by Mark McGee | Photos by Shane Shiflet

A calm after the Saturday storm prevailed over “The Big Oval” for the Sunday night session of the 85th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. The breezy night was a welcome change from the heat and rain.

There was sadness as ring announcer Mark Farrar informed the crowd of the death of former Tennessee Congressman and Governor Don Sundquist. A former Shelbyville resident and a fan of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Sundquist was honored with flags on the Celebration Grounds flying at half-staff. A moment of silence was observed before the invocation was offered by Scott Reed of Midland Heights Baptist Church of Shelbyville. 
Ronnie Spears and flag horse White Diamond Dollar entered with the Stars and Stripes with Raigan Gardner from Culleoka, Tennessee, singing the “National Anthem”. Organist J. Brantley provided the music for the 12-class schedule with a religious theme in honor of Sunday.

For the second time this Celebration, owner-rider Margo Urad from Shelbyville, Tennessee, and Sweet Walking Matilda walked to the top honors. This time it was in the Owner-Amateur Novice Western Trail Pleasure class with 13 of 16 listed entries competing as David Sisk called the gaits. The duo was first Thursday morning in the Owner-Amateur Three-Year-Old Trail Pleasure class. Sweet Walking Matilda has seven blues in 10 classes this year. Silverback and co-owner-rider Katy Granus received a red ribbon for co-owner Kathy Anderson. He’s Knight Rider and co-owner-rider Andrea Coleman were the third-place tie for Russ Coleman.

Nine of 11 programmed entries competed in the Owner-Amateur Park Performance Stallions class. The spin of the wheel in center ring designated Kenny Smith as the call judge. For the fourth time in a row, A Touche’ received first place in the class for owner-rider Jannie Chapman of Owens Crossroads, Alabama. This was the fourth blue in five classes for A Touche’ this summer. Knock’Em Ted and Gabriel Humiston were second for Chapman. Jordan Golden walked away with a yellow streamer aboard Drop A Line for Gay Dempsey.

She’s Almost A Ten was definitely rated a 10 by the five-judge panel as the unanimous winner with rider Ronnie Stanfill in the Owner-Amateur Two-Year-Old Mares & Geldings, Div. A class. Owned by Judy Stanfill of Lexington, Tennessee, She’s Almost A Ten has four blues in seven classes in 2023. Sky High Honors finished in the reserve spot with Cassi Slagle in the irons for Slagle and Stacy. Owner-rider Christy Warner was third aboard Miss Uptight. Eight of 25 expected entries competed with Derek Bonner serving as the call judge.

The gaits for the seven of 13 expected entries in the Owner-Amateur Youth 12-14 class were called by Nathan Clark. Extra Special Jose and co-owner-rider Emma Wright were the blue ribbon winners for co-owner Gayle Cagle of Reagan, Tennessee. It was their second blue in two shows. The Dixie Label and owner-rider Khloe McSwain were reserve, while Ruby Lipstick picked up a yellow streamer with Maci Ware riding for Tom Ware. 

Maria Bobo, owner-rider from Shelbyville, Tennessee, and She’s Lined With Love 4G continued their success with unanimous top honors in Div. B of the Owner-Amateur Two-Year-Old Mares & Geldings class. Thursday night, Maria’s brother Thomas Derickson was first in the Two-Year-Old Mares, Div. B class. She’s Lined With Love 4G has six top finishes out of seven classes this summer. Jose’s Showoff and Caresse Hyneman took home a red streamer for Tom and Nancy Mills. A Red Alert and co-owner Kim Lewis were the third place tie for co-owner George Lewis. The call judge was Leah Boyd with 11 of 23 programmed entries making gate call. 

Eleven of 26 original entries made it into “The Big Oval” of the Owner-Amateur Novice Show Pleasure class. Smoky Mountain Squire and Taylor LeGate lost their Celebration novice status with a top ride for Stevens and LeGate. Smoky Mountain Squire has two blues in four classes this show season. All American Silver was reserve with Emily Kiser-Jackson riding for Colton Spivey. Blake Roberson walked away with a yellow ribbon for Howard Roberson. 

Winning their first ever Celebration blue ribbon were I’m On Good Behavior and Mary Beech Alias in the Owner-Amateur Novice Youth 6-11 class. I’m On Good Behavior’s owners are Alias Family Investments from Oxford, Mississippi, and Belfast, Tennessee. I’m A Mastermind was awarded the red streamer with Wylder Way aboard for Heffington and Way. Greek Freak and Ellie Grace Lunsford were the third place tie for Terry Logan Lunsford. The spinning wheel landed on Kenny Smith to call the class with nine of 13 programmed entries competing.

Derek Bonner was designated the call judge for the Elite Owner-Amateur Ladies on Mares & Geldings class, which featured eight of 26 listed entries. A Ringmaster ruled the ring capturing first place with Dr. Amy McCurdy from Piedmont, Alabama, in the saddle for Dr. Tom and Mary Ann Morgan. Bye Felicia was second for owner-rider Kathy Stewart, while The Comanche and co-owner Pam Russell received a yellow ribbon for co-owner Larry Russell. 

When you’re hot you’re hot, and owner-rider Counti Green from Shelbyville, Tennessee, and He’s Hot were just that with a unanimous blue ribbon performance in the Owner-Amateur Youth 12-17 Ponies class. They have teamed up for an undefeated 2023 with four class wins. Jessica Lawwell rode to reserve on Time To Tease for owners Horses To Go LLC, Myers and Lawwell. Skywalk’s Threat and owner-rider Alex Luttrell were third. Leah Boyd called the gaits with seven of 14 expected entries finding their way to “The Big Oval”. 

Thirty entries were expected in the next class, but only four competed in the Owner-Amateur Stallions class. Farrar explained to the crowd the low class attendance was due to many horse and rider teams being entered in multiple classes. Walk For Roses walked to a blue ribbon with Kelly Clark in the saddle for Clark and Brassy from College Grove, Tennessee. Kendra Myers guided A Gin To Win to second for Sherry Roberts from Birch Tree, Missouri. The Zephyr blew out of the ring with a yellow streamer with Lilly Beth Harwell on board for Kimberley Wood Morrison.  

Beiga Cheval and Kayla Baucom took top honors for McGee and Dickerson from Lenior, North Carolina, in the Young Trainers 35 & Under on Mares & Geldings. Beiga Cheval has won four blues in eight classes. Lethal Ambition placed reserve with Ryan Blackburn riding for Salt Lick Farm and Elese Lewis. Charlie’s Perfect Angel was the third place tie. Hayden Burks was aboard Charlie’s Perfect for Tara Rhoades. Seven of 19 listed entries were in “The Big Oval” with David Sisk calling the class.

Kenny Smith called the gaits in the Four-Year-Old Stallions (Canter) class with 11 of 14 scheduled entries competing to close out the night’s schedule. Knox Blackburn directed Cavender to the win for Bruce and Robin MacDonald of Shelbyville, Tennessee. They have two blues in two shows in 2023. Honor Of The Ritz and Dan Waddell were reserve for Chavigny Beasley, while I Am March Madness and Casey Wright were third for Debbie Woods.