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Mississippi Charity Horse Show: A Mainstay of Our Industry



JACKSON, Miss. – In 1930, the Mississippi Charity Horse Show began. It was started by Breck Cabell, Col. B. F. McCleland, W.H. Pullen, Sidney Robinson, Ben Wakefield, Jackson Mayor Walter Scott, and Robert Stockett, Sr. The first year, the show was held on Stockett property and was called the Jackson Horse Show (the name by which it has been called by trainers and exhibitors throughout the years). The show was moved to the Mississippi Fairgrounds in 1931 where it was held in front of the big grandstand.
In 1933, the Junior Auxiliary (which would become the Junior League of Jackson in 1941) sponsored the show. The Girl Scouts took over the sponsorship of the show from 1934 through 1936. The Junior Auxiliary again sponsored the show in 1937. In 1938, the Mississippi Horse Show Association was formed and has sponsored the charity event from that year forward.

Initially, the show was a multi-breed event with Hunter/Jumpers, American Saddlebreds, and Tennessee Walking Horses. Over the years, interest shifted away from Hunter/Jumpers, so Saddlebreds and walking horses made up the program  for most of the 1960’s and 1970’s. With the 1980’s came Racking Horses and a shift away from Saddlebreds. From the 1990’s to the present, the program is almost exclusively walking horses.

The Mississippi Charity Horse Show became a premier society event for the city of Jackson. Men and women would dress in their finest to attend the performances. Downtown stores would decorate their Capital Street windows especially for the horse show.

World War II interrupted the show in 1942, but people really wanted to see the fine show horses perform again, so in 1943, the show continued; and 1944 was the first year the show was held at night due to electric lights being added to the big grandstand.

During the scheduled 1957 show, it rained for three days causing the outdoor show to be postponed for several days. Following the 1957 show, the big grandstand was blown down by a severe storm. As a result, the show on the Fairgrounds was cancelled from 1958 through 1962 when the 6500-seat Coliseum was completed on the Mississippi Fairgrounds. From 1963 through 2009, the show was held in the Coliseum. In 2009, the Mississippi Charity Horse Show Association decided to relocate the 2010 show to the Kirk Fordice Equine Center, the new state of the art equine facility next door (but still on the Fairgrounds).

Trainer Ronnie Spears made his first trip to the Jackson show in 1963. He remembers that the Coliseum was brand new but there were only portable stalls and some very old barns in the back. Spears remembers that in the 1960’s, besides the Coliseum, there was only Stockett Stables on the levee of the Pearl River and Bob Hughes blacksmith shop in the area. It was several years before the Stocketts built the Ramada Inn across the street from the Coliseum. He said, “Bob cooked for us every day at lunch.” He also remembers that the Coliseum was full to standing room only every night and the crowds got involved in letting everyone know their favorites.

Spears had many great horses for R. E. Broome of Jackson who won many amateur stakes with Magic Spell, Eb’s Go Boy, Ebony’s Strutter, and others over many years. Spears showed horses for Mr. Broome all over the south, but says that “Baton Rouge, Jackson, and Montgomery were the prestige shows”.

Spears said that everyone from Middle Tennessee was always anxious to get to Jackson where the weather was considerably warmer in the springtime, but he also remembers lots of bad weather during various horse shows and says one year 2-3 tornadoes touched down close by. Spears said that Steve Aymett, Wink Groover, Billy Gray and he found a place to take cover in case the next one touched down on the Fairgrounds and “we were really nervous”.

When asked about his memories of Jackson, trainer Steve Aymett recalled winning the stake class with The Pushover for Larry and Mary Pickart. The Pushover was raised by the Pickarts and started by Bryant Fly and Aymett got him as an aged horse. Shortly after winning at Jackson, he was purchased by the Varners.

Aymett also recalled that he, Allan Callaway, and Whitey Whitehead judged the Jackson show in 1973, which was the first year that organist Larry Bright played for the show.

When asked to recall his most vivid memory of the show, Aymett quickly responded “the flood” (of 1979). The horse show was held on Easter weekend that year. A fishing tournament had also been held at the Ross Barnett Reservoir that weekend and the locks had been closed on the Pearl River. When torrential rains came, flooding was very rapid. Aymett recalls seeing people throwing luggage off the second floor of the Ramada Inn. Spears goes on to add, “I was on the rail with a rider in the amateur stake when then show manager Sam Hall walked up and told us we needed to get out of town quick. We finished the horse show, but we left in such a hurry, Irene and Nikki didn’t get all their clothes packed. Mr. Broome sent us pictures after we got home and the water got up to the roofs on all the barns and up to the 18th or 19th row of seats in the Coliseum.”

Both Aymett and Spears remember that by the time they got the horses loaded the roads between Jackson and Meridian (the usual route home) were washed out and they had to go home by way of Memphis. They also recalled that word went out from the newly-built Chevrolet dealership beside Stockett Stables for help to drive the cars to safety. Many people drove a new Chevy off the lot, but they still lost 50-60 cars because the water rose so quickly.

Horse show organist extraordinaire Larry Bright, a native of Jackson, began playing officially for the Mississippi Charity Horse Show in 1973 and has not missed a show since. Bright remembers being asked by R. E. Broome to play for the show once while he was just a teenager and the show was still held at the grandstand on the Fairgrounds and sponsored by the Wahabi Shriners Temple of Jackson. When he was asked to play in 1973, it was on the recommendation of the great announcer Oneil Howell of Memphis, Tenn., who announced all the top Saddlebred shows such as the Kentucky State Fair as well as the Jackson show. Bright had played a show in Phoeniz, Ariz., where Howell was the announcer, and Howell recommended that he play at Jackson.

Bright goes on to say that he attended the show long before he started playing for it. He said it was considered the highlight of the Spring social scene for fashions and for “seeing and being seen.”

When asks what sets this show apart from other shows for which he plays, Bright says that going into the arena to set up his equipment on the first morning and getting to visit with all the trainers and exhibitors is a real special part of the show for him. He says that no one tries harder than the Mississippi Charity Horse Show Association to make everyone feel welcome and that there is a special comraderie among longtime Jackson show-goers.

When asked about his most unforgettable moment at the show, Bright said, “When Bob Cherry rode into the ring on The High Chaparral, it would bring every spectator to his feet! It was thrilling to watch.”

This writer especially enjoyed reminiscing with Dude Prestwood of Jackson who was show manager for over 25 years. Although Prestwood rarely got to watch the show because his duties as show manager kept him busy behind the scenes, he recalled that many World Grand Champions debuted at Jackson in the year they won at the Celebration. He recalled that many of the “original trainers” such as Vic Thompson, C. A. Bobo, Sam Paschal, and many more had ridden through the gates in Jackson. He recalled times when 700-800 horses would come to the show, and Jackson was considered one of the biggest shows in the South, a premier event along with Baton Rouge and Montgomery.

In a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, Prestwood recalled how difficult it was to select the judges over the years, saying, “Everyone wants the judges to ‘tie me first’ and then judge everything else right.” He said he is proud of the outstanding judges that have stood center ring in “the big house” (as the Coliseum is called) over the years.

Prestwood goes on to say that it has always been a practice of the show to try to get as many sponsorships as possible from the local community so that exhibitors don’t have that expense on top of the expense of coming to the show. He feels that practice along with lots of entertainment and Southern hospitality is what brings people from all over the country back to Jackson year after year.

Barbara and Jay Kenehan of Flat Creek, Tenn., attended their very first Mississippi Charity Horse Show in 2011. Barbara was so impressed by the hospitality that she wrote a note to the Association telling them of their wonderful experience. Says Jay, “I don’t know how we missed this show for so many years, but we won’t miss it again. We had a blast!”

Becky and Michael Coleman of Greenwood, Miss., have attended many Jackson shows over the years. Becky described a really fun aspect that she remembers, “In the 1980’s, we all looked forward to getting dressed up for the Stockett’s wonderful Saturday afternoon party at the Ramada Inn. Beautifully decorated tables were filled with the most exquisite, delicious foods, and everyone talked about the upcoming championship classes. The Stocketts were such gracious hosts.”

The Colemans added there are many traditions that make the show memorable year after year. Michael said, “The Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital, which sets the highest standards for children’s medical care, has been the most recent charity beneficiary of the show. What could be better than a gift to a sick child.”

The Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital will again be the beneficiary of the 2012 show. Over the past five years, the show has raised over $85,000 for the hospital; $35,000 of which was raised in 2011, enabling the hospital to add a new examining room in its emergency department. The generous donations of vendors and exhibitors has enabled the horse show association to raise large sums at its silent auction on Saturday afternoon. The 2011 silent auction raised over $20,000, supplemented by a single $5,000 donation from Sadie and Randall Baskin.

It is with great generosity that the Mississippi Charity Horse Show is held year after year. The top-quality competition, the great Southern hospitality from the Margarita Meet & Greet and Couchon D’Lait on Thursday night to the Crawfish Boil on Saturday afternoon and the silent auction that raises large sums for the beneficiary of the show, and the “we’re all in this together” spirit of all the participants….these are the components that have made this an unforgettable horse show for the past 82 years. 

See you in Jackson!

 

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