By Sadie Fowler | Photos by Shane Shiflet

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Keeping with tradition while adding an extra special twist, the first Friday evening of the walking horse industry’s annual August tradition kicked off Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. in Maverick Arena with 13 classes prepared to show in front of the judging panel tasked with evaluating the 81st edition of the show. The added plus? Shelbyville was treated to a special appearance from several special guests, most notably U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn who was proud to introduce Bill Hagerty to Shelbyville in advance of his expectedly important campaign for a seat that plays a significant role in the agricultural states in the South including Shelbyville.  “If you know Marsha you now there’s no one you’d rather have in your corner,” said Mark Farrar after Sen. Blackburn presented an award in center ring. “She’s humbled by your support and working for you … Let’s show a great welcome to a great friend of ours, Sen. Marsha Blackburn.”

In the first class of the evening last year, the Amateur Ladies Fine Harness, Wilsene Moody-Kwok retired a special trophy on the lines of Lined Royal Cash … and she didn’t stop there. This year they did it again, with Kudos For Cash and Toni White, who won the B division of this class last year, drove away with reserve. The future of the breed is bright as was evident in the class that followed, the Youth Riders 6-11 Years on Walking Geldings with Memphis Raines and Ashtyn Claire Brown sliding into the top position and also having a chance to meet Sen. Blackburn, while Kinfoke and Cohen Abernathy put on a more than respectable performance as they collected reserve.

More than a dozen came through next, true to form and tradition, for the Two-Year-Old Walking Geldings. They had the crowd cheering for their favorites. A quality-filled class, no one could top Bingo In Dixie and Herbert Derickson who bested the nice field of entries while as always hearing the love from their fan base on the victory walk out. José’s Unfinished Business and Sam Martin captured the attention from both the crowd and the judges as well and they rightfully earned reserve for owner Jordan Howell.

The Amateur Riders 70 and Over class was packed with seasoned riders poised for the win and on this Friday night eight came through the gate and didn’t hold back. In the end, I Am Biscayne Bay and Ben Brogdon pushed last year’s winners, Jose' It Ain’t So and Pam Russell, into the reserve position and it was abundantly clear that Brogdon enjoyed the ride of a lifetime as he wore an unforgettable smile while cruising down victory lane. Ten entries in the Lite-Shod Walking Horse class featured eight entries with La Patrona and Philip Trimble earning the winning votes for Dale Steinmetz, while Big Time Bandit and Patrick Thomas put on a big show as they wore the reserve streamers out of the ring. 

Spectators put their full attention on the next highlight of the evening, the Three-Year-Old Walking Stallions splits, which had 13 entries working just as hard in the A division as every other class so far on this great Friday night. Starpower CC and Michael Wright had their game faces on for the impressive win among the quality-filled class with Form A Line and Josh Watts scoring a wide open play for the reserve finish. 

The B division was equally impressive and the crowd really got into it. They also showed their support for Jose’ Revival and Casey Wright when they were called out as the winners for Bill and Debbie Woods. Always a fan favorite and a master of working the ring and finding a perfect position, Blaise Broccard and Coach Belichick heard the crowd’s support in familiar fashion as they walked away wearing the reserve streamers. 

Always a crowd-pleasing class, the Owner-Amateur Classic Horses 15 and Over class had many fine entries on display with an unusual twist to add to the excitement. Lisa Baum always rides hard and takes her rides seriously. Pinch-hitting for Kathy Zeis, Baum rode hard as ever to make her friend proud and Texas Joe Black played his part to perfection as well. They for sure made their biggest fan proud as they walked away with the blue, defending Zeis’ unforgettable ride in the same class last year, while Absolute Proof and Greg Kiser put in a consistent performance for the reserve. 

Easily reminding everyone of how fast a year goes by, the Park Performance Five and Under class kept the momentum rolling on the Friday evening agenda with Georgia Florida Line and Bruce MacDonald standing out among the classy group of showy horses for a repeat win. Curly Lambeau and Jacob Baum garnered reserve for mom Lisa Baum. Interestingly, both positions mirrored the playout from last year’s class, which was also both filled with talent and charismatic contenders. 

The Novice Lady Riders on Walking Stallions class wasn’t split this year but it was full and then some with 16 riders vying for top honors. When the winner was called out Chris Hutchinson’s face said it all as she wore a blue ribbon smile like no other and she earned every bit of it with her capable partner, We Will Rock You. They may still be in the novice division, but Debbie Flack and Hero definitely made a name for themselves in this tough class as they emerged as the reserve champions in the good class.

As the evening cruised to the finish line the Four-Year-Old Walking Mares and Geldings (Canter) got the crowd in perfect tune and mirroring his magnificent abilities from the night before as one of the industry’s elite, John Allan Callaway had Gotcha José in perfect form to make his moves count for the big win. Bye Felicia and Jerry Beaty warmed up the house on their way out of Maverick Arena with an impressive performance for the reserve finish. 

In her second win of the night and neither less monumental than the other, Lisa Baum pulled off yet another highlight of the evening with her crowd-pleasing favorite, Lined Up At The Ritz. In true classic form, Baum had the tried and true star ready to put it all on the line as she directed him to the win while another fan favorite and also last year’s champion, Dirty Sexy Money and Jannie Chapman settled in for reserve, but not without the well-deserved respect from their cheering section.

It’s always impressive to see the skills of the best ladies in the equestrian world of walking horses work their magic, especially when it’s in the amateur division. In the  Amateur Ladies Walking Mares it was especially meaningful as Molly Walters expertly piloted She’s Limitless to a powerful finish that moved them up a notch in the ranks from last year, proving the sky is truly the limit when you put in the work and never lose reach of your goal. Similarly, another one of the industry’s hardest riders who’s always up for a battle right until the very end, Sister Milligan put forth every bit of showmanship in her ride aboard the Dixie Majorette but in the end settled for a respectable reserve finish. 

Rounding out the final class of a smooth-sailing Friday night, He’s Primetime and Clay Sanderson starred as the champions in the evening’s climax on a great slate of Friday night classes, the Show Pleasure Mares and Geldings, for Ridgemont Farm. Wrapping up what has thus far been a solid Celebration, Jeff Laughlin and Ready To Play turned up the heat and had their game faces on as they walked away on the heels of the winners with the reserve ribbon for proud owner Robert Deutsch.