CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Anyone who has seen Mr. Ed or Fury on television, Black Beauty in the movies or a photo of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Traveler knows something about the American saddlebred horse.
Hundreds of horses, mostly American Saddlebreds, will be at the Tri-State Exhibition Center through the weekend to show why their relatives are famous for style and beauty.
The 35th annual Chattanooga-Cleveland Charity Horse Show begins this evening.
It is Tennessee's largest show for saddlebred horses, which organizers are quick to point out have nothing to do with Tennessee walking horses. In recent weeks, court cases that played out in Chattanooga and a video showing trainers abusing a horse have put the walking horse industry in a bad light.
"The other night I was watching 'Meet Me In St. Louis,' and the carriage that came to get Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, the horse was an American saddlebred," said Connie Blue of Covington, La. She was at the show Tuesday with 10 horses along with trainer Tommy Benton of Maranatha Stables of Baton Rouge, La., and her son Kendall.
Because the horses are elegant and familiar to just about everybody, Blue said, they attract a lot of spectators.
"That's the thing with this breed," Blue said. "They know they are show horses. When they come in the show ring, they just light up. They know the audience is there.
"And this is one of those shows that does have a good audience," she said.
What: 35th annual Chattanooga-Cleveland Charity Horse Show
When: Today-Saturday; main events at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; short shows, 10 a.m., free
Where: Tri-State Exhibition Center; from Chattanooga, take Interstate 75 exit 20 then left
Admission: $5 at the gate; children under 10 are free.
"It is our biggest event of the year," said Mack Hess, Tri-State manager. "It has a big impact on the economy. The people who come here stay in our motels, eat in our restaurants in Chattanooga and Cleveland. But the thing is, they also go to the aquarium, ride the whitewater rapids or rent pontoons on the river."
This year's charity beneficiary is the Therapeutic Riding Center, dedicated to children and adults with mental or physical impairments. Center Director Denise Wright said this year's benefit will allow the service, nicknamed Reinbow Riders, to reach more people in need.
There is a waiting list now, she said.
The riding center also is expanding its services this fall to include therapeutic riding for veterans and their families.
"Horses for Heroes is for veterans who may face physical limits they didn't face before or just need some help coping, and their families, too," Hess said.
The show started in Ooltewah in 1977 and moved to Tri-State when the arena was built, Hess said.
The event's organizers are another reason why the Chattanooga-Cleveland show remains popular with enthusiasts, Blue said.
"[Show director] David [Peel] has been in shows himself. So he not only organizes this one, but he knows what exhibitors need," Blue said. "Next week they will start planning for next year."