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81st annual Celebration finally begins!

By Sadie Fowler | Photos by Shane Shiflet

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — A perfect August morning marked by sunshine, pleasant weather, the smell of horses and the familiar voice of announcer Dallas Eubanks got everyone in the spirit Wednesday morning, Aug. 21, for the 81st edition of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. Proving just how fast a year goes by, a crowd of friendly faces and horse show fans eagerly gathered in the Calsonic Arena to cheer on their favorite entries among a healthy slate of 11 classes that performed in front of this year’s capable crew of judges: Nathan Clark, Jamie Bradshaw, Jamie Hankins, Robbie Spiller and Kenny Smith. 

“The competition was impressive and everyone’s spirits were in Celebration mode — a winning combination in anyone’s book,” said Celebration CEO Mike Inman.

The Model Mares class kicked off the morning session with a nice group of entries making the gate call but the really cool news for the start of the morning came when Mystic Jazz and Robert Nelms captured the victory for Rushing Creek Walkers for the third year in a row. Adding to that sweet victory, Rushing Creek carried home the reserve ribbon as well with Fifteen Stars Behind Me and Ronnie Rushing at the lead.

Another super cool moment emerged in the second class of the day, the Amateur Trail Pleasure Two-Year-Old (optional tack) class, with Twenty Four Carrots ML and Maggie Moore capturing the bling, just on the heels of the horse’s monumental and history-making moment at the International a couple weeks back in the inaugural maiden two-year-old class with trainer Kyle Elliott riding. The Market Maker and Shelly Herman cruised in for the reserve ride for JoAnn Palazzo.

The Elite Amateur Park Pleasure horses performed in the third class of the morning with offspring of a very popular stallion, The Dixie Lineman, in the winner’s circle with the same rider as last year in the winning seat. This year, Vickie Penick directed He’s A Dixie Delight to the winning ticket while Lisa Baum, who also finished in the same spot last year, rode away with reserve in the seven-entry class aboard Dose’. 

Always one of the most competitive and larger classes of the morning each year, the Amateur English County Pleasure class came next with 11 entries giving it their best shot. For the second year in a row, Gi Gi’s Majestic and Elysse Bradford, who claimed third in the same class two years ago, continued their winning ways by earning the blue for the William Bradford Family. Also holding onto their same position from last year, Cazadores and Donna Hill proudly accepted reserve among the deep field of quality contenders.

Nine passed through the gate for class number five of the morning, the Owner-Amateur Riders on Two-Year Old Country Pleasure Walking Horses, Optional Tack. Often seen in center ring judging herself, Jennifer Bingham had a different perspective on this particular morning, although ironically, she was in this same winning seat last year on a different horse. This year she directed King Mojo to victory while Lagado and Sarah Smith earned a great round of applause for their reserve finish in the tough class. 

The Amateur Western Lite-Shod entries made their way into Calsonic next and this time Miss Dixie Flyer and Donna Byard earned the judges’ approval while Lisa Baum walked away with the red ribbon for the second time this morning, this time riding Big Time Bandit.  

Etta James By TJB won the next class, the Amateur English Trail Pleasure class, repeating her win from last year, but this time it was Darren Gray in the saddle while beloved owner Kathy Zeis cheered them on with great joy. Luciano, repeating the reserve finish for the third year in a row, walked away with the red ribbon, this time with Lindy Holt in the saddle.  

The Amateur Country Pleasure Three-Year-Old class gave the audience another great performance to watch and it was Lujoso and Amanda Manis who received the benefits of the crowd’s approval as they rode away as winners. Mega Bucks MM and Kasie Caldwell put in a performance they should be proud of and they finished reserve for their efforts. 

The Park Pleasure Walking Horses Five Years and Under Optional Tack class followed in the morning’s schedule with six entries making the gate call. Moving up a notch from last year, Jeff Laughlin had A Dangerous Deal in perfect shape for victory in this good class for owners Denny Russell and Carol Missildine while Armed But Kid N and Travis Craft held their own for the reserve finish for Sister Milligan. 

Quality entries who are all familiar with wins in their respective circuits filled the Calsonic for ninth class of the morning, the Owner-Amateur Riders on Three-Year-Old English Trail Pleasure Walking Horses. No stranger to the winner’s circle, Kimberly Walden and Habanero Picante topped the field of eight with Paranoia and Wayne Westbrook teaming up for the reserve ribbon. 

Making their way in for the second to last class of the morning, 12 entries emerged for the Amateur Riders on Country Pleasure Walking Horses, Five Years and Under, Optional Tack class. He’s High Maintenance and

Dee Broom Yoder made a memory of a lifetime as they captured the win, which was Yoder’s first world championship ever in the flat shod division. Following the class, Yoder said it was the thrill of her life as she checked one item off her bucket list. Hashtag and WhitLei Green, no strangers to Celebration top ribbons, captured reserve.

The morning session closed out with the Auxiliary Equitation Medal Youth 6-11 class where four skilled riders did their best on the rail before performing individual workouts. Rylee Eilerman was poised and polished as she rode out with the medal and blue ribbon while Raelynn Williams also demonstrated grace and skill as the reserve finisher.
Shane Shiflet shot the winning moments on camera as the best of the best horses around walked to the tune of the organ, masterfully played by Brian Perry, for a morning that literally went off without a hitch. Wednesday night’s lineup includes the Futurity, which is expected to be the best it has been in many years. 

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