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Johnny Vardeman: Horse lovers got their kicks from City Park shows
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Madge Martin Harper presents a ribbon to Gloria Bloodworth Colter as show manager Marvin Moore watches during a 1950s horse show at City Park in Gainesville.

Horse shows at City Park in Gainesville once were a highlight of the year, especially in the 1950s.

Large crowds would attend, and there was wide participation not only from horse enthusiasts, but from civic club members, vendors, volunteers, high school students and just people who liked to watch well-trained horses strut their stuff.

J.K. Crumley, who owns a 200-acre farm near Clermont, showed Tennessee Walking Horses and at one time had more than 50 horses.

Crumley remembers poultryman Louis Chemell and E.P. Riley showing horses, including “Talk of the Town,” which became a world champion. Boyd Hudgins, Curtis Hudgins and Boyd Brown were among other horse owners who took part in the shows.

Crumley, 89, was involved in horse competitions for half a century.

Gloria Bloodworth Colter, retired nationally recognized horse trainer, got her start in showing horses at City Park. She remembers well her first show, in which her horse placed fifth out of five horses in her class. She was just 14 years old at the time.

“I wasn’t dressed right,” she said, riding without riders’ appropriate outfit, and no boots, just socks and loafers. After that, her father, longtime JCPenney manager Julian Bloodworth, bought her the proper attire, she began studying horse training and took lessons from Clyde O’Kelley at the Northeast Georgia Fairgrounds Sunday afternoons.

That first show at City Park fueled her passion, and her horses started winning. In 1957, just a few years after that first horse show, her “Merry Lark” won the Georgia Walking Horse Association Pleasure Horse Championship. “Mr. Jo Jo,” a Tennessee Walking Horse, won scores of awards, as did her Morgan horse “Foothill Jolly Joker,” and others she trained.

Gloria showed horses for 35 years and is in Northeast Georgia History Center’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her last horse died last year.

Besides the competition, there was a social aspect to the shows. “Ribbon girls,” usually high school students, dressed in evening gowns to present ribbons to the winners.

“It was lots of fun,” remembers Rosemary Wood Dodd, who was a ribbon girl when she was a Gainesville High School student in the 1950s. “We wore long dresses. I remember wearing a yellow one, and we were very excited.”

Dodd said that was when the poultry people had money to buy and show fine horses.

“It was the same crowd that drove Cadillacs,” she said. In poultry’s heyday, Gainesville is said to have more Cadillacs per capita than any other city.

Horse shows were fancy events, Dodd said, with amazing animals prancing around under the lights at the football field. A lot of high-powered energy among the people and the horses was on display.

Crumley remembers parties after the shows, normally at somebody’s barn. He didn’t participate in the carousing that went on, and one night after a show at City Park, he called Boyd Hudgins’s barn and jokingly told partygoers “the law was on the way, and they just scattered.”

Former Gainesville Mayor Bob Hamrick recalls after the City Park horse shows ended, they moved for a while to Wilbur Ramsey’s pasture in east Hall County.

Michael Wheeler, a Hall County Extension Service agent, says equestrian events continue at various times during the year at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center on Calvary Church Road.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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