also involved from the participant standpoint. Cheyanne and Dakoda Gardner, 10-year-old twins, were there supporting their dad, Dickie Gardner, who presented a horse during the parade of champions. 

“Both my girls show and exhibit walking and spotted saddle horses, as well as trail ride, and they loved being here,” he said. “They’re performing at BreyerFest coming up so they’re really excited about that also … I think today was a good introduction for kids who have not seen our horse. The future of our breed is our kids.”

Rachel Cowles was another youth there to lend her efforts. She worked a booth following the parade of horses to tell students about Just Say WHOA, an anti-drug and alcohol group that uses the horse as a tool to helping kids learn to live right. 

“I’m also here today to talk about the TWHBEA Versatility program,” she said. “I plan to tell the kids about how being involved in this program can teach them work ethic, and how you get out of things what you put into them.”

Shelbyville City Mayor Wallace Cartwright also watched with impressive eyes, saying this was the most kids he’s ever seen in Calsonic. 

“I know they had 1700 confirmed but more came than that,” he laughed. “Jerry (Harris) was stressing a little about running out of papers to give the kids and I told him ‘Don’t worry about that. These kids want to see the horses.’”

Hopefully, the connection was made and will transpire into interest and participation in future horse shows. And if so, the kids will remember a promise Inman made to them Friday morning. 

“I’m going to tell you here today, if any of you call up Connie at the Celebration office, just ask her for two more free tickets to the Celebration and I promise, she’ll get you two more free tickets,” he said.

Several stations were set up for kids to tour, ask questions and get an up close and personal look, including a veterinary station, farrier, USDA and even pony rides. Lunch was also served, courtesy of Domino’s. The entire event was free to all.

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