By Sadie Fowler

For many years, the days surrounding the Fourth of July holiday have been filled with some of the steepest competition of the year in the Tennessee Walking Horse business. While the names have changed at times over the years, the few shows that collectively make up the “Fourth of July” banner in Middle Tennessee have long-been must stops on any contender eyeing toward the Celebration.

It’s a few days of laid-back fun, great competition, camaraderie — all while helping a good cause as the horse shows on this week, or any week for that matter, benefit local charities. Specifically, Christmas In July helps provide Christmas to thousands of local children while Money Tree Class has long been known to also serve children via the scholarships it provides among other things.

Like anything, though, with the good always comes a challenge, and if you’re talking about Christmas In July or the Money Tree Classic the specific challenges are likely about grueling schedules and late nights that have possibly become too late. Last year, for example, Money Tree hosted 46 classes during it’s one night show, beginning at 4 p.m. and ending around 1:30 a.m.

Thanks to the collaboration of both shows’ organizers putting their minds together for the greater good, there’s hope for this year that a solution is on the horizon.

“One of the biggest complaints we always hear is that our show is too long and goes too late,” said Jennifer Barr, a well-known horse show photographer who is also a key organizer for Money Tree. “It’s a general complaint all summer long that one-night shows are too long and go too late, but on this weekend it’s magnified.”

The Fourth of July shows serve as a focal point for all the major players within the walking horse industry who want to show, thus the feedback of trainers, owners and exhibitors enduring the late nights during the hottest time of the year in Middle Tennessee matters to those putting them on.

“It’s hot, it’s late nights, and it’s hard on people,” Barr said. “But everyone — all the major players — want to be here and with that in mind, we wanted to work together to find a solution.”

Barr, along with Christmas In July manager Julie Graham, and other key folks involved with these two shows, collaborated with two main goals on the forefront: They wanted to cut down their class sheets and, in doing so, amp up the competition. Their hope is to host shows that remain highly competitive but end much earlier than the wee hours of the morning. 

It started with simple brainstorming; Graham and Barr got together and began tweaking their class sheets based on data collected from recent years along with data from other key shows previously held this year such as the Trainers’ Show, FAST, and the Fun Show. 

“We worked together on our class sheets and looked at ways to divide up classes that historically have fewer entries, such as the two-year-old amateur classes, for example,” she said.

In the past, each show hosted two classes in this light division. This year, rather than repeating each other, each show will host one class in the division and in doing so each show is cutting one class. 

The amateur two-year-old division is one example where the ladies were able to cut classes, with the juvenile division being another example. 

“Julie took the 11 and under and we took the 12 to 17,” she said. “So the division is still represented and nothing is lost, collectively speaking.”

Another challenge presented itself to both show managers this year with the requirement of additional Racking classes that had to be incorporated into the schedule. 

Barr said she and Graham both had been thinking of and lightly experimenting with ways to shorten their class sheets as recently as last year, trying a few new things — but none that were greatly noticed or made much of a difference. 

“At the end of the day people still complained and our class lists were too long,” she said. 

After brainstorming and lots of tweaking, Graham was able to initially cut off 19 classes from Christmas In July, which holds the two-day spot among the trio of shows that weekend and is scheduled to take place this year one Wednesday and Thursday, July 3 and 4. Money Tree will take place Friday, July 5.

After cutting the 19 classes, Graham was able to refine her schedule even more while helping the Money Tree gang out with some of their challenges. 

“Julie cut 19 classes from her schedule, then added two of the equitation classes that we cut from ours, as well as our auxiliary class in addition to picking up the Racking classes,” Barr explained. “At the end of the day, even after adding our classes onto her schedule, she is still down four classes.”

Adding icing on the cake, Money Tree has also significantly trimmed from its class sheet, down nine classes to be exact.

“We sponsor the Auxiliary Equitation classes at the Celebration, and in the past we have been the only show to host that class leading up to the Celebration so we never felt we could cut that, for example,” Barr said. “But with Julie picking it up, it helped shorten our night.”

In general, the ladies say they looked at numbers from last year and any class that had 10 or more entries was kept on the collective schedule.

“Our main concern was to be able to offer everything that people wanted across the three nights,” Graham said. “Nothing is gone or missing. And it’s a trial basis so if it doesn’t work we can always go back.”

Graham and Barr agree that it was an added plus that each of them are involved in the horse industry in a variety of ways and therefore understand the challenges of making decisions about class sheets from an insider perspective of which others planning class sheets might not have. 

“A lot of our shows are put on by charities and their folks simply don’t necessarily know how or where to make the cuts,” Graham said. “It was pretty easy for us to work together, but this brings up another point, which is we encourage anyone planning a horse show to call us if they need help. That’s what we’re here for.”

Graham is referring to the Walking Horse Report, which has up-to-date and current information about horse show calendars all season long.

“We encourage people to work together but to also check the calendar regularly or call us because we’re happy to help,” she said. “We might see that another show has moved a date to your weekend so we can help steer you in the right direction or say, ‘Hey, you know what, there’s another show 20 miles away on your same date so that’s probably not the best date for your show.’”

If folks place a little more consideration on the master calendar, think outside the box and collaborate with each other, there’s no telling what’s possible. 

“We might even get out before 10 p.m.,” Barr laughed, adding that they will be documenting the end times of each show this Fourth of July and will reevaluate next year.