THE STORY OF
THE GERMANTOWN CHARITY HORSE SHOW
by Betsy West
The Germantown Charity
Horse Show evolved in the way the most enduring events
do: from a dream, a drive, and the dedication of its
The dream began when a small group of friends, recently
returned from active duty in W.W. II, decided that local
interest in horses should be channeled into
community-wide participation and an extension beyond
Former Master of Fox Hounds (MFH) Bart Mueller inspired
the founding of the local Oak Grove Hunt, which led to
the formation of the Germantown Charity Horse Show. Mr.
Mueller had experienced fox hunting in Maryland and
South Carolina and gave visions of this ancient sport to
the neophytes of West Tennessee.
Former MFH Walter N. (Sonny) Foster, Sr. recalls that
the Saturday hunts and Sunday afternoon trail rides led
to 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 School. About 75
people showed up 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 were invited to manage and participate in
the show: Emmet Guy as show manager and announcer, and
Jimmy Exum and Haskell Belew as hunter/jumper
exhibitors. Out-of-town guests called for hospitality,
so a square dance was held in the loft of the barn the
night before the show—the first Exhibitors Party.
Traditions were being established, and the dream was
Three events in 1948 were important to the creation of
the horse show as we know it today. Mr. Foster
continues: "With the encouragement of Audrey Taylor and
Ray Firestone, the LeBonheur Horse Show of Memphis added
a Local Working Hunter Class, which drew a number of
Germantown entries. This brought nationwide recognition
of the new sport in our community.”
In addition, the Oak Grove Saddle Club became the Oak
Grove Hunt Club, with Raymond Firestone and Mr. Foster
as Joint Masters. Steered by Bart Mueller's experience,
the hunt soon became recognized.
The third event which supported the development of the
show was the alliance of the Oak Grove Hunt Club with
the Germantown Civic Club. The Civic Club had long been
aware of local interest in gaited and walking horses,
and the two organizations perceived that joining forces
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 stated that proceeds
would go to carry on projects of both organizations, and
that "a large portion will go to pay for the lights
under which this show takes place tonight.”
Local merchants, friends, and many businesses in Memphis
placed ads and "compliments" in the 36-page program.
Some space was used to explain the sport of fox hunting,
to encourage the participation of children, and to
welcome exhibitors. One quarter page advertised:
"Germantown, TN founded in 1836: 16 miles to Memphis,
the Cotton Metropolis of the Americas, a city of 343,000
well satisfied citizenry."
Ten afternoon classes were designed to appeal to novices
and youthful riders. Here the traditional Costume Class
began. Three hunter classes were interspersed as well.
The ten evening classes established the all-breed
tradition by scheduling classes for hunters, jumpers,
three-gaited, five- gaited, fine harness, roadster and
THE FIRST CHARITY
After the conclusion of a very successful 1948 show, the
Horse Show Committee from both the Hunt Club and the
Civic Club agreed that benefiting a charity would
increase public interest and participation. Gailor Hall
for Boys (later called Boys Town) was designated as the
recipient of proceeds from the 1949 show.
Newspaper accounts from the 1949 show say that 5,000
people were expected at the May 21st evening show, and
140 horses from six states were on hand to compete. The
show was delayed by rain—another tradition
established—but nonetheless, it continued, and Paul
Raines won three blue ribbons. The delay did not dampen
enthusiasm for food and drink, and the Civic Club
concession stands did such good business that the
decision was made to abandon their annual Germantown
Carnival in order to concentrate all efforts on
concessions for the proposed annual horse show.
By the 1950 show, newspapers were reporting that the
Germantown Charity Horse Show Association had been
formed and was chartered by the state. Oak Grove Hunt
Club and the Germantown Civic Club each elected five
members to be Directors of the Horse Show Association.
These ten directors would choose an eleventh member.
Oak Grove Hunt elected W.N. (Sonny) Foster, Sr., Daniel
E. West, Winston Cheairs, Gordon Meeks, Jr., and Claude
Germantown Civic Club elected John R. Stivers, George M.
Chapman, Boyd Arthur, Sr., Bill Spangler and Art
Hawkinson. Judge F.M. Henderson was elected as the
The 11 directors were already friends and neighbors, and
many were members of both organizations, so the dream
and drive were unified. The extent of the unification is
documented in The Huntsman's Letter of 5 October 1947. A
notice read, "Wanta' Swap? Judge Henderson will get a
hunter if someone will buy one of his gaited horses!"
John R. Stivers was elected the first GCHSA President in
1950, and the Memphis Union King's Daughters sponsored
the show for the benefit of the Home for Incurables, a
King's Daughters' project. "This is truly a community
project," Mr. Stivers said. "Everyone in Germantown has
pitched in and tried to make it a success." Show manager
was Eddie C. Eggert, who for the past four years had
managed the American Royal Show in Kansas City.
Temporary box seats were installed around the temporary
ring with the judge's stand forming an island in the
center. Author William Faulkner and his family came from
Oxford, MS to see the show. In 1951, “a three-year
contract (was signed) by officers of the Horse Show and
the Memphis Union of Kings Daughters” to continue their
More experience was beginning to reveal weaknesses in
the facilities, and the dreamers began to envision the
perfect horse show ring. For instance, the judges' stand
in center ring shielded horses that broke their gait
from being seen by the judge on the opposite side.
However, “all show rings have the judges' stand in
center ring,” so we wondered, “Do we dare change?”
Another necessity was revealed by an incident involving
the temporary ring, which was made of fencing stretched
on metal fence posts. In one roadster class, the
announcer had just called “Turn ’em on” and the
roadsters-to-bike leaned on their traces. The pace
picked up to a furious rate, when suddenly the hub of a
bike wheel hung in the wire fence, jerking the wheels
free from the bike and leaving the driver on the seat
with shafts and reins still attached to the horse. The
driver reined in as quickly as possible, while the
announcer intoned in a calming voice, "Go at ease, go at
ease." By this time, the driver was running behind his
horse, reins in hand, and the secretary's stand breathed
a sign of relief. Thus was established the need for a
safety hub rail to protect the bikes.
On another occasion, a high-spirited jumper took all the
jumps in the ring and, not satisfied with that success,
proceeded to jump the gate which enclosed the ring,
scattering right and left spectators who clung to the
gate. At that point, the dreamers planned an in-gate and
out-gate, two lanes to control horse traffic. So it was
that the momentum picked up and the GCHSA forged ahead
to find a new site for the show.
THE PERFECT SHOW ARENA
Just east of the high school football field was a
l6-acre tract owned by Earl Dickey. Mr. Dickey had
allowed members of Oak Grove Hunt to construct a
three-quarter mile track around this property for the
purpose of holding the Oak Grove Spring Mule Races. The
racetrack had been constructed on a rim of a natural
bowl, with a levee built up on the low side. With the
eye of a landscape architect, Bart Mueller saw that it
would make a unique and perfect horse show arena, and he
suggested enlarging the already low area to make a bowl
with natural stand on three sides.
Mr. Dickey was approached about the idea, and he agreed
to sell the property to a responsible group if it
guaranteed that the land would be used only for
community recreation. Directors of the horse show
invited representatives from Oak Grove Hunt, Germantown
Civic Club and the City of Germantown to meet at the
schoolhouse to discuss the possibilities and
responsibilities of achieving the perfect arena.
Experts in various fields were asked to report: David
McGehee gave a presentation on construction; C.C.
(Bubba) Burford discussed the city's interest in a
custodial relationship; and John Stivers represented the
horse show in discussion of legal and financial aspects.
As a result, the Horse Show Association became the
vehicle for producing a community park, which includes
tennis courts, playground and picnic grounds, and horse
show facilities. Moreover, it provided 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 with these
funds and proceeds from the annual horse shows.
Upon the redemption of the bonds, the Horse Show
Association 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 Horse
Show Association to make permanent improvements, it was
given a 50-year lease with the understanding that by
mutual agreement the lease could be renewed
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 woods was 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 the bikes. A stand for
judges, announcers, and the show secretary separated the
in-gate from the out-gate. Director and architect David
McGehee oversaw the design, drainage and construction of
auxiliary buildings. This arena, the first of its kind
on the horse show circuit, has served as a model for
other later-built rings.
In 1954, the show was scheduled to open on Thursday, May
28th. Then the rains came. The fresh-turned clay in the
bowl became a sea of mud; even the grassy upper level
was soggy and soft. Drastic measures were initiated to
get ready for the show. During a lull in the rain, the
ring was plowed all night in hope of turning up dry
soil; truckloads of sand were added to the arena and
sawdust was shoveled into pathways, all to no avail.
Opening night had to be delayed until Saturday night.
The ring was decorated with red, white and blue bunting
(another tradition), but the weather had no regard for
such niceties. However, one feature could not be harmed:
the white iron grillwork on the judges’ stand, which had
been loaned by an ornamental iron company. All parties
hoped it would become a permanent fixture, but when the
final figures were in, an additional barn had a higher
priority. So the horse show grew, and more days and
nights were added to accommodate more classes for more
horses. A greater variety of breeds was introduced, and
crowd-pleasing exhibitions were added. These included
such acts as the Curtis Candy six-pony hitch to a
miniature stagecoach, the Miss Budweiser World Champion
jumper, the 1st Calvary Horse Platoon from Ft. Hood, TX,
and Dinwiddie Lampton & J.V. Renfroe vintage driving
Events appealing to different interests were added on a
trial basis, such as a tennis tournament, a Horse Show
Queen contest and a Grand Ball. The tennis tournament
was eliminated, but the Queen's Ball is still a
highlight of the social scene. In 1950, women served on
most, if not all, committees, although they were not
members of the association. They were exhibitors,
secretaries, publicity writers, photographers,
decorators, trophy buyers, ad-sellers, hostesses and
grooms—to name a few titles.
When it became apparent that the secretarial work was a
duty needed year round, an executive secretary position
was created. Bess Barry held that position from 1952.
Her father, Jack Barry, had been mayor of Germantown for
26 years (before mayoralty was a salaried position) and
he promoted and aided the horse show.
The Suburban Garden Club also has played a role in many
horse shows, with its members decorating the ring, the
entrance, the jumps, and the area for the exhibitors’
party. Many dedicated exhibitors have stood behind GCHS.
Abe Atfater, who entered the first show on a walking
horse and later switched to a roadster, was on hand at
every show. The late AW. Lasley of Jackson, TN was proud
to say that he brought his roadster to the first GCHS
and had entered every one since that day. If he ever
took a blue ribbon, it was not at Germantown, but still
he came every year, only to place second or third. He
loved his sport, and he loved contributing to the joint
effort of producing something good.
Individuals are dedicated to the GCHS, and the show is
dedicated to the sport. In order to continue to be
successful, certain guidelines have been 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. 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 another leaves. The next class is
called to the warm-up paddock as soon as the in-gate is
closed. The show must go on!