Last Sunday my daughter and I took her two small boys to the Kentucky State Fair. We saw the dairy cows and the rabbits. We rode the Ferris wheel and ate corn dogs. On Saturday my daughter and I are going back by ourselves to watch the final stake night of the World’s Championship Horse Show, a very big deal that most fairgoers don’t understand.
The World’s Championship Horse Show, held at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville, Kentucky, is the world’s richest and most prestigious American Saddlebred show that also includes the Hackney pony and Standardbred horse. It coincides with the dates of the Kentucky State Fair every year, and show events are held at the same time of other fair activities. Attendees and exhibitors contribute over $16.8 million annually in economic impact to the city.
And it is a “world-wide” event as its title claims. I met the family of a thirteen-year-old girl from South Africa who had brought her to Kentucky to compete. While watching the live video feed on my iPad, I noticed a rider from Germany win a fourth place ribbon. I’m sure there are other examples of the world-wide nature of the event. I know that if you win at “Louisville” as horse people call the show, you’ve arrived in the Saddlebred world. It’s like winning the Kentucky Derby for a Thoroughbred owner.
The World’s Championship has been held every year since it was founded in 1902, except for in 1904, when no fair was held, and in 1945, when the fair was cancelled because of World War II. The schedule always ends on a Saturday night with the five gaited world’s grand championship. In 1988, Michele MacFarlane became the first woman and first amateur to win the five gaited world’s grand championship on Sky Watch.
I used the five gaited world’s grand championship as a backdrop for my book KENTUCKY FLAME. In it, I have the hero and heroine compete against each other in a final workout to decide the winner.
Last year, I was in Freedom Hall to watch as the owner of “my barn” where I take riding lessons win the big prize on a horse named Bravo Blue. I’ll end with a quote from The Saddle Horse Report that describes the moment of the win.
When it was all over but the shouting, Rob Byers had no clue how the cards would fall, only that he and Bravo Blue had done all they could do to put themselves in position to win it. One of the grooms back at Premier Stables had a University of Kentucky shirt that was reapportioned for tonight’s class. It said, “I Believe in BLUE.” While UK reigns atop NCAA Men’s Basketball, Bravo Blue reigns supreme in the Saddlebred world. He strode proudly down to the winner’s circle with the great Rob Byers up for this his second Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship. They were joined there by Rob’s wife Sarah, along with assistants Katy Hannah and Heather Digiannantonio. Perhaps most important among these was the man waving the towel over his head in celebration, Bravo Blue’s caretaker, Keith Overall, recipient of the Koller Farms Caretakers Trophy. He has been an integral part of the Premier family for nearly 20 years, taking care of some of the very best and brightest the Saddlebred world has ever seen.