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Wells: walking horse industry is cornerstone

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 11/16/21

For over 80 years, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has played a major role in Shelbyville industry.  

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Wells: walking horse industry is cornerstone


For over 80 years, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has played a major role in Shelbyville industry.  

Warren Wells, CEO of The Celebration since January, said the Celebration has even proved to be a cornerstone of the community.  

“The reason why I say we’re a cornerstone is...everywhere you go, there are still walking horse barns everywhere,” he said. “You bring that anchor in and everything else follows it.”  

“We are still the Super Bowl of the industry,” he said.  

The industry has had some hard hits. Attendance isn’t what it used to be, according to Wells. But, the TWHNC CEO said compliance rates were nearly 98 percent at the last Celebration and 99 percent at the Fall Classic.  

“You can’t find 16-17,000 people watching a horse just about anywhere else...The (Kentucky) Derby is one thing, but when it comes to a true horse show, it just doesn’t happen very often. So, we are still very unique,” Wells said.  

Capturing that uniqueness will be a key in paving the way for the Celebration in the years to come. And the biggest need for paving the way, Wells said, is growing the Celebration through the fan experience.  

“I really want it to be something that even if you don’t care about horses―you want to be here because it’s fun, exciting,” he said.  

The vision has brought an increase in locals to the walking horse events. For example, the Fall Classic saw many business leaders in the community sponsoring tables, according to Wells.  

Still, hundreds of breeders, trainers, exhibitors, owners come from out of state who in turn support the economy, through buying local products, eating at local restaurants, buying gas and staying at hotels. As the Celebration has proved before, tourism is and will remain part of the industry’s contribution to the economy.  

“I think when new companies or when new industries come, they see us as that cornerstone that Shelbyville was built on when it comes to tourism and jobs. I think the Celebration can definitely play a role in helping others come,” Wells said.  

The Celebration even looks to possibly partner with other local organizations, like the distilleries or Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Shelbyville, to provide both tourism and workforce development opportunities.  

“I think we’re pretty unique to where we’re located,” Wells said.  

For now, Wells said the Celebration will be focusing on ground maintenance and beautification as they wait until January when other shows, beyond the horse, use the arena like monster trucks, demolition derbies, motor cross. They’re a local draw but attract visitors from Lincoln, Moore, Marshall, and even Rutherford counties.  

The Celebration hopes to track where visitors are coming from in order to better gauge where to establish those partnerships, Wells explained.  

“Any time you have something this large, there are factions,” Wells said. “One thing the walking horse industry would benefit from is if we could all get on the same page and move forward together.”  

But what remains the same, Wells said, “The positive thing is the people. They’re absolutely amazing,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people...They love the breed but they also love Shelbyville.”  

“I’m happy to be home and being a part of the community that raised me.”