By Sadie Fowler

The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association serves as host to its annual show each year, often referred to by industry insiders as simply “The Trainers’ Show” — and it’s become a must stop for many of the industry’s best of the best as they embark on the new show season.

The annual show is heralded as the second largest Tennessee Walking Horse show in the nation and the first major show of the season each year. It’s long been considered a preview of the upcoming season and this year’s edition is just around the corner.

The 50th annual WHTA National Trainers’ Show takes place March 22-24 at the Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville, Tennessee and will be judged by Jamie Bradshaw, Allen Forman and Ronnie Spears.

The Trainers’ Show truly is a spotlight show for the industry’s best exhibitors. In fact, in the show’s 50 year history, 13 of the trainers who won the stake class at the Trainers’ Show have gone on to win the World Grand Championship at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration — that’s 26 percent!

The Trainers’ Show has long been the greatest source of funding to the WHTA, and the event has not only spotlighted many of the industry’s best horses, but has also made significant contributions to the local community through the many charities it serves.

The history of the WHTA begins in 1968, when the association was established. The purpose of the non-profit organization was to promote and develop activities on behalf of and in interest of the protection of its members. Many industry leaders have put forth great efforts to serve the association over the years, including Marcia Allison, WHTA secretary for the past 25 years.

“As time has evolved, the purpose and mission has expanded to include support of many community projects as well as the health and welfare of its greatest asset — the beautiful Tennessee Walking Horse,” said Bill Cantrell, current president of the WHTA. Headquartered in Shelbyville, Tennessee, the capital of the walking horse, the WHTA began with approximately 200 members in its general membership and future growth has seen the membership exceed one thousand members during peak years.

“Our goal is to concentrate on the positive aspects of the walking horse industry and offer its support to many worthwhile projects,” Cantrell said. Thanks to the success of its annual show, many charities have benefited from the WHTA, including some of the following: The NAHRA, a handicapped riding association; Bedford County Healthy Children Program; Bedford County 4-H projects, Bedford County pediatrics at the local hospital, Great Strides, and several other programs related to children; animal charities; and much more.

In 1992, the Trainers’ Show was dedicated to the Feed the Children organization where the WHTA was able to help aid malnourished children across the entire country.

The future generation of walking horse enthusiasts is very important to the WHTA and the association tries to showcase its support of youth by funding an annual scholarship. In 1989, the scholarship fund was established and it has been considered an extremely proactive and worthwhile venture.

Currently, the scholarships are made possible by the generous donation of the Glenn C. Dowell, Jr. Family. This year will mark the eighth year the family has sponsored this educational endeavor. In addition, in 2017 a second fund was established, The Billy Gray Scholarship, in memory of the legendary trainer its named for who sadly passed away in 2016.

In 1995, a Youth Council group was established with the goal of teaching the younger generations responsibilities related to showing and exhibiting, which includes versatility as well as serving the industry and community via charities. The Youth Council serves several worthwhile projects, including the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Toy Drive, Donkey Basketball and many more. In 1971, the Trainers’ Wives Auxiliary was formed and later became the Walking Horse Trainers’ Auxiliary. Its goal continues to be a support system to the WHTA. One of its biggest events of the year is the Money Tree Classic Horse Show, which provides funding to handicap riding clubs and sponsors a scholarship each year to a deserving student.

Beyond the many specific organizations it serves, the WHTA, via its annual show, benefits the local community largely in terms of being an economic driver. Many out of town guests visit Shelbyville for the show, spending their money at local restaurants, stores, hotels and more.

“More money means more sales tax revenue comes back to every Bedford County person, paying for schools, roads and infrastructure,” Cantrell said. “It is estimated that this multi-day show will bring in a minimum of $1.2 to $1.3 million in economic impact to the area, not counting revenue from organized horse sales and private transactions. ”The first Trainers’ show took place 50 years ago at the Ellington Center in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a one day show with 17 classes. It then moved to Shelbyville, where it has remained a welcomed event for the community.

Looking back to 1993, its 25th anniversary, a record number of entries — 1674 to be exact — showed up to compete, the largest show since its inception. Now, with the 50th edition just around the corner, enthusiasm remains high as trainers, owners and other fans of the walking horse look forward to kicking off the 2018 in fine fashion. Dean Byard, who has helped organize the show for many years in an unofficial capacity, is leading the efforts as show manager.

In a previous story in the Jan. 29 edition of Walking Horse Report, Byard said he’s beyond excited about this year’s show. “The Trainers’ Show is one of the biggest shows we have in the industry and I think this year could be one of the biggest Trainers’ Shows we’ve ever had,” Byard said. “People are more enthusiastic about this year’s upcoming season than I’ve ever seen.”

Byard has made several additions to this year’s show, which can be viewed in more detail here