by Mark Davis

Officially, the 71st annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has been underway for almost two days by this point, but for most diehard Celebration fans, the show never really gets going until Thursday night when the industry’s finest take center stage in the big oval.

In the moments prior to show time, the excitement can be felt in the air as the fans make their way to their seats, stopping  to see old friends along the way that they might not have seen since the 2008 Celebration and officials scurry to center ring to make sure everything is just perfect come show time.

The judges for the 2009 Celebration include Rollie Beard of Lewisburg, Tenn., Jennifer Bingham of Shelbyville, Tenn., Jamie Bradshaw of Union Grove, Ala.,  Mike Carpenter of Franklin, Tenn., and Sam Sorrell of Flemingsburg, Ky.

As always, promptly at 7 pm, The Celebration’s official flag horse, Counterfeit Dollar and World Grand Champion rider Bud Seaton make their way down the hill and through the historic gates.  The invocation for the evening was given by the Rev. Ron DeWitt, pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene of Shelbyville, Tenn., followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Jennifer Vannatta-Hall of Murfreesboro, Tenn.  To add just a little excitement of the evening, as Bud and Counterfeit Dollar started to exit the ring, a gray cat made the decision to enter the ring. Fortunately, it didn’t stay long and made a quick exit over the east side wall.

With that, it was time for The Celebration’s official announcer Bobby Sands, who returned to center ring this year after almost a decade’s absence, to call the first class of the evening to the ring, class 24, Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 6-11 Years on Walking Mares.  Seven of the 14 with reservations made the call to show their very best for the panel, led by Judge Jennifer Bingham, and the Thursday night crowd, who were already cheering their favorites on from the time they hit the track.  Cashing in on the first win of the evening with a unanimous decision of the panel was Moonstruck Dollar and Lake Weaver riding for Brenda Little and Lake Weaver of Spring Grove, Pa., and Shelbyville, Tenn. This win was the crowning touch on an undefeated 2009 season that featured wins at the Children’s Miracle Network Horse Show, Spring Fun Show, Tony Rice Horse Show and Red Carpet Show of the South.  She’s Armed With Poison and owner/exhibitor Thomas Derickson of Wartrace, Tenn., put on a stellar performance to capture the red streamers.  Another Wartrace youngster, Ally Puckett rode Ya Ma Ka Me Crazy to third for proud mom, Holly Puckett .


The gentlemen riders were up next on the schedule for class 25, Elite Owner-Amateur Gentlemen Riders on Walking Stallions, which featured eight of the 15 expected making their way down from the Calsonic Arena to work the gaits for Judge Jamie Bradshaw and his cohorts.  With the second unanimous decision of the night, it was the reigning Elite Owner-Amateur World Grand Champion team of Kid Callahan and Ed Breedlove making that memorable ride for Genevieve Breedlove of Buford, Ga. This win was preceded with blues at the Gulf Coast Charity Celebration, Bedford County FFA Horse Show, Tony Rice Horse Show and Marshall County Horse Show. Taking reserve back Alabama way were All In and Mike Inman riding for Mike and Karen Inman of Bessemer, Ala. Santana’s Chief Sundance and owner/exhibitor Donald Judge of Chesapeake, Va., collected the yellow streamers.

The professional trainers made their first appearance of the evening in class 26, Three-Year-Old Walking Geldings with 17 of the 35 in the official Celebration program working to the rail to show for Call Judge Mike Carpenter and his capable staff.  Proving their color would be blue after putting on one stellar performance to top the largest class of the evening thus far was Muchos Colores and Knox Blackburn in the irons for What A Blessing! Farm of Bristol, Tenn.  Deception and Mike Hilley pulled into the second spot for East Rim, LLC of Shelbyville, Tenn.  Major Frivolous and Justin Harris stopped in for the golden ribbon for Brett and Lisa Jones of Tylertown, Miss.

The amateur riders were back on center stage for Owner-Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Walking Stallions, class 27A on the evening’s schedule. Eleven of the 35 with reservations found their spot on the rail to work hard for Judge Sam Sorrell and staff, as the evening finally started to cool off and the Thursday evening crowd really started to get excited about the horse show action.  Taking the blue back to the Bluegrass state with a big smile on her face was Julie Grider Tucker and Major Sky Command  riding for the Tommy Grider family of Columbia, Ky.  This team picked up wins at the Spring Fun Show, Marshall County Horse Show and Sumner County Fair earlier in 2009.  Owner/exhibitor Bob Lawrence of Thomasville, Ga, and Timeline were the strong and popular reserve in the section taking the honors all the way back home to South Georgia.  Keeping things a little closer to home, The Southern Way and Tamara Kasser were third taking honors out Hwy 64 to the pretty little town of Wartrace, Tenn.


Class 27B, Owner-Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Walking Stallions featured 18 of the 36 programmed entries making the call to work as Judge Rollie Beard called the gaits in the division.  Shooting it straight on the fairway to top an excellent division of competition to take home the green jacket was He’s 3 Under Par and Barbara Kenehan, who made their debut show to the blue at the Red Carpet Show of the South,  for Jan and Barbara Kenehan of Flat Creek, Tenn.  Headed back over the mountain to Mayberry for reserve were Bellagio and Clay Mills riding for Corbin Mills of Mt. Airy, N.C.  Walkin’ Dollar and Sabrina Young of Mt. Sterling, Ky., pulled in to accept the golden streamers.

The young riders were back for class 28, Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 15-17 Years on Walking Mares & Geldings with 14 of the 19 on the books making their way down the hill to work for their chance to make that sentimental journey down victory lane in Shelbyville.  Judge Jennifer Bingham served as Call Judge for the class.  As organist Larry Bright played “Happy Days Are Here Again”, announcer Bobby Sands called the team of FDR and Amy Nesius, 2009 Champions at the Money Tree Classic, PC Splash Horse Show and Wartrace Horse Show, to the winner’s circle to accept the honors for the Rick Nesius family of Chapel Hill, Tenn.  Amy and FDR also won this class in 2008, so with this win, they retired the Joe and Barbara Shelton Memorial Challenge Trophy and the N.B. Hardeman Memorial Challenge Trophy.  The American General and Maisie McSwain marched to the red streamers taking them back to their Peach State home of Alpharetta, Ga.  Sweepstakes Pzazz and Summer Brooks rode into the third spot for Dwight Brooks of Rogersville, Tenn.

The professional trainers were back on the track for class 29A, Three-Year-Old Walking Mares, with 16 of the 35 expected finding their spot on the rail to work for their chance to head to the winner’s circle tonight as Judge Jamie Bradshaw led the panel in the class.  Dancing to the top of the division was the powerful young mare, Jazzy Sally and trainer Jimmy McConnell riding for Bobby and Gail Beech of Lewisburg, Tenn.  This win was preceded by 2009 wins at the Spring Fun Show and Red Carpet Show of the South.  Taking reserve back to Maury County, Tenn., Envious and Philip Trimble accepted the honors for Barrow Brown and Clay Sanderson of Columbia, Tenn.  Cash’s Blackjack Fantasy and Bill Callaway were third for The Stables at Alpha Place of Lititz, Pa.

The B division of class 29, Three-Year-Old Walking Mares found 17 duos making the gate call to work for the entertainment of the Thursday night crowd under the watchful eye of Call Judge Mike Carpenter and his cohorts.  Breaking out just in time to make an outstanding performance to top the division with the approval of all five judges, the third unanimous decision of the night, were the reigning Two-Year-Old Mare World Champion duo of  Paroled In Texas and John Allan Callaway riding for the Coggin and Whittenburg families of Murfreesboro, Tenn.  Miss Natalie and Allen Forman pulled into the second spot for Jerry Cole of Monroe, Ga.  Knox Blackburn and Limestone Lucy chiseled their way to third for Steve Heitmiller of Laguna Beach, Calif. 

Giving a little change of pace on the evening’s schedule, the Owner-Amateur Riders on Park Performance Walking Mares & Geldings, class 30 on the program, was up next with 22 of the 33 expected working down the hill to show their stuff for Judge Sam Sorrell and his staff.  Putting on another all American performance was the dynamic duo of All American Ritz and Marian Wright, 2009 champions at the Savannah Lions Club Horse Show and the Adamsville, Tenn., Horse Show, riding high for Cynthia Wright of Jackson, Tenn.  Headed back to the Bluegrass State, Carrie Benedict and Silver On The Line were reserve for Austin Benedict of Glasgow, Ky.  San Juan and Eric Lackey collected the yellow streamers for Mr. and Mrs. Eric Lackey of High Point, N.C.


Class 31 featured the Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Stallions, 15.2 & Under with Judge Rollie Beard calling the gaits for the 14 contenders that made their way to the big oval to work for their chance at a moment in the spotlight.  Was it shock, no, just pure happiness that came across the face of Becky Coleman as announcer Bobby Sands called her number and she brought Shock Jock to the winner’s circle for Walker and Coleman of Money, Miss. This win was preceded with blue ribbons at the Lady Azules Soccer Show, Dickson County Horse Show and a prestigious reserve at the Tony Rice Horse Show. The Phantom Menace and Thom Meek were in the second position in the very talented division for Deerwood Manor of Brentwood, Tenn.  Rocky Mountain Sky and Lucky Collins picked up the golden ribbons for Don and Lucky Collins of Bell Buckle, Tenn.

The Lady Riders were up for class 32A, Owner-Amateur Lady Riders on Walking Geldings.  Eleven of the 23 expected made the gate call to work hard for Judge Jennifer Bingham and her panel.  Making the BOLD performance to ride to the top of the division was the duo of Bold Vengeance and Gail Walling riding for Judy McDonald of Tullahoma, Tenn.  New York, New York and Terry Lowman were a strong reserve for Larry and Terry Lowman of Shelbyville, Tenn.  Headed back to West Tennessee, Olympic’s Godfather and Stephanie Carter rounded out the top three for the Barry Carter family of Bartlett, Tenn.

After a quick break in the action to let the water truck make a much needed pass around the ring, it was time to call class 32B, Owner-Amateur Lady Riders on Walking Geldings down the hill.  Eleven of the 20 programmed entries worked down from Calsonic Arena to challenge all takers in the division as Judge Jamie Bradshaw called the gaits in the section.  Taking the win back to the Bluegrass state, Pushin’ That Jazz and Dalia Smith rode to the top of the division with an outstanding performance for Molly and Annabelle Smith of Manchester, Ky.  Black Cash Delight and Gail Walling accepted the red streamers for Judy McDonald of Tullahoma, Tenn.  The American Idol and Kari Tisma were third for Ronnie Gullett of Duluth, Ga.

Remaining in the amateur division, class 33A featured the Owner-Amateur Riders on Four-Year-Old Walking Stallions.  Thirteen of the 22 programmed entries made their way down to the historic big oval to show their very best for Judge Mike Carpenter and his panel.  Making that winning run down victory lane in the section was the team of Nine Yard Blitz and Laura Cochran riding for Tim and Laura Cochran of Chatsworth, Ga.  This team picked up 2009 wins at the Gulf Coast Charity Celebration and PC Splash Horse Show.  Debbie Eichler and Arm’s Deal For Real pulled into the second position for Rising Star Ranch of Shelbyville, Tenn.  North Carolinian Gordon Ezzell and Showboat By Skywatch picked up the golden ribbons for Gordon and Anglyn Ezzell of Rocky Mount, N.C.

Class 33B, Owner-Amateur Riders on Four-Year-Old Walking Stallions brought eight of the 20 expected teams down the hill to work for the good number of Celebration diehards that remained on hand as the time neared 11:30 pm.  Judge Sam Sorrell served as Call Judge in the section.  Gaining the approval of the judging panel and the crowd, and receiving a loud ovation, was the team of Sky Miles and Beth Sims, 2009 champions at Grinder’s Switch Horse Show, Columbia Spring Jubilee and Red Carpet Show of the South, topping the division for the Mike Chiappari family of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Bell Buckle, Tenn.  I’m Wall Street and Clay Mills were a popular reserve for Corbin Mills of Mt. Airy, N.C.  Combat Commander and owner/exhibitor Sabrina Young of Mt. Sterling, Ky., were third.


The professional trainers were back for one final appearance on the Thursday evening schedule in class 34, Walking Geldings, 15.2 & Under (Canter).  Judge Rollie Beard called the gaits in the class that featured 11 of the 17 with reservations.  Driving the judges and the crowd wild and capturing the win was the duo of He’s Wild Eyed & Wicked and Knox Blackburn riding for Eva Eddleman of Chattanooga, Tenn. With this win, combined with a 2007 win in the same division, the team retired the Jimmy Cole Memorial Challenge Trophy.  Knox’s Father-In-Law, Jimmy McConnell and He’s Dr. Cash were close behind in the reserve position for Larry and Farrah McAlexander of Oxford, Miss.  The Prime Suspect and Chad Williams rounded out the top three for Brian and Candra Carroll of Sevierville, Tenn.

Class 35A, Owner-Amateur Lady Riders on Show Pleasure Walking Horses featured 11 of the 19 programmed entries making their way down the hill for their chance at one of the final Celebration blues of he evening.  Judge Jennifer Bingham led the judging panel in the section.  Putting a late night spell on the competition, Zulu and Suzanne Moore rode to the winner’s circle in the section for Bud Moore of Catherine, Ala.  I’m Joe Friday and Whitney Breedlove picked up the red streamers for Keith Breedlove of Buford, Ga.  Judy Leek and Absolutely Flawless were third for Jim Leek of Cedar Creek, Texas.

The final class of the evening, class 35B, Owner-Amateur Lady Riders on Show Pleasure Walking Horses brought 13 of the 18 booked entries to the track to work for the real members of the Celebration Hard Core Club as the time was 12:10 am when the horses took the ring.  Judge Jamie Bradshaw served as Call Judge for the final class of the night.  Riding to the winner’s circle was Coin’s Black Stroke and Jean O’Brien up for Reggie Pimentel of Bell Buckle, Tenn.  Going back Carolina way, I’m A Evil Rebel and Yvonna Matthis pulled in for the red streamers for Lucille Matthis and Kayla Baucom of Morganton and Monroe, N.C.  I’m Armed And Lethal and owner/exhibitor Carolyn Rutner of Northport, Ala., were third.

With the final class complete, at 12:19 am,  the first evening performance of the 71st annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration certainly had to be deemed to be a success as it featured  222  entries in 17 classes of World Championship competition.  Make plans to be back in Shelbyville all weekend long as we get our first look at the Aged Stallions who will be competing for the Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship on Saturday Night and Sunday Night will feature the Four-Year-Old Stallion preliminary.  It certainly will be one exciting weekend.  Also, remember the morning classes continue Friday, Saturday and Monday Mornings in Calsonic Arena. 
Make your plans and don’t miss a moment because you certainly wouldn’t want to miss history in the making at the 71st annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.