SHELBYVIILLE, TENN. — In a word … enthusiasm. That’s how many described the overall sentiment and success of this year’s 79th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, where classes were deep, quality was high and even history was made while tradition preserved.

A couple names that carried a lot of weight and tie into that overall sentiment as well: Bill Callaway and Blaise Broccard. Between the two, there was a lot of headline news and history-making rides as they shared the spotlight across the board in three big open stakes.

A few more words? Weather. Crowds. Competition. Speaking of which, competition reached its height in the stake class where three horses received first place votes with the winner ultimately crowned by the choice of call judge David Landrum.

And, who could forget the Baums? How about the Baucoms?

While the Baums showed their skills and strength by earning a record-breaking four titles across the world grand championship portion of the competition — the most wins for one single family of the entire show — the Baucoms added to their own special story by capturing an astonishing five world grand championships less than a year following the passing of family patriarch, Chad, a former world grand championship trainer himself who last won the world grand championship in 2012 aboard Walk Time Charlie.

Not having their father there definitely affected the Baucoms, perhaps pushing them even harder to succeed in his absence.

“I thought about him every day and wished he was there to experience it with us,” Tyler Baucom said. “Everything he taught me paid off and I relied on that a lot throughout the show.”

Other trends were more intangible and subtle, with many patrons saying the best part of the show was simply that the special feeling that had been missing in recent years returned.

“In a single word, enthusiasm was the biggest takeaway from this year’s Celebration,” said Mike Inman, who has served as CEO of the event since 2012. “Highlights range the entire gamut from required workouts due to large classes, amateur classes eight to 10 deep with world and world grand champions, all the way to a one hour line for donuts due to large crowds.”

A hometown horse-rider-owner combination carried out this year’s World Grand Championship, where Callaway served as the winning trainer aboard Gen’s Black Maverick, for Keith and Lorraine Rosbury of Bell Buckle, Tennessee. The night prior, Callaway had won the four-year-old world grand championship for another local owner, Kathy Zeis.  

“I’ve never worked at something so hard in my life,” said Lorraine Rosbury as she reflected on the show a few days after the win. “I was nervous, that’s how I’d describe how I felt during the class. Anytime anyone works hard at a goal with so much passion they’re going to be nervous. It was a great, great class with such deep quality and I was honored to be a part of it. 

“Even though I had faith in Bill and Maverick, you’re surrounded by such quality and anything can happen, so that’s what ignites the nerves … When they called out his number it was raw emotion. I wanted them to win so bad it was incredible elation, and I was just so proud of them. Proud, and humbled that it finally happened. We’d worked so hard for it, so when it happened, it just felt like an explosion of emotions.”

Bill Callaway echoed Lorraine’s feelings of being overwhelmed. He said Maverick held his own and then some, saving enough energy to get better and better as the class went on. Despite the pressure, Bill said he felt comfortable and remembers every bit of the class. 

“It’s starts at the chute,” he said. “When they call your number to come into the ring it sends cold chills down your back. It is a dream come true, not just to be able to compete, but to win it as well … I was blessed beyond my imagination because this was one of the greatest dreams of my life to ever come true.” 

Under the Abernathy banner, Blaise Broccard, in a rare moment of “girl power” at the Celebration, finished as the reserve world grand champion in the big stake with Incredible Machine for Joel Stewart. If that moment wasn’t big enough, perhaps her ride with A Gin To Win for the Harold Roberts Family might prove the point as she became the first female rider in history to seal the deal in the world grand championship for the three-year-olds. It had been 26 years since this type of win for a female had occurred (Vicki Self last won the big stake aboard Flashy Pride).

“I was very happy for Blaise and the Roberts family on their win in the three-year-old World Grand Championship,” Inman said. “The crowd got to see an extremely talented young stallion show extremely well. The fact that Blaise became the first woman to achieve this goal is icing on the cake. She earned every ounce of the reward because of her ability as a trainer and rider.”


Weather. Whether it was literally perfect, which it was — except the couple nights it wasn’t. In those cases, it showed up big time with many wondering one night if the show would be held at all due to the storms. 
Most nights of the 11-day event, held Aug. 24 through Sept. 2 on the traditional grounds of the Celebration on Madison Street in Shelbyville, were as ideal as they come, but on two nights rain came and rain stayed. Storms shut down competition early on the second Thursday of the show, pushing the Three-Year-Old World Grand Championship along with another class into the Friday evening slate of classes for the first time in foreseeable history. 

Blaise Broccard started this Friday night, the second night of the rain, with the history-making ride and Callaway finished that night with his four-year-old win aboard A Pink Floyd for Kathy Zeis. Callaway and Broccard were back in business Saturday night and by then, the two nights of rain had moved aside with perfect, cool and dry weather to return for the final night of the show. 

“Clearly, the pouring rain did not damper the enthusiasm of the crowds,” Inman said. “Even those weathering the storms were excited and delighted by the depth and quality in class after class. As for attendance, the last night was outstanding with 12,000 people. Again, crowds far exceeding any other horse show in the country … Everyone was energized and you could feel it.”

Many factors, from deep competition, great crowds and renewed enthusiasm, the future is looking bright on many fronts. Industry leaders expect to grow on the positive momentum of the season and Celebration and are optimistically looking ahead.

“As far as moving forward this fall I only see the positive energy growing and fall shows should expect to see growth in entries as most shows have experienced so far this year,” Inman said. “From the Celebration standpoint I feel the crowds will be the next area of strong growth as fans know they will be witness to strong classes, concise session times, and plenty of fun. That is good for the Celebration, the various components of our industry, our Civic Clubs, and our area. I am very optimistic.”

This year’s event was judged by Jennifer Bingham, Chris Bobo, Scotty Brooks, David Landrum and Bill Reel. Eighty-three times, or roughly 44 percent, they were in agreement among their choices for winner. 

Entries this year stood at 2466, with 1775 showing in 16 fewer classes than last year to accomplish The Celebration’s goal of shorter session times. On Friday night alone, for example, when two classes from Thursday night were added to the slate, there ended up being 13 classes total, which was still three classes fewer than the previous year’s Friday night competition. Most nights the show ended well before midnight and there was on average just over one horse more in each class of the show. 

 “When you have preliminary classes with 15 to 25 entries in each class, many of whom hold previous titles of World Champion or even World Grand Champion, the depth of entries speaks for itself,” said Charles McDonald, chief operation’s manager. “Even for our seasoned judging panel, marking the cards was a tough task, class after class. Overall I think the judges did a good job of tying the horses being shown in front of them at each performance. It’s not an easy task, and one that becomes even more difficult when the level of competition rises to the level we saw in each class at the 2017 Celebration.”

Each year, The Celebration brings with it a heightened awareness of inspection and compliance with the Horse Protection Act. At this year’s show, the SHOW HIO inspected more than 1800 entries pre-show with a compliance rate of 95 percent. The USDA was in attendance on the weekends and worked closely with the SHOW HIO in enforcement and found roughly 10 additional horses not in compliance with the HPA.

The industry strives for a 100 percent compliance rate, which means work is left to do to ensure a more objective, scientific inspection process and compliance by entrants.

“Overall the inspections went well this year,” said Mitchell Butler, head DQP for the SHOW HIO. “Our working relationship with the USDA couldn’t have been any better and we appreciated the cooperative spirit between the Veterinary Medical Officers and the Designated Qualified Persons. I couldn’t ask for anything better.

More horses entered the ring for competition than any of the past five years of Celebration competition. Various changes were made by The Celebration as part of its three-year plan; all will be reviewed, including the controversial decision to move the lead line performance into the first Saturday slate of competition, on Youth Day. 

Traditions new and old had a special place among the 11 days as well, with everything ranging from a designated day for veterans and hats, to a golf tournament on Sunday to visits from four candidates running for governor on the final two nights of the show. 

“The Board and CEO continually evaluate our past shows and work toward making improvements that will make the world championship show worthy of its title,” McDonald said. “I think we can work on several things, including reducing the amount of time it takes to get entries in the ring, encouraging exhibitors to do a better job of returning to competition quicker after they reverse directions, and as we have said from early this year, continue our review of all factors that affect our ending times for each performance.”

The show was a perfect blend of balance of old and new; the donut line got increasingly longer as the show went on, yet history was made and, whether your name was Bill, Blaise or Baum, “B” was definitely the letter of the day.

Competition, and at the end of the day, that’s what this event is, couldn’t have been better, according to many exhibitors interviewed throughout the show. 

“We are taught in life that if you work hard enough you’ll succeed,” said Lisa Baum reflecting on the Baum’s Celebration, where they earned four wins on Saturday night. “We work hard and take this very seriously. We want to enjoy it, and we do, but at the end of the day we want to succeed in this. It’s our life.” 
Celebration leaders applauded the support of everyone who supported this year’s event.

“The level of competition was outstanding and crowd enthusiasm was reminiscent of years past when the arena was packed,” McDonald said. “To our fans, The Celebration is most grateful and appreciative of your support.”