By Sadie Fowler


SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Members of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association met for a regular pre-show meeting Wednesday March 20 at the Blue Ribbon Circle, on the grounds of the Celebration, which means one thing — the 2019 show season is about to heat up.


Each year, walking horse trainers gather on the eve of the WHTA National Trainers’ Show to discuss pertinent business related to their show, which takes place March 21-23 at the Calsonic Arena, also on the Celebration Grounds. This year marks the 51stedition of the show, which is known by many as one of the biggest season openers among the walking horse industry’s elite. 


Wednesday afternoon’s meeting, which started at 4 p.m., included regular business as was expected, with WHTA president Bill Cantrell welcoming the crowd.


“This is our biggest show and we are going to try to make it successful,” Cantrell said. 


Prior to getting into regular business, Celebration CEO Mike Inman also welcomed the trainers to the Celebration grounds and wished them well for this year’s show. 


Inman also reviewed important information related to the January public meeting conducted by the USDA that pertained to the USDA announcing it will be performing post-show inspections on all entries and after every class this season as opposed to inspecting random entries for post-show inspections as in the past.


Though Inman explained his interpretation from that USDA meeting was that the inspections would be more of a quick observation as opposed to a lengthy and full-detailed inspection, he cautioned trainers to be aware of this new procedure, especially the logistical aspects of it.


“I just want you to be aware of it,” he said, explaining the need for entries to keep the flow of traffic moving quickly following their class. “It may be logistically complicated at first … Other than that, everything will be just like last year, which is good.”


Inman thanked the trainers for being in Shelbyville for their season opener and said he and the Celebration staff were there to assist with anything the trainers need to make this year’s show a success.


“I can tell you from all indications we’ve seen, from visitors to the show offices, phone calls etc. that it’s going to be flat covered up this weekend with horses, owners and exhibitors,” he said. “I’m really happy for you. We’re privileged to have you.”


The 30-minute meeting also included a brief financial report from Wayne Dean where he stated the Blue Ribbon fund had upward of $26,000 in it, followed by the horse show account sitting at about $162,000, the operating budget at about $36,000 and the Riders’ Cup account, which is only just starting for the year, containing about $1,400.


Dean also updated members about this year’s annual awards banquet, which will again take place at the Cool Springs Marriott with the 2019 dates being secured for Dec. 13 and 14. Special rates are available to those who book their rooms before Nov. 14.


The next brief item of business came from show manager Dean Byard who said sponsorships were up this year and more than $50,000 of the near $85,000 of sponsorships sold had already been collected.


Byard also reported on other shows the association will host this year, including the White Pines show on Sept. 20 and 21; he said the date for the November show in Shelbyville is reserved but it is not confirmed the show will take place.


He also reported on the WHTA’s Blue Ribbon Sale, which takes place each year during the Celebration. He said the current location of the sale is confirmed for another three years. This year’s sale takes place Aug. 30 and 31. 


Marcia Allison reported on the Riders’ Cup program, stating there are nine confirmed horse shows affiliated with the program and 22 sponsors have tentatively agreed to sponsor a category in 2019. With 22 sponsorships tentatively sold, only one sponsorship remains available and anyone wanting more information should contact the WHTA office.  


Cantrell touched on highlights from the WHTA board meeting, which took place prior to the general membership meeting. He said the Board had voted unanimously against requirement that entries showing in championship classes during the Celebration be stabled on the grounds for 48 hours. He asked the trainers in attendance Wednesday to sign a petition if they agreed with the Board’s decision.


“This information will be passed on to the Celebration Board so they know where we stand on the issue,” he said.  


The Horse of the Year Award was also mentioned during the meeting, with Cantrell telling trainers the process of how these awards are determined was different in 2018 and discussion as to how trainers liked or disliked the change had been tabled at a previous meeting. He said he will present more information about this to trainers at a later date and following that, membership will vote on how they want to do the awards going forward. 


Cantrell closed out the meeting by reminding anyone wishing to help with the post-show duties of moving items back to the Trainers’ office to contact him or Allison. He said help is appreciated and needed.


The meeting was adjourned with acknowledgement of the sad passing of Mina Seaton, wife of long-time Celebration flag presenter Bud Seaton, with Cantrell encouraging all who could to attend her visitation, which followed the meeting in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.