What a wonderful breed of horse - The Tennessee Walking Horse. And what a wonderful opportunity the Academy Program provides for more and more people - an entirely new audience - to become acquainted with the performance horse. The Academy Program allows beginning riders, youth and adults, the pleasure of enjoying the show horse at an affordable price. They are given the opportunity to become knowledgeable and competent riders. The Academy Program creates a new market for the Tennessee Walking Horse as riders want to compete on a different level and purchase a more competitive horse.

Jane Hardy Meredith, an avid proponent of the Academy Program and member of the Performance Show Horse Committee of the TWHBEA, states, "I'm very excited about the Academy Program as we have received a lot of interest. The Academy Program has been very successful in the Saddlebred industry in promoting their horse to new markets. We have the chance to do the same in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. It's a splendid way to introduce our show horse to new people and financially benefit the trainers and instructors. TWHBEA's Performance Horse Committee assisted by the Youth Committee has created a Pilot Program for Winter 2003. This program will help instructors/trainers get started with a lesson program. Part of this Pilot Program will be a Winter Tournament, one show a month December through February for Academy students in participating areas. To participate, trainers/instructors must attend one of two Certification Programs sponsored by TWHBEA. One will be held during the Celebration and the second one in early fall. We are excited that WHOA committed last February to sponsor and encourage Academy classes at shows."

The purpose of the TWHBEA Academy Pilot Program is to introduce the program to schools and youth groups. TWHBEA will aid in marketing and advertising the program in local areas. At least five participating stables or instructors are needed in a particular area. If all eligibility requirements are met, TWHBEA will maintain a three year commitment to the program.

Students participating in the Academy Program are given lessons on school horses. The performance school horse must be registered with the TWHBEA and MUST be a mare or gelding. The Academy horse must be neatly presented. No shanks longer than 10” and no ringed shanks may be used. NHSC rules are followed and all horses must be in compliance with the Horse Protection Act.

A rider is eligible to compete in Academy classes if he/she has not shown in a riding suit at an affiliated show, except the Country Pleasure class. Academy students are neatly dressed in long sleeve shirts, jodhpurs, breeches, or black pants (no blue jeans), jodhpur boots. Hair must be worn in a neat style, pulled back in a bun or braided above the collar. Safety helmets are optional and are the only acceptable headgear.

Students are charged for lessons at an hourly rate, which will vary from area to area. Academy shows will be held during the winter months and the classes are strictly for those taking lessons. The winter tournaments will be held at covered arenas or at different stable locations. Students are charged when they are taken to a show. The same horse may be shown more than once by different riders and the cost is then prorated. TWHBEA would like to see the formation of an Academy Championship, a separate show in late winter.

Students may desire to acquire their own Academy horse, which creates a market for the $5,000 to $25,000 horse or an older horse. The program can generate additional revenue and visitors for participating stables during the slower winter months.

Leigh Bennett, walking horse trainer, licensed judge, equitation instructor, and breeder from Alvaton, Kentucky, states that she, “believes the Academy Program is one of the greatest opportunities that has been presented to the walking horse industry in a long time."

Bennett is a member of TWHBEA and serves on the Performance Show Horse Committee. She attended the seminar conducted by noted Saddlebred trainer and instructor, Nancy McConnell, which was held in the Blue Ribbon Circle on the Celebration Grounds during the Annual Fun Show. McConnell spoke about the Academy Program and how it has been successful in the Saddlebred industry.

McConnell is a well-respected trainer, instructor, judge, and exhibitor. She trains and instructs with her son, Pat, and his wife, Julie, at McConnell Stables at Rigby's Green in Lexington, Kentucky. McConnell is a much sought after equitation judge. She is very involved in World Cup Saddle Seat equitation competition where riders from all over the world compete in Olympic style events. McConnell has made several trips to South Africa when the World Cup was hosted there.

There were approximately 35 people in attendance at the McConnell seminar. The reception to the Academy program by those attending was very enthusiastic. There were a lot of questions and a lot of encouraging answers from McConnell.

According to Bennett, the Academy Program opens up a world of opportunity for people not familiar with our breed or for those who have not had the experience of showing. It enables people to experience the Tennessee Walking Horse in the show ring - the pleasant disposition, the smooth gait, and the excitement of showing and hearing the applause of the crowd.

Bennett states that she feels that Academy participants will fall into two groups of people: those who will “move on” and purchase performance show horses and those who will never own their own horse , but will still be given the opportunity to continue showing through their participation in the Academy Program.

Bennett recently took six of her Academy students to the horse show in Brownville, Kentucky, where they participated in an Academy class. The students were judged by the walking horse judge on their ability to ride, maneuver the horse and look nice while they do it. The students thoroughly enjoyed the horse show experience and felt very much a part of the show. The riders’ families and friends attended the show to cheer for their favorite riders. People who never thought they would have the opportunity to participate in a horse show were very much involved thanks to the Academy Program.

Bennett took three of her students to Centertown, Kentucky, on June 15. This is a wonderful experience for these young people to feel the thrill and the excitement of showing.

Larry Lowman, also a member of the TWHBEA Performance Show Horse Committee, states that the Academy Program is “a good idea. It creates a market for the bottom line horse - the $5000 to $20,000 horse - that needs to be shown. It is an excellent way to teach a child to ride and show. It exposes kids to the Tennessee Walking Horse, its disposition and gaits. The Academy Program offers trainers another way of making money by giving lessons, or in the case of some trainers, letting their wives give lessons.” Lowman indicated that this program has a threefold advantage - it will create more revenue for trainers, more horses will be sold, and more children will be able to ride and experience the show ring.

McConnell felt that the seminar she conducted in Shelbyville during the Fun Show was well received by those in attendance. She found that there were some good teachers already involved.

“A well-run lesson program combined with a successful training operation produces the best results. Together, the instructor and the trainer, can generate a steady income from the weekly lessons and academy shows and the opportunity to create new horse owners,” McConnell said.

According to McConnell, the Academy Program exposes the student rider to real show horses and horse shows. McConnell is in favor of already existing shows adding Academy classes. Therefore, the Academy student can progress to showing at real horse shows faster.

McConnell summed up the advantages. “The Academy Program can be big business as well as promoting the love of the horse and teaching good, basic riding skills.”

For more information regarding the Academy Program, contact Joni Jenne', TWHBEA Youth/Performance Show Horse Coordinator at 1-800-359-1574, [email protected].