By Mark Davis
It’s finally here! The time horse show fans wait for all year long. It’s Celebration time in Tennessee. While the 73rd Edition of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has officially been underway since Wednesday morning, for many Celebration diehards, the show really doesn’t get started until it moves to the historic outdoor arena on Thursday evening.

The schedule for the evening should be an exciting one with 14 classes of competition highlighted by the Youth 11 and Under on Walking Mares, Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Walking Stallions, Amateur Riders on 15.2 and Under Stallions & Amateur Riders on Four-Year-Old Walking Stallions. It certainly should be a great night of competition.

The judges for the 73rd Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration include Jennifer Bingham of Shelbyville, Tenn., Jamie Bradshaw of Union Grove, Ala., Jamie Hankins of Paris, Ky., Ronnie Spears of Tullahoma, Tenn. & Jeff Willis of Shelbyville, Tenn.

As is a Celebration tradition, promptly at 7 p.m., the official flag horse, Counterfeit Dollar and World Grand Champion rider Bud Seaton appeared at the gate to get the show underway. The invocation for the evening was given by Rev. Mark Ashley of New Hope Chapel, Shelbyville, Tenn., followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Leah Boyd of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

After Counterfeit Dollar and Bud Seaton made one final pass, it was time to call the first class of the evening, class 22, Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 6-11 Years on Walking Mares. Ten of the 11 teams expected made their way down the hill into the big oval to work for the judging panel, led by Judge Jamie Bradshaw, and the excited Thursday night crowd. There’s certainly no better way to get a great horse show underway than with a good class of young riders! Capturing the win in the good class was the team of Jose’s Delightful Pusher & Landon Callicutt riding for John & Ann Callicutt of Seagrove, N.C. This made this team’s eighth win of the 2011 season with wins at Clemson, S.C., Dobson, N.C., the East Tennessee Classic, Woodbury, Tenn. & Tazewell, Va. Reserve honors went to Bo’s Shenia Rose and owner/exhibitor Elijah Leverette of Shelbyville, Tenn. She’s Armed With Poison and owner/exhibitor Thomas Derickson of Wartrace, Tenn., were third.

Class 23 brought the Elite Owner-Amateur Gentleman Riders on Walking Stallions to the track with nine of the 18 with reservations beating the clock to work for the chance to make that cherished trip down victory lane. Judge Jamie Hankins served as Call Judge for the class. Topping the division was a familiar face to the winner’s circle, Kid Callahan and Ed Breedlove taking honors home to Buford, Ga. This duo topped this division in 2007, 2008 & 2009 in addition to this win. Impressive indeed! The Thug and Luckey Easterling of Mize, Miss., pulled into the second position in the class. I’m Bruce Pearl and owner/exhibitor LaRue McWaters of Ashford, Ala., accepted the yellow streamers.

The professional riders made their first appearance of the evening in class 24, Three-Year-Old Walking Geldings. Eighteen of the 34 on the official Lions Club program beat the timer to work in the class as Judge Ronnie Spears called the gaits. Making the victory pass in the division was Knox Blackburn and Ritz Diamond In The Ruff riding for James & Betty Corlew of Adams, Tenn. Neon Bright’s Legacy and Philip Trimble were a popular reserve for Dr. W.H. Hill & Paige Edwards of Dawson, Ga. Sam Martin and John FK’s John Boy were third for Larry McLaughlin of Florence, S.C.

The Owner-Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Walking Stallions were up next with 15 of the 33 expected working to the track in the A division to work for their chance for their moment in the spotlight tonight. Judge Jeff Willis led the panel in the section. Taking command of the division and riding away in blue ribbon style were Command On Parole and Sheryl Crawford riding for Metcalf & Crawford of Bainbridge, Ga. Jose’s Bambino and Ronnie Stanfill were reserve in the section for Billy & Debbie Woods of Lexington, Tenn. National Hero, with Taylor Walters in the irons, collected the yellow streamers for the Molly Walters Family of Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Class 25B, Owner-Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Walking Stallions, featured 13 of the 32 programmed entries beating the clock to show for the good Thursday night crowd on hand. Judge Jennifer Bingham called the gaits for the section. Making the impressive show in the split was Defending The Title and Jason Myatt riding for Jerry & Debbie Myatt of Alvaton, Ky. This team picked up a blue at the FAST Showcase and strong reserves at the Gallatin Lions Club Horse Show and Marshall County Horse Show in route to this win. Nino’s Category Five and Sarah Moersch picked up the red ribbons for Dr. Barbara Moersch of Jacksonville, Ala. Maypine Barack & Ben Kail were third for Dr. Robert Watkins & Ben Kail of Chicago, Ill. & Alamo, Tenn.

The young riders were up next on the schedule in class 26, Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 15-17 Years on Walking Mares or Geldings. Fourteen of the 20 on the books worked to the rail to show for Judge Jamie Bradshaw and his cohorts. Making the drive to the winner’s circle in the class with the approval of all five judges was the team of Cadillac’s Bum and Lilly Waites riding for the Andrew Waites family of Hattiesburg, Miss. Victoria’s Secret and Masie McSwain were reserve in the very competitive class riding for Maisie & Mandi McSwain of Duluth, Ga. Busting Special and Taylor Walters rounded out the top three for the Molly Walters family of Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Class 27 featured the Owner-Amateur Riders on Park Performance Walking Mares or Geldings. Sixteen of the 22 on the program made the gate call to work for Judge Jamie Hankins and his panel. Topping the division with a unanimous decision of the panel was the team of All American Ritz and Marian Wright riding for Cynthia Wright of Jackson, Tenn. This duo captured this same division in 2009 and preceded this win with 2011 wins at Huntington, Tenn., Humboldt, Tenn., Guntown, Miss. & the Money Tree Classic. San Juan and Eric Lackey pulled into accept the second award for Mr. & Mrs. Eric Lackey of Thomasville, N.C. Avenger’s Lady Threat and John Cabe were third for John Cabe and Link Webb of Lewisburg, Tenn.

Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Stallions, 15.2 and Under, class 28, was up next on the class list. Judge Ronnie Spears served as Call Judge in the event. Making the winning shot in the event was the reigning Amateur 15.2 and Under WGC I’m NRA and David Sisk riding for Linda Sisk of Columbia, Tenn. This team picked up 2011 wins at the Tony Rice Horse Show and Pulaski, Tenn.’s Red Carpet Horse Show. I’m P Diddy and Sherri Pollack were in the reserve position collecting honors for Pollack’s Silver Spur Ranch of Saratoga, Calif. & Shelbyville, Tenn. Don Julio and Alie Napier rounded out the top three in the division for the Tim Napier family of Verona, Ky.

The Novice entries made their first appearance of the evening’s schedule in class 29A, Owner-Amateur Novice Lady Riders on Novice Walking Mares or Geldings with 12 of the 19 expected working down the hill to the historic big oval to work for their chance at that very first Celebration blue. Judge Jeff Willis called the gaits in the class. Riding out of the Novice division tonight and taking their first ever Celebration blue back to the Magnolia State was Paroled From San Quenton and Dr. Ann Rea riding for Dr. Ann Rea of Summit, Miss. Remaining a novice for another day was the duo of Jose Today and owner/exhibitor Ginger Hartlein of Shelbyville, Tenn. L.A.P.D. and owner/exhibitor Michelle Lamb of Dublin, Ohio, took home the yellow streamers.

Class 29B, Owner-Amateur Novice Lady Riders on Novice Walking Mares or Geldings brought all 19 of the expected teams to the track to work for their very first special moment in the spotlight at The Celebration. Judge Jennifer Bingham led the panel in the class. One team was certainly telling no lies when they said they came to Shelbyville to get out of the Novice division. Liar Liar and Shea Sproles put on a stellar performance to ride out of the Novice division for good riding for Gary & Shea Sproles of Fall Branch, Tenn. Keeping that Novice status for another class, Major G’s Hard Cash Girl and owner/exhibitor Heather Roberts of Brandon, Miss., were reserve. Jose’s Ilusion and Katie Esters pulled into the third position for Maria Esters of Trussville, Ala.

Seventeen of the 19 programmed entries for class 30A, Owner-Amateur Riders on Four-Year-Old Walking Stallions, made the call right on time to work for Celebration acclaim in the division under the watchful eye of Judge Jamie Bradshaw and his panel. Making the winning ride down victory lane in the section was A Bruce Pearl and Lee McGartland in the irons for Mike & Lee McGartland of Ft. Worth, Texas. Announcer Bobby Sands, always one to make a joke where needed, noted that this Bruce Pearl didn’t even have to show a “Show Cause Order” to win the class. Major Sky Command and Julie Grider Tucker pulled in to accept the red streamers for the Tommy Grider family of Columbia, Ky. Sweep Up Gold and Mary Morrison were third for Fikes, Logan & Morrison of Hamilton, Ala.

Class 30B, Owner-Amateur Riders on Four-Year-Old Walking Stallions, brought 12 of the 18 on the books to the track to work for their chance at 2011 Celebration acclaim as Judge Jamie Hankins called the gaits in the class. Walking away with the blue was the reigning Three-Year-Old Amateur WGC He’s Vida Blue and Kay Green riding for Dr. Jim & Kay Green of Meridian, Miss. They picked up this win with a unanimous decision of the judging panel. This team’s already had a great 2011 with wins at Jackson, Miss., the Spring Fun Show, the Money Tree Classic and the Belfast Lions Club Horse Show. Bingo Time and owner/exhibitor Sandy Shumate of Cumming, Ga., pulled into the reserve position. He’s 3 Under Par and Barbara Kenehan rounded out the top three for Jay & Barbara Kenehan of Shelbyville, Tenn.

Class 31, Walking Geldings, 15.2 and Under (Canter) (Riders’ Cup) will give us a chance to see the good ole’ rocking chair canter for the first time of the night. Ten of the 13 expected teams brought their entries to show for the judging panel, led by Judge Ronnie Spears, and the Thursday night crowd, that was holding on pretty good at almost 11 p.m. Riding away with the blue and a unanimous decision of the panel was The Royal Dollar and Jimmy McConnell riding for Mike & Lee McGartland of Ft. Worth, Texas. Headed back east, Derek Bonner and I’m Redeemed were reserve for Della Compton of North Tazewell, Va. Goodbye Joe and John Allan Callaway were third for C & E Miller Farms of Elberton, Ga.

The final class of the evening performance was class 32, Owner-Amateur Lady Riders on Show Pleasure Walking Horses. Eighteen of the 30 programmed entries made the final gate call of the evening as Judge Jeff Willis served as Call Judge for the class. Making a performance that the judges simply couldn’t refuse, it was Godfather By Ultra Copy and Courtney Luttrell riding to the winner’s circle, with a unanimous decision of the panel, for Alex Luttrell of Bowling Green, Ky., & Shelbyville, Tenn. Simply Thrilling and Lucky Collins were reserve for Don & Lucky Collins of Bell Buckle, Tenn. Another Bell Buckle team was third in the class, Coin’s Black Stroke and Jean O’Brien showing for Reggie Pimental.

What a great opening night of the 73rd Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration this has been! The classes have been large and the competition tough, just as one would expect them to be and the crowd was engaged throughout the night, again, just as one would expect at The Celebration. Make plans to be on hand as competition continues on Friday & Saturday morning in Calsonic Arena and we return here tomorrow (Friday) night for 14 great classes of competition highlighted by the Three-Year-Old Walking Stallions. There’s a great show underway...don’t miss a moment!