(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler) [Order this photo]
The 73rd edition of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration began this morning with classes in Calsonic Arena. The annual Trade Fair opened as well and the National Futurity competition, sponsored by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, kicks off at 5:30 p.m. All are free to the public.
Abernathy, a trainer from Olive Branch, Miss., and his team was working hard Tuesday afternoon to get its barn area ready for the show, and in shape to serve as a social platform for friends to enjoy while not watching the show.
"We have another place here in Shelbyville where the horses stay," Abernathy said. "We have 15 horses with us this year."
Abernathy said the hardest part about getting ready for the show isn't nailing up curtains displaying their barn name and logo; it's getting and staying organized
"It's a lot of work," he said. "But we love it. It's a family business."
His favorite part of the show? "The rare occasion to win a blue," he said promptly.
Abernathy's 15 horses are part of the 2,874 entries that will make up the preliminary round of competition, a number that is down 340 from last year's show. Celebration chief executive officer Doyle Meadows said earlier this month he feels confident numbers in the championship part of the competition will be strong.
"I feel more excited for this 73rd edition of (the show) than I have since I have been in Shelbyville," said Meadows, who joined the Celebration in 2008. "The positive industry mood carried over from the summer shows gives us real optimism for a great Celebration."
Fun and people
Just a few doors down from the Abernathys, Ira Kilburn of Salt Lick, Ky., worked on the barn display for Jeff Willis Stables. The Willis team doesn't have any horses with them this year, as Jeff is one of the five professionals judging the show, but that doesn't mean Willis' team won't be enjoying the social aspect of the event.
"We came here to have fun, anyway," said Kilburn. "We've been moving in for four or five days already."
Energy and anticipation about the upcoming show seemed apparent throughout the grounds.
"It's a lifelong thing, to be a part of this," said Ralph Combs, who helped Kilburn set up. "We love the horses and the fellowship and camaraderie."
Both Abernathy and Willis and their crews hope their efforts will pay off when it comes to the barn decorating contest, which takes place this Sunday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. following the dog show.
"Seeing everything come together is certainly most impressive -- this is definitely not your everyday horse show as most everyone that lives here knows," said Dale Barnett, public relations official for the Celebration. "The extent of the landscaping and construction involved in the barn decorations is something you'll certainly want to see, some of it is quite fascinating."