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Joe D. Bright leaves strong legacy in local racking horse industry

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Joe D. Bright saw a massive, untapped market in the horse community and didn't let it pass.

His vision helped develop the racking horse into a new breed and industry. Though the 84-year-old Birmingham man died Saturday, he left a legacy that continues to be a major economic boost to Decatur and Price-ville.

"He was a real motivator, a real honest and sincere type person that was dedicated to the racking horse industry," said Jimmy Smith, who has been a key sponsor of the Racking Horse Breeders Association of America since in held its first show in Priceville in 1973.

In the late 1960's, Bright and his close friend, Harold Blach, led a group of Alabama horsemen through the legalities with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recognize the racking horse as a distinct breed. The USDA granted that status is 1971. Until that time it had been the only horse in America's show rings not protected by a registry or a uniform set of rules.

Smith said Bright saw that there were a lot of people who owned horses that naturally did the single-foot gait (one hoof hitting the ground at a time) within the walking horse industry that couldn't do the walk. These were mainly pleasure horse families, and his vision was to develop a family atmosphere for them to perform their natural gait and promote the breed, he said.

The first World Celebration was held in Birmingham, but Bright and three doctors — Joe Burns, Roland Guise and Moody Jacobs — built Southeastern Horse Center (now Celebration Arena) giving the breed a permanent home from which to grow.

More than 80,000 horses have been registered with the association in the past 36 years.

Bright chose Priceville because it was close to Tennessee, the heart of the walking horse industry, but still in his home Alabama, Smith said.

The RHBAA holds two large horse shows in Priceville every year, which fill most of Decatur's hotel rooms. Combined they are the largest tourism event in the city annually.

Bright, who retired from Alagasco where he worked as a store clerk, loved all animals and showed champion beagles before delving into horses, said one of his two daughters, Jan Smith. Though he didn't get to spend as much time following and promoting the breed as he did in its early years, she said, it was always as important to him as his family.

"It was the love of his life," she said.

Visitation will be Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home in Trussville. The funeral will follow at noon.

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