Country music, Hollywood royalty and exciting horsemanship all collided at William Shatner’s 29th Annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show June 1 at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. Wade Hayes was the featured performer at the event hosted by Shatner and his wife Elizabeth.
“More than 30 years ago, I saw a kid, a beautiful six-year-old, with no arms and one leg holding the reins of a horse and smiling,” Shatner told Sounds Like Nashville at the event, recalling how he first became aware of the ways horse therapy helped disabled children.
“They were going to stop the horse show that this group had been working, and I thought, ‘How difficult could it be to organize a horse show?’ Turns out it was quite difficult,” the 88-year-old entertainer says with a grin, “but I’ve been doing it for 30 years. We raise around $500,000 a year, but over the years, it’s amounted to millions of dollars.”
Each year following the horse show, Shatner hosts a dinner and live auction and this year’s event was another sell out. Brad Paisley, Neal McCoy, Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill are among the artists who have performed in previous years. This year Shatner welcomed Hayes and his fiddle player Megan Mullins to perform an acoustic set. “Wade Hayes is a brilliant performer,” Shatner says of the singer/songwriter who took time out from recording his new album to perform at the event. “It is a sacrifice to get a performer to say, ‘I’ll spend three days.’ We’re in Los Angeles and Wade is in Nashville so it’s a day to get here, a day to get back and a day to perform, so it’s three days of his life, but he brings a crowd in.”
Hayes was happy to be involved. “I’ve been a fan of his literally all my life,” he says of the actor who has played such iconic roles as Capt. James T. Kirk in Star Trek and Denny Crane on Boston Legal. “He’s really embraced his uniqueness. He’s such an interesting guy and he is honestly what I thought he’d be when I got to meet him. He’s very cordial and kind and funny. I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s really an honor and a pleasure to be here.”
Funds raised by the Hollywood Charity Horse Show go to support multiple charities including AHEAD with Horses, a non-profit California-based equine therapy program for disabled/disadvantaged and special needs children. “Their interaction with the horse is of such benefit, it’s almost miraculous,” Shatner says.
“It is incredible,” Hayes adds. “Growing up in Oklahoma, I had a horse and I loved to ride. But I never knew about equestrian healing. I’d heard about soldiers with PTSD doing it [horse therapy] but I never knew about special needs children doing it. Mr. Shatner said he’s personally witnessed it help healing, and I think anything they can do to help kids or someone suffering from PTSD in their struggles is worth it and wonderful.”
AHEAD with Horses has been working with children for 50 years. One of the stars of the horse show was six-year-old Emery, who has mild cerebral palsy and hypertonia yet performed an acrobatic routine on the back of a moving horse. Later that evening, during the dinner and auction, her mother, Petty Belliston, took the stage and through tears spoke of her daughter’s challenges and the impact that Ahead with Horses had on her life.
In addition to Emery’s performance, the horse show included a group of riders called Mane Attraction who performed The Wizard of Oz in costume on horseback. The event opened with artist Joe Everson singing “The National Anthem” while painting a picture of the legendary flag raising during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The painting was auctioned at dinner for $2,000 and Everson is slated to do an additional painting for another dinner patron who also donated $2,000.
The horse show also included a freestyle reining competition, in which riders maneuver their horses through short stops, turns and changing leads. “It’s very athletic and entertaining,” says Shatner, who had competed earlier in the week. “I rode five horses and I won some,” he grins.
The winner of the Hollywood Charity Horse Show’s reining competition was Kirstin Booth on her seven-year-old mare Baby Got Blue Eyes. Booth is a repeat winner, who took top prize in last year’s competition.
Priceline.com and Wells Fargo are sponsors of the event, which Shatner and his team, lead by coordinator Kathleen Hays, start working on months ahead of time. “Every so often when I’m exhausted, I think, ‘Why am I doing this?’” the active octogenarian says. “But I can’t let go because there are kids to be helped.”