Germantown Charity Horse Show
By Betsy West/Andy Pouncey
June 1, 2006
A tradition occurs in Germantown every year, the Annual Germantown Charity Horse Show, one of the oldest and largest multi-breed shows in the nation. The original intent was to establish an event that would be entertaining, involve the community, and return any financial rewards to the benefit of the community. As part of the Charity Horse Show’s Golden Jubilee, the late Betsy West provided the following detail of this very popular event.
Following World War II, a number of Memphis and Germantown friends returning from active duty met and rode their horses in the Germantown area on Sunday afternoons. They decided that local interest in horses should be channeled into community-wide participation. The Oak Grove Saddle Club was inspired by former Master of Fox Hounds MFH Bart Mueller, who had experienced fox hunting in Maryland and South Carolina, and shared this sport with his friends in West Tennessee.
Former MFH Walter N. (Sonny) Foster, Sr. recalled “the Saturday hunts and Sunday afternoon trail rides led to the organization of the Oak Grove Saddle Club in 1946. On Thanksgiving Day of that year, we invited everyone we knew who would like to trail ride to come to a barbecue at the Scout Hut of Germantown High School. About 75 people came with nearly as many horses. The response sparked the whole idea for a horse show.”
The first Germantown Horse Show was held in 1947 at a new privately-owned show ring and barn located at present-day 7930 Poplar Pike. Three gentlemen from Jackson, TN (Guy, Exum, and Haskell) were invited to manage and participate in the show. Hospitality was called for and a square dance was held in the loft of the barn the night before the show – the first Exhibitors Party. The tradition was established.
In 1948, three events were important to the creation of the horse show as we know it today. Sonny Foster stated that “with the encouragement of Audrey Taylor and Ray Firestone, the LeBonheur Horse Show of Memphis added Local Working Hunter Class, which drew a number of Germantown entries.” This brought nationwide recognition of the new sport to the community.
Also, in 1948, the Oak Grove Saddle Club became the Oak Grove Hunt Club with Raymond Firestone and Sonny Foster as Joint Masters. With direction from Bart Mueller’s experience in this area, the hunt soon became recognized.
The third event was the alliance of the Oak Grove Hunt Club with the Germantown Civic Club, which had long been aware of local interest in gaited and walking horses. The Germantown Civic Club contributed and participated in many public needs of the community, such as supporting the City of Germantown and Germantown High School. The two organizations perceived that by joining forces, they would provide the drive that would benefit the whole community.
Committees from both groups worked together to stage the 1948 horse show at the Ralph B. Hunt Field of M.C. Williams High School in Germantown. The official program states that proceeds would go to carry on projects of both organizations.
The ten-afternoon classes were designed to appeal to novices and youthful riders. It was here that the traditional Costume Class began. Three hunter classes were interspersed. The ten evening classes established the all-breed show tradition by scheduling classes for hunters, jumpers, three-gaited, five-gaited, fine harness, roadster, and walking horses.
At the conclusion of a very successful show, the Horse Show committee from both the Hunt Club and the Civic Club met to evaluate the 1948 show and plan the 1949 show. All agreed that benefiting a charity would increase public interest and participation, so Gailor Hall for Boys (later called Boys Town) was designated as the recipient of proceeds from the 1949 show. The 1949 show saw 140 horses from six states compete.
By the time that the 1950 show began, the media was reporting that the Germantown Charity Horse Show Association had been formed and chartered by the state. John R. Stivers was elected the first President in 1950, and the Memphis Union King’s Daughters sponsored the event for the benefit of the building fund of the Home for Incurables, a King’s Daughters’ project. Author William Faulkner and his family came from Oxford to see the 1950 show.
In 1950, the Horse Show was held at the Ralph B. Hunt Field of M.C. Williams High School in Germantown. A little more experience with horse shows began to reveal certain weaknesses in the facilities by 1951, and the founders began to envision the perfect horse show ring.
For instance, the judges’ stand was located in the middle of the ring and shielded the horse that broke its gate from being seen by the judge on the opposite side of the ring. In another incident, the temporary ring was made of fencing stretched on metal fence posts. In one roadster class, the hub of a bike wheel became caught in the wire fence. The driver sustained the fall, but the need was established for a safety hub-rail to protect the bikes.
On another occasion, a high-spirited jumper jumped the gate that enclosed the ring, so the founders planned an in-gate and out-gate. With these issues in mind, the Germantown Charity Horse Show Association (GCHSA) sought to find a new site for the show.
A 16-acre tract owned by Earl Dickey lay just east of the high school football field. The Oak Grove Hunt had been allowed to construct a three-quarter-mile track around this property before, for the purpose of holding the Oak Grove Spring Mule Races.
The racetrack had been constructed on the rim of a natural bowl, with a levee built upon the lower side. Bart Mueller saw the site’s features as perfect for a horse show arena and suggested enlarging the already low area to make a bowl with a natural stand on three sides.
Mr. Dickey agreed to sell the property if the buyer guaranteed that the land would be used for community recreation only.
Directors of the Horse Show met at the schoolhouse with representatives from Oak Grove Hunt, Germantown Civic Club, and the City of Germantown to discuss the possibilities and responsibility of achieving the dream arena. Architect David McGehee gave a perspective on construction; C.C. (Bubba) Burford, the first City Manager, discussed the city’s interest in a custodial relationship; and John Stivers represented the horse show in the discussion of legal and financial possibilities.
The result…a community park that includes tennis courts, playgrounds, and picnic grounds, as well as horse show facilities, and a sound program for financing the park.
Germantown Charity Horse Show Inc. issued bonds and offered them for sale to local citizens. Some of the facilities were built from these funds and the balance from horse show proceeds. Upon redemption of the bonds, the GCHSA was free to lend the Civic Club the necessary $2,000 down payment on the property purchase. The Civic Club then deeded the park property to the City of Germantown with the warranty that it would forever be used for recreational purposes.
In order for the GCHSA to make permanent improvements, it was given a fifty-year lease with the understanding that by mutual agreement the lease could be renewed indefinitely. The Civic Club continued to operate all concessions, and in addition, received a share of the profits from the horse show. With these funds, an additional 16 acres between the arena and the woods were purchased. This area was much needed for parking and eventually for more rings and stabling tents.
The show ring was graded and enclosed with a board fence, whose hub rail was placed at the correct height to protect a bike; and a judges/announcer’s/secretary’s stand at the end separated the in-gate from the out-gate. The design, drainage, and auxiliary buildings were handled by Director/Architect David McGehee. In 1954, their dream became a reality, and after the rain quit the show went on as scheduled.
No one has ever been able to estimate the number of man/woman hours expended on the Horse Show. All of the energy associated with the event could not be generated without the dedication of many individuals.
Individuals are dedicated to the GCHSA in varying degrees, but the show is dedicated to the sport. In order to be successful, certain guidelines were engraved into the building stones: (1) there is no show without exhibitors, therefore their comfort, accommodations, and entertainment are of top priority; (2) there is no profit without generous contributors and sponsors, therefore every honor, acknowledgment, and thanks should be given to these silent partners; and (3) there is no excitement without spectators, therefore the show must be entertaining, lively and on time. There should be horses or exhibitions in the ring at all times – one class entering the ring as others leave. The third class must be called to the warm-up paddock as soon as the in-gate is closed.
Thank you Betty West!
The City of Germantown has just entered into a long-term (25 years) lease agreement with the GCHSA for the continued use, management, and operations of the approximately 12.8 acres of property currently referred to as the Germantown Charity Horse Show grounds and arena site.
The Germantown Civic Club (GCC) was founded in 1936 and was chartered as a nonprofit corporation in the State of Tennessee in 1943. The GCC, a co-founder of the Horse Show with the Oak Grove Saddle Club, has achieved a great number of accomplishments that have benefited the City. Their members have been instrumental in almost every activity relative to the government of the city by serving on various public boards and commissions.
The GCC founded and published the Germantown News; procured the first railroad crossing signals for the city; founded the first Boy Scout Troop (No. 87); funded the construction of a building located at Germantown High School for use by the Boy Scouts, and many other projects. GCC also funded the purchase of the land lying west of Melanie Smith Lane, known as C.O. Franklin Park, containing the Horse Show Arena and tennis courts, and the purchase of the land upon which the Joe Pickering Community Center is located. Those tracts are now owned by the city. In addition, GCC was instrumental in encouraging the City to purchase the land now known as Morgan Woods.
Further, GCC purchased and now owns 8.296 acres of land lying contiguous to Melanie Smith Lane on the east. This land is leased to the City for use of the Horse Show for staging the Horse Show and other important equestrian events.
The GCC has just agreed to sell this parcel of property to the City and has generously agreed to donate the entire amount they receive for the purchase back to the City. A portion of the funds was used for the renovation of the former library building in C.O. Franklin Park, known as The Germantown Community Library Regional History and Genealogy Center. The Germantown Civic Club Courtyard was built and joins the Joe Pickering Community Center and the new library center.
With the balance of the money, the Germantown Civic Club Library Endowment Fund will be established to support the Germantown Community Library in the collection, preservation, and presentation of the books, materials, and other memorabilia relative to the history of the City and surrounding areas and their inhabitants, and to promote greater appreciation and understanding of such history by the public. The building will also serve as the depository for the collection of books and materials of the Tennessee Genealogical Society.
The heritage of the Germantown Charity Horse Show Association and the Germantown Civic Club is the support of activities and charitable endeavors that enrich our lives as citizens of the City and surrounding areas. We cannot say thank you enough for their leadership in the development of our City.
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Blessing of the Hounds