The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors' Association celebrated the 75th anniversary of its charter on Friday at association headquarters on North Ellington Parkway.
"This is a very memorable and historic occasion," TWHBEA Executive Director Stan Butt said to association directors, breeders, exhibitors, state and local officials assembled under a tent in front of their offices.
Noting the origins of the association in Lewisburg, TWHBEA President David Pruett asked, "What would that small group of men say today? We have directors here today from the Netherlands, Canada, Germany and there are more."
The story of the association's origins was told several times Friday. Jim Nance McCord was a founding member of the association who also served as Tennessee's governor, Lewisburg's mayor, a congressman and publisher of what's now the Marshall County Tribune, then the Marshall Gazette. McCord had been part of discussions at the Chamber of Commerce about forming a Tennessee walking horse association. So, he and E. Burt Hunter, who became the association's first president, agreed to do something about it the day after the Chamber's April meeting in 1935. They called a meeting held on April 28 that year and McCord presided.
"He did not own a horse which gave him a step up in negotiating over the founding principles of the association," Bill Harlin, of Harlinsdale farm in Franklin and now in College Grove, said of McCord after the ceremonies at TWHBEA headquarters on Friday.
Harlin was 10 years old when that 1935 meeting was held. He went with his father.
McCord "was a real patrician," Harlin said. "He looked the part.
"The meeting was in the Courthouse in the big courtroom," Harlin, 85, continued. "Mr. McCord sat where the judge did."
Burt Hunter sat below, also facing the audience.
"It made a big impression on me," Harlin said. "It was something important."
McCord's newspaper reported another meeting of the group was to be held a month later. In May 1935, by laws and officers were set for 1935-36.
On Friday, Dr. Charles Hatcher of College Grove, the state veterinarian, said, "Today is a celebration of the versatility of the breed," the Tennessee Walking Horse.
"With Tennessee, it's like apple pie and America. You can't separate the two," Hatcher said. "I know there have been a lot of problems over the years, but equine numbers in Tennessee are second only to Texas in the United States and so the Walking Horse industry is so important economically."
Walt Chism, president of the association in 1991-92, said, "A lot of people moved to this state because of the Tennessee Walking Horse."
He's one of them, having moved in 1980.
The breed impressed him as a boy in Alabama where, in a barn one day, he rode a walking horse and recalls, "All you could feel was the glide forward," Chism said. "And, then -- on to the Celebration."
The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is held annually in Shelbyville. Including all the preparations and associated events, it's a two-week event including the Labor Day weekend.
The Celebration was the other thing that impressed Chism in his youth when he became so enamored with the breed that's spawned an industry.
"It's all in the breeding," Hatcher explained of the horse's "natural walking gait; it's innate ability as a smooth riding horse."
In 1950, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized the walking horse as a distinct breed.
Allen F1 is recognized as the founding sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse and Charles Brantley's grandfather owned that horse and kept it on the family farm in the Noah Community of Rutherford County near the Bedford and Coffee counties' line.
"It's been my life," Brantley said.
His wife, Nellie, said, "We own the farm his grandfather owned where F1 stood...
"When people ask him 'How long have you been in the Walking Horse business?' I like to say, 'He was born into it,'" she said because of his father and grandfather.
Charles Brantley said, "I like it because people have taken up with it and because of its movement. It's easy to ride."
"And," Nellie Brantley said, "it's brought a lot of money into the State of Tennessee."
That point was made several times Friday.
"Agriculture is still the biggest industry in this county," Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said to the association's friends and leaders. "We have to support it and we do."
Joe Gaines, assistant commissioner for market development in the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, said, "We've been partners and supporters of the industry for a long time."
Joe B. Brandon of Lewisburg, executive assistant for economic development with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said, "The economic impact of the walking horse on Tennessee has been tremendous for years in Marshall, Rutherford, Bedford and Williamson counties.
The impact has been known for years, and Chism's observations are consistent with Liggett's
"It's certainly worth protecting," Chism said.
The May/June edition of The Voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse, the official breed journal, reports association spending exceeded $650,000 in the first quarter of this year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's agriculture census show there were 210,000 horses in Tennessee in 2002, of which 62,000 were registered walking horses. In 2007, there were 64,300 walking horses out of 142,000 total horses in the state, according to information reported Tuesday by Butts. From the 2002 census, he said, the average value per head was $4,313.
"I think it's fair to say with the economic downturn the horses' average value is now about $3,000," Butts said.
He estimated an annual expenditure on those horses each year at about $300 million.