By Sadie Fowler 

Veteran’s night served as the most honorable way to kick off the beautiful opening ceremonies Friday, with many of the country’s most deserving servicemen lining Maverick Arena to the Celebration’s appreciation prior to the presentation of the nation’s colors with White Diamond Dollar and the steady-going Bud Seaton capably doing their share to open the show in classic style. As the first class of seven entries took to the rail, announcer Mark Farrar gave an enthusiastic welcome to one of many special dignitaries that have been present this week, U. S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who waved to the crowd as he was thanked for his support on behalf of the entire agriculture industry as well as the Volunteer State, and the walking horse. 

Jennifer Bingham and King Mojo kicked off this 81st annual event with a win Wednesday morning and they followed that off with a win at the Futurity. Topping that off, Bingham knows what it takes to work Maverick Arena as she’s judged it several times but this time she was on the other side of the coin as she and her stellar mount exited with the first tricolor of Friday night. Hearing a more than large applause from the crowd, Amanda Manis and Lujoso have been undefeated all year long for good reason, and they followed up their preliminary win among the three-year-olds with the well-deserved reserve world grand championship. 

The Amateur Show Pleasure World Grand Championship followed on the agenda with 15 fancy entries showing up for duty in a fine and elegant style with a special guest judge from the Morgan world, Cindy Mugnier, putting her input in as a guest judge. It felt like a Friday based on the crowd, quality and pageantry felt throughout the grounds. No strangers to the spotlight, Susanne Moore and He’s Starbucks always put on a show for their fans that demonstrates skill, experience and charisma and they followed up their preliminary win while defending their title in this class from last year and also 2016 as they walked into the spotlight to accept the title for Bud Moore. The Crimson Sky and Ashley Case worked as hard as the remaining 13 and that was required to earn a spot as reserve world grand champions, this time representing Judy Case. 

The temperature was on point, the music was there and so was the beat of the walking horse as 10 entries graced through the gate for the  Amateur Park Pleasure World Grand Championship. The competition was as diverse as it was deep but in the end the judges put I Walk The Walk and Carol Missildine in the Celebration spotlight, following up their good season and qualifying win. This hot horse was also coincidentally first in the open version of this class last year with Rodney Dick. Reserve in the class this year, He’s A Dixieland Delight and Vickie Penick proudly carried away reserve world grand championship honors. 

The Amateur Trail Pleasure Three and Under World Grand Championship heated things up, although there wasn’t much spice needed as Habanero Picante and  Kimberly Walden put in a starring role to top the class, representing Shelbyville, Tennessee well, and the crowd reciprocated as they cheered them out of the ring with their loyal appreciation. Paranoia and Wayne Westbrook held their own in the class lined with talent from top to bottom and they secured the reserve in doing so, wrapping up a great show for them. 

The Owner-Amateur World Grand Championship featured 10 of the industry’s most elite ladies and one gentleman of which any one of them could have won if the stars were in their favor on this night. Deal Me Aces CM and Connie Missildine picked up the top honor, while Lisa Baum and A Bruce Pearl rode hard to capture the reserve title.  

The Trail Pleasure Five and Under World Grand Championship showcased five entries and they all had a quiet spot on the rail, which seemed appropriate as they all deserved lone-star recognition. In the end, Blacklist and Joe Lester were poised and polished for the Celebration tricolor as they have been all season long, undefeated at that, leading up to the spotlight memory that won’t soon fade. Riding with style and class, Self Made Money and Jessica Hlebak earned the crowd’s approval for reserve. 

With worth ethic at the forefront, the Novice amateur riders on their novice horses competed for world grand championship honors next with a crowded crop of 15 showing for the Celebration’s approval and they earned Shelbyville’s as well. Precision and details paid off as the first spotlight ride ever came on this night for We Will Rock You with Chris Hutchinson smiling like no other as she rode under the spotlight for her first time in front of her hometown crowd. A large “way to go” applause also went to reserve finishers, who worked equally hard in their campaign. Their names were A Strong Statement and Kelly Stewart, and that said it all. 

The Youth 12-17 Mares and Geldings World Grand Championship came in 10 strong in Maverick Arena for the next showdown, all while wearing their hearts on their sleeves for a hearty and enthusiastic Celebration cheering section. Passion-fueled and powerful, a white horse with a proud boy making a spotlight ride, Sellers Veazey piloted The Dixie Label to the win, edging out the poised and popular Miss Ebony Rose and Ashley Cortez for reserve. 

The Amateur Five-Year-Old World Grand Championship featured a large group of sharp contenders turning heads in all directions for a chance at the title but in the end Von Miller and Carol Missildine bested the field of 11. Nip Of Gin and Dee Yoder carried on their amazing 2019 momentum with a stiff-riding reserve finish which they gratefully accepted.

There are many things the Celebration as an organization does with a standard of excellence like no other. From their prudent hiring of staff, judges, ringmasters and more, to their care for the community via civic clubs, to their attention to the details, the Celebration truly is a show like no other. The special exhibits are among the details that make the show special and tonight, Gen A’Mighty and Jimmy McConnell, reigning world grand champions, put their charisma on the forefront in a sentimental exhibit to the full-house crowd’s delight. 

The Amateur Country Pleasure World Grand Championship followed up the excitement of the exhibit, with Slingblade and Debbie Marbry maintaining their comfort in the winning spot as the world grand champions while Line Item Veto and Miles Irby shut down the rest of the competition as the reserve finishers with the Teague family cheering them on loudly.

An all-star cast showed up with seasoned actors in the saddle for the Walking Horse Specialty World Grand Championship, and it was a challenging audition in front of the panel. In the end, the winning role belonged to George-Ann Pratt’s entry Samsung and no other than Bill Callaway, who brilliantly navigated him to the tricolor ride. Without question, another one of the industry’s greats, Rodney Dick, rode in is consistently charismatic-style for Denny Russell aboard Really Coach?.

Another 10 fine entries emerged for the exciting Amateur Two-Year-Old World Grand Championship and all 10 rode like serious business for the attention of both the panel and the spectators, perhaps mattering more than anything at this show. Keeping the mood in flow and representing Jimbo Connor, there was one young partnership that freshly delivered  — with Smoky Mountain Strong and Lexie Stinnett following up their preliminary win to earn the coveted tricolor, first time for both horse and rider. They edged out another hard-riding and flashy duo, Oh Susannah and John Callicutt, who have also made a reputation for themselves that far exceeds their age as they walked away with reserve. 

The Four-Year-Old World Grand Championship closed out the show with a modest five working their best moves for the Celebration history books. As Mark Farrar announced, “If there’s one thing we know, it’s that you have an opinion .. let them know they’re your favorite!” Spectators listened to Farrar’s direction and cheered on loudly with each contender having their own fair share of support. When the call for “one more time” came, there was a battle to the lineup with one rider revealing his stylish showmanship skills coupled with pure grit and talent no less as Jimmy McConnell and Gin’s Shadow, a full brother to current world grand champion Gen A’Mighty, won for familiar owner Mike Floyd, also the owner of Gen A’Mighty. Reserve in what had been a terrific class, night and week thus far, Shout Walkin and Justin Harris walked away with respect and the well-deserved approval as the reserve world grand champions for Tim Fleming.