A Look At The Celebration, 50, 20 And 10 Years Ago
by Ann Bullard
Photos courtesy of the Voice

   Editor's Note: Henry Davis had a dream. More appropriately, he had a vision. That vision was a showcase for the Tennessee Walking Horse; it became a reality in the summer of 1939. It's unlikely even a visionary, a breeder, trainer, showman and judge such as Davis could foresee where the event he championed would be barely six decades after he brought the concept to Bedford County leaders.
   That first year, 20 walking horses, including eight from in-hand competition, earned world championship titles. American Saddlebreds, Roadsters and Hackney ponies rounded out the 27 classes.

1955: A Three-Year-Old Stole The Show

   The year was 1955. The year before, the second (and last) mare in history, White Star, had walked off with the World Grand Championship. But it's another year - and center stage belonged to a three-year-old stallion: Go Boy's Shadow with Winston Wiser in the irons.
   The Celebration marked its 16th birthday in August of '55. In addition to walking horses, the 49 classes included American Saddlebreds and Roadsters; the breeds showed together at the world championship show from its inception in 1939 through 1971. Calsonic Arena wasn't even a dream.
   A three-judge panel marked the cards. Fulton Fraser and E.E. Miller were Tennesseans; Hugh Hartley lived in Missouri. Les Nelson handled the photography duties.
Records of that year are sketchy. Walking Horse Report, The Voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse and other breed publications were in the future. Yet results show some interesting names. Carl Edwards had a pair of winners for J.T. Budd's Florida Queen Cigars. Mrs. Budd won the Owner/Amateur title with Big Man's Velvet; Edwards won the Two-Year-Old title with Big Man's Vamp. Dicky Pate still was a junior exhibitor; he rode Mighty Red Man M to win the Walking Pony Championship. Riders like the late Vic Thompson, Sam Paschal, Toby Green, Percy Moss and Steve Hill rode through the gate.
   The 1955 season was the first time walking horses performed wearing boots. Wallace Brandon trained Oklahoma Gypsy, ridden by H.L. Worrell to win the 1955 Amateur Riders 50 and Over class. The previous year, Worrell and Oklahoma Gypsy won the Amateur Championship. He was one of few horses who would win at the Celebration with and without the protective boots.
   Tough competition was the hallmark of all the classes - long before Saturday night rolled around. Midnight Merry Bird and Harold Wise topped the mare class. Harlin Hayes aboard Midnight Secret rode off with the Aged Stallion blue. J.B. Smith and Sun's Big Shot, Vic Thompson and Happy Days K, and Toby Green aboard Go Boy's Rocket joined them in the ranks of top contenders.
   But a youngster, a reserve world champion as a two-year-old, hit the show grounds ready to challenge more-seasoned competitors: Go Boy's Shadow and Winston Wiser. Fans who remember those days still speak of the stallion's sweeping back end and correct motion. He walked over the three-year-olds, the junior horses in their championship stake - then came back to leave with all the roses.
   Sun's Big Shot, the 1953 three-year-old and junior world champion, had tied third in the aged stallion class. J.B. Smith rode him to the reserve grand championship.
Wallace Brandon recalled that show - and the horse who won it all.
   ³[Merry] Go Boy started the trend of horses with a little more speed and lick. Shadow came along and was a better horse than Go Boy. I think he was the first great, modern day horse with a great back end and front end," said Brandon.
   ³Talk about horses going sound and clean! He wore one pad and a shoe and was doing so much more than the average horse. He didn't have the advantage of any of the new equipment we have today. That horse had everything that we hadn't seen before: lick, walk, reach, stride. He set the trend,² said Brandon.

1985: Entries Topped The 2,000 Mark

   The heat centered not only on the town of Shelbyville, Tenn., but in the Celebration Arena itself. For the first time, the number of horses broke the 2,000 mark. The 121,614 people who walked through turnstile gates during the 10 days challenged the town's ability to handle traffic, serve meals, provide hotel rooms and continue its vaunted Southern hospitality.
   Even then, show officials talked of curtailing the length of night performances, ³some of which extended to more than five hours,² Ron Thomas, show manager, said in a post-show interview. An advertising blitz in Nashville, Huntsville, Ala., and other cities attracted a large number of first-time visitors to the Walking Horse Capital of the World.
   Jimmy Holloway, Jimmy Rogers, Roger Hand and Danny Kistler shared the duties in performance classes; Jimmy Cole joined the panel for pleasure classes. By the time Donna Hughes rode Pride's Merry Gold from the arena, after winning the Owner Amateur Championship Stake, all eyes were on the in-gate. The 85th and final class of the long week began walking in the ring.             
   Holloway was the call judge; Kistler and Rogers joined him to appraise the talented entries. One by one, the horses entered the arena, parked and waited. Prides Hurricane, with 1985 trainer of the year Jimmy McConnell in the irons; Ebony's Time Around and Larry Webb, reserve in one section of the Over 15.2 Stallion competition; Sonny Holt and Pride's Mr. Threat, winner of the Section B Over 15.2 qualifier; Charles Massey and Ebony's Collector; Ebony's Excalibur with Ray Gilmer; Bud Dunn on Yankee Delight; Bill Bobo and Pride's Main Man; Bud Seaton aboard Eb's Black Diamond; Bill Cantrell and Prides Noon Parader; and  Ramsey Bullington on Pride's Final Edition competed in the class.
   All but one of the top 10 had qualified in one section of the walking stallions, 15.2 and Over competition; Seaton tackled the bigger horses with the winner of the Under 15.2 Stallion competition, Yankee Delight.
   Fans had a lot to cheer about. A line-up; a work-out. At the end, Pride's Final Edition had won his sixth consecutive world championship for the Joe Christmas family, with two first and one second-place votes.
   Larry Webb and Ebony's Time Around, reserve to Bullington in the qualifier, made the reserve world champion victory pass. Ebony's Collector earned the yellow ribbon with Pride's Mr. Threat, winner of the Section B Over 15.2 qualifier, in fourth. Ebony's Excalibur, Yankee Delight, Pride's Main Man, Eb's Black Diamond and Noon Parader rounded out the ribbons.
   Pride's Final Edition's win ended a joyous week for Joe and Libby Christmas Benham. Benham and her recently-acquired Miracle Magic had won the Two-Year-Old Amateur Stallion World Championship; Joe Christmas was reserve with Ebony Christmas in the 15.2 and Under Owner/Amateur Stallion competition, then came back to win the 15.2 and Under Owner/Amateur World Grand Championship for the second consecutive year.
   Earlier in the evening, Steve Aymett rode Legend of Pride to win the 15.2 and Under Championship Stake.
   Larry Edwards teamed his future world grand champion Coin's Hard Cash to the first of three consecutive world championships. They topped a good field of three-year-olds, and then came back to win the Junior Stake in 1986 and the Over 15.2 Stallions and World Grand Championship the following year.
   Donna Hughes and Pride's Merry Gold came from Ontario, Calif., to win the Owner-Amateur World Grand Championship in the qualifying over Owner-Amateurs on Walking Mares 15.2 and Over class. Trainer Scott Benham won the 1985 Over 15.2 Mares competition.
   If one wonders about the growth of the pleasure division, they only need to note the stark contrast in the pleasure division between the mid-1980s and today. The 1985 Celebration offered four Show Pleasure classes, seven in English Plantation Pleasure, one Western Plantation Pleasure and three Park Pleasure classes. The Ghost Who Walks, with Stacy McConnell, won the Show Pleasure Grand Championship. Walking Horse Report's Maggi Painter topped the Park Pleasure World Grand Championship  aboard Ebony's Rebel.Sharon Gueck rode Wonder Lady's Delight to win the (English) Plantation Pleasure title, with Maggie Logan aboard Snap Decision taking the Western Plantation Pleasure blue.
   Larry and Gary Edwards of Carl Edwards and Sons Stables walked away with eight blues, the most of any trainer. Twin Springs Ranch entries, trained by Sonny Holt, Ernest Upton and Richard Wall, earned six followed by Steve Aymett Stables and Odell and Jimmy McConnell of Longview Farms with five each.

1995: Shelbyville Was Hot -- In And Out Of The Arena

   Fast forward 10 years. The 57th annual Celebration brought 2,446 horses through the gates. Unlike many years, rain was not a factor. Scorching heat and humidity tested horses, riders, those at the trade fair and fans alike, with the temperature reaching 104 degrees on one afternoon. Yet they came, crowding Shelbyville's streets, restaurants, hotels and shops.
   Larry Bright's Flat Walk Boogie greeted the 10 contenders for the 1995 World Grand Championship. The crowd of almost 29,000 fans stood and cheered for each as they came individually through the gate. Pride's Sundance Star and David Landrum had won the Division A Aged Stallions competition; Pride's Pattern and Chad Way earned the blue in Division B. Reserve champions in both qualifiers: Star Of The Future with Chad Baucom, and Wired, with Dick Peebles in the irons, came back to give it another shot. Jimmy McConnell on Pusher's Twist About, Ramsey Bullington with Jubilee's Rising Star, Knox Blackburn on Black Rain, Bill Bobo and Eb's Cloud Nine, Ray Gilmer and Boocoo's of Cash and Keith Becknell aboard Mind Games completed the 10-entry class.
   Pride's Sundance Star and Pat Rigual broke into Celebration history in 1994, winning the Owner-Amateur Four-Year-Old qualifier and grand championship. Now trainer David Landrum had his eyes on the biggest trophy and floral horseshoe of the week.
   Baucom and Star of the Future had won the Under 15.2 Stallion and World Grand Championship in 1993. The horse's growth put him in a new division; he had a crowd of fans as the team went for the biggest title of all.
   Judges placed 1995 entries using Majority Opinion System, a judging method since dropped by The Celebration. Call Judge Wayne Abee and Kim Bennett each gave Pride's Sundance Star first place votes and awarded Star of the Future second place.  Robert Burris Jr. marked Landrum's entry third with Star of the Future in seventh.
   When the cheering quieted, Landrum had won his first personal Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship on Rafael and Pat Rigual's star. The stallion was the first horse owned outside the continental United States to earn the title. Star of the Future was reserve followed by Wired, Pusher's Twist About, Jubilee's Rising Star, Black Rain, Eb's Cloud Nine, Boocoo's of Cash and Mind Games.
   Larry Edwards and Final's Eb Tide brought one of six world championships to Carl Edwards and Sons Stables, earning the 15.2 and Under Grand Championship as well as the Division B Stallions' blue. The Georgia farm run by Larry and Gary Edwards ranked sixth on the list of multi-blue ribbon winners.
   Russ Thompson Stables tied their 1994 record of 20 world championships, and then added one more for good measure. This was the sixth consecutive year the California group earned the honor of earning the most Celebration blues. Susan Gordon and Gen's Fire & Ice led this victory parade, winning their 15th, 16th and 17th world titles. Gordon had unanimous wins in the Owner-Amateur Specialty World Grand Championship and gelding qualifier; Thompson teamed the impressive horse to win the 15.2 and Under Gelding blue. Stephanie Gordon won the Western Pleasure World Championship and added a third consecutive Western Pleasure World Grand Championship title to Bad News Debut's resume; She also won the Owner/Amateur Gelding with Youth Riders 11 and Under title aboard Coin's Cruiser.
   David Landrum Stables followed with 10 wins with Sammy Day Stables and Sand Creek Farm, each earning eight world titles.
   Specialty classes continued to grow in popularity, with 341 riders earning ribbons in 35 classes. In addition to Gordon's unanimous wins in the Owner-Amateur division, William B. Johnson won the floral horseshoe aboard Final Attraction in the amateur rider's competition. Pusher's Benny Boy walked off with the Plantation Pleasure Amateur Specialty title while Paige Edwards rode Generator's Man of Magic to win the auxiliary championship.