The 2002 Celebration will take its place in history with significant records in terms of horses shown, most classes, number of entries, most classes divided, etc., etc. The high turnout of horses will continue to be a strong indication that our breed is thriving and doing very well.

Big Screen

Everyone connected with The Celebration was delighted at the response to the Big Screen project for the 2002 World Championship Horse Show. We had tried unsuccessfully to accomplish this goal, and it was fulfilling to meet with such success. It was so successful, as a matter of fact, that plans have already been made to do the same thing in 2003 with the addition of having another screen on the opposite side of the arena. This is extremely costly, but will be important for the fans that are located under the present screen. The videos, industry related advertisements, and other things made for entertaining moments when there were extended time-outs or delays.

Specials Between Classes

There is concern on our part that our paid admission slips a little bit each year. We are confident that the small amount of slippage this year from 226,541 to 224,182 was due to rain consistently on the first weekend. It rained Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Additionally, we had heavy rainstorms within an hours drive of our facility in the late afternoon hours, and this is the time of day that the “non-equestrian families” are making their decision as to whether or not they will attend the show that evening. The die-hard fans will be here regardless of weather, but the other people are the ones that we must do our best to encourage their participation.

This year we once again had “specials” in between classes on four evenings. I’m disappointed that there has been a rather significant amount of negativism about these appearances. We are trying to appeal to the casual horse fan, and we are trying to give them another reason to come to the Celebration. Many of our hard-core fans do not need nor appreciate these specials, but it would be gratifying if they would at least try to understand why we are having them. I am even more frustrated that some people “think” that these specials delay the show. This is totally untrue. These specials did not slow the show at any time of the entire event. These specials were kept to 2.5 minutes each, and the class was already called before the specials began.

There is a 3-minute gate call in between each class. The clock is located in the warm-up area of Calsonic Arena so the trainers and exhibitors can see exactly how much time they have before the gate is closed. Since the specials are only 2.5 minutes each, the show is certainly not delayed. We merely are giving people an opportunity to see and enjoy some type of entertainment during a time that the horses are entering the arena. Also, when we have presentations that must be made and people that must be recognized, a similar situation exists. We call the class and then we honor a specific politician, recognize versatility winners, introduce scholarship winners, announce Auxiliary Member of the Year, etc. We have great respect for the fact that the show must move crisply and promptly, and we do everything within our power not to delay the show. I’m disappointed and surprised at the number of complaints that we received in our suggestion boxes where people said, “these specials made the show go on too late”. How wrong the people were. I’m certainly not saying that you have to like the specials, but at least understand where they fit within the show and respect the fact that they did not delay the show at all.

We have studied very closely other major sporting events, and we truly believe that if we do not make a broader appeal to more people, our attendance will continue on a slight downward spiral. This would not be good. The Tennessee Titans, the Nashville Predators, and other major sporting venues have special acts throughout the entire event. People go to see a football game or a hockey game, but they are entertained in other ways throughout the evening. I firmly believe that we must continue considering this in order to keep an interest in our event to people who are not die-hard horse fans.

Corporate Sponsors

It continues to be a source of irritation and frustration to show management when people complain about sponsors who show horses. At the Celebration we are delighted to state that we have never asked a person who is involved in the walking horse business to be a sponsor of any kind. These people come to us. Why do they come to us? They come to us because they want the perks, they want to be in the Corporate Sponsor section of the Blue Ribbon Yearbook, they want the VIP parking, they want a box of six seats, they want to come to center ring and make a presentation, they want their name on the message center when they present the trophy, etc. Our sponsors make a significant financial contribution to our horse show. If we took the sponsorship revenue away from this event, the fees would escalate at an alarming rate. Box seat charges, reserve seat ticket charges, barn stalls and barn fees, parking fees, etc. would be dramatically higher if we did not have this sponsorship revenue. This is the case at virtually every horse show in America, not just The Celebration. Many of our sponsors make a financial contribution to The Celebration because they want “to support our breeds’ world championship show.” I think it would be unfair to prohibit our people who participate from being a part of our sponsor program simply because they have horses. At every other horse show in our industry, the owners that are participating in this show do the heavy majority of the sponsoring of that event. Without their sponsorship revenue, there would not be horse shows. When we started our program in 1984, the decision was made that we would not solicit people within our business simply because they are asked so many times throughout the year to sponsor a class at a horse show. We have held true to that decision, yet we don’t think it would be appropriate to disallow them from sponsoring merely because they compete in the event.

Celebration Charges and Fees

On a regular basis, we receive complaints about our fees being too high. Our show has reached a certain level of expectation, and it takes a certain amount of money to put that product on the table. Our fees increase each year only a modest amount as respected by an increase in the cost of living and an increase in the cost of our doing business. I wish we never had to increase fees. People have come to expect the Celebration to perform at a certain level, and it take a certain amount of money to do that. I am delighted that our board of directors is so sensitive to price increases and studies this issue very closely each year when the fee structure is determined.

Trail Pleasure Division

This new division has absolutely taken of faster than any of us thought that it possibly could. I am extremely happy and honored that the participants in this division are so supportive of our new class structure. It is rewarding when they say, “you give us the classes and we will come”. They certainly have performed. It has grown so much, in fact, that we are struggling to develop a class schedule for 2003 so that it can all fit within reasonable time factors.

Novice Classes

Much like the subject above in Trail Pleasure, the Novice Division is extremely popular. We are so fortunate that people want to participate in these classes within a group of entries of similar ability. The Novice Classes have given many exhibitors a new hope of being competitive in various classes. At the 2002 Celebration, the Trail Pleasure Division and the Novice Division accounted for 26% of our total entries. Remember, just a few years ago we had neither of these divisions. What a success story!

An Entry Being Excused

There was an incident in Championship class #137, Owner/Amateur Riders on Walking Horses World Grand Championship where a horse was asked to be excused by the judge due to bad image. Many people questioned show managements lack of response to the initial request for the horse to be excused. Some people have even said that show management did not excuse the horse timely because show management didn’t want to excuse the horse. That certainly is not true. May I elaborate on this one issue since there has been so much discussion about it?

The entry in question was the final entry in that particular class. The horse answered the gate call and the Celebration center ring staff went about its business of checking numbers and getting ready for that class to be handled as promptly as we possibly could. The ringmaster working with the call judge came towards the center ring officials stand and made a motion with his hand that was not clear to the people who saw it. As show manager, I did not see the initial gesture from the ringmaster. The ringmaster, thinking we understood what he wanted, walked back towards the call judge. We got his attention to get a clarification on what the indication was. The horse could have wanted a time-out, the horse could have needed a groom, the judge could have excused the horse, or there could have been another issue involved. It all happened very fast. By the time the ringmaster came back to the officials stand and indicated that the judged wanted the horse excused for bad image, the horse had reached the south turn. Upon clarification of what the judge wanted, the announcer promptly excused the horse from the class. There are those who feel that it was not handled properly. I assure you that it was handled as promptly and effectively as it could have been, given the circumstances just mentioned.

Size of Classes

The judges must look at a lot of numbers. Let me be more specific. Including Futurity, there were 3,667 entries that actually answered the gate call in 195 classes. This is an average of 19 horses per class. That's a lot of numbers to keep straight. That's a lot of work. Overall, the judges do an outstanding job officiating an event this size. A applaud their efforts and support their intentions of doing the very best job they possibly can. Our morning sessions are now going until one and one-thirty in the afternoon. Our evening sessions pretty much averaged the eleven-thirty to midnight time frame. We continue to do the best we possibly can to get horses in and out on a timely basis, giving them a fair chance to compete, and giving the judges ample time to review the class and make proper decisions. We pledge our continued efforts to doing an even better job. I continue to say that we must study the possibility of two rings going simultaneously in the morning sessions. This has some baggage with it, and it certainly brings some problems to the table. It does, however, give us an alternative for the long sessions that we are beginning to experience.

Unforgiving Public

Some of our horse show fans either don’t go to many events, or they are extremely spoiled. I say this because so many of them are so vocal when something happens that does not suit them. They appear to be very unforgiving. Possibly, we have raised the bar so high that they expect perfection from our staff. If they do expect this, they are going to be disappointed because we are not perfect. We will not be perfect. We will always do the best we can, but we will always fall short of perfection.

An unfortunate incident happened near the conclusion of the show when we improperly announced that Jeff Givins had won the use of the Sundowner Trailer for one year. Jimmy McConnell actually won this prestigious award. There was simply an error over one class in which Jimmy competed. The computer didn’t cause the problem, the person putting it in the computer caused the problem. They made a mistake. We have, however, been absolutely hammered over this issue as though we just took it upon ourselves to intentionally disgrace Jimmy McConnell. What joke. We are extremely proud of Jimmy McConnell, and he has almost always won the trailer every time that it has been presented. I’m not indicating that we should not be upset over our error, which we certainly are, but I am surprised at the outrage of a few people, one more specifically, who has been so vocal about this mistake. Possibly, these people who complain so much do run their businesses without error and they do achieve perfection. I cannot imagine that, however.


Here are a few closing thoughts about the 2002 Celebration. The number of entries was staggering in terms of the all time record that they set. We continue to be concerned about a dip in our paid attendance. The trainers presented a wonderful group of horses this year in a fine, professional manner. There were very few bad image horses. There were very few horses that didn’t “look good” in the ring. For that, we are grateful. Our new announcer was most unsuccessful. We will work even harder to find an appropriate second person to work with Chip Walters. This is not easy to do. The barn area is even more beautiful than it was at the 2001 Celebration. I am in awe of the decorations and the manner in which people convert our barns in lavish horse hotels. It has become one of the trademarks of our show, and it is also one of the highlights that visitors now enjoy. We are indebted to people for that. We thank the exhibitors for being concerned and understanding about parking in the barn area. We must keep working hard to solve those problems. The young horses were outstanding. The two and three year old classes were unbelievable. This great for our future. Overall, the inspection area went extremely well this year with one or two glitches that were later corrected after personnel changes took place. We thank Dr. Gipson for attending our show and for being a part of our event. His presence was greatly appreciated.

We will never be able to please everyone. We understand this. There are not enough blue ribbons to be distributed, there are never enough handicap parking spaces available, the weather doesn’t suit everyone, and we are keenly aware that at any time we make a decision, some people are happy and some people are made. That goes with the territory. We at The Celebration are honored to be able to play host to so many wonderful people in late summer each year as we collectively crown and recognize World Grand Champion Tennessee Horses. It has been our pleasure to do this for 64 years, making us the oldest continuously running event in the great State of Tennessee. We do not take that distinction lightly. We will work even harder and more diligently in this next year to raise the bar another notch realizing that when we fall short, our omissions are even more open for criticism. We respect the fact that our event is unique in America, and our customers are also unique and extremely important to us.

In Closing

Now, let’s talk about the real world!

224,182 paid attendance

152,326 actual attendance

5,327 entries

2,554 different horses

Approximately $700,000 in prize money and awards in Celebration and Futurity combined

VIP’s and dignitaries from every walk of life in our center ring

People from 44 states and three foreign countries attended our horse show

A festive, enthusiastic atmosphere throughout the show

Virtually no complaining about the overall judging of the 64th Annual Celebration

As a horse show manager, am I excited about this show? You bet I am. Just think of the number of other championship shows that would absolutely die for numbers like the ones just mentioned. We are most blessed that our horse continues to be so popular and so exciting. We are most blessed that our trainers continue to do an even better job of presenting horses that are within the guidelines of the 1970 Horse Protection Act. We are most blessed that approximately 30,000 people attend our show on our final night and are excited, they have a good time, they enjoy this great horse, and they go home anxious for the next Celebration. Everyone connected to The Celebration is grateful and honored to be a part of such a magnificent event.