It’s finally that time that horse show fans from all over the United States wait for all year, it’s opening night at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.  Of course, the show officially started on Wednesday Morning in Calsonic Arena and continued this morning, but for the true Celebration diehards, the big show never really gets underway until official Celebration announcer Bobby Sands tells the staff to open the gate and let the competition begins in the historic big oval.

Looking around about 30 minutes before show time, final preparations were being made to the track that appeared to have been in perfect condition for several days, officials were gathering in center ring and old horse show friends were taking the time to catch up as they waited for the action to get underway.
The judges for the 74th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration include Jennifer Bingham of Shelbyville, Tenn. (Pleasure, Halter & Performance), Chris Bobo of Shelbyville, Tenn. (Pleasure, Halter & Performance), Nathan Clark of Arab, Ala., (Pleasure, Halter & Performance), Brent Grider of Columbia, Ky. (Performance & Halter), Carol Smithson of Clarksville, Tenn. (Pleasure), Connie Waldo of Naples, Fla. (Pleasure), and Joel Weaver of Shelbyville, Tenn. (Performance & Halter).

As always, promptly at 7 p.m., official Celebration flag horse Counterfeit Dollar and World Grand Championship rider Bud Seaton were waiting at the gate, ready to get the opening ceremonies underway.  The invocation for the evening was given by Rev. Mark Ashley of New Hope Chapel, followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Leah Boyd of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Up first on the evening’s program, as always, was the Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 6-11 Years on Walking Mares.  The young riders always do a great job of getting the show started off just right.  Eight of the 10 with reservations made their way down the hill to show their very best for the Thursday evening crowd as Judge Chris Bobo served as Call Judge for the class.  Repeating their win in the same division in 2011, Jose’s Delightful Pusher and Landon Callicutt rode to the winner’s circle with a unanimous decision of the panel for John Callicutt of Seagrove, N.C.  This marked this team’s fifth win of the 2012 show season.  With this win, the team retired the Clovis G. Chappell Challenge Trophy and the Ebony’s Go Boy’s Dream Challenge Trophy.  Walk On Command and Jessica Lawwell were reserve in the class for Roger and Barbara Jenkins of Brentwood, Tenn.  Ugly Betty and owner-exhibitor Counti Green of Shelbyville, Tenn., rounded out the top three.

Class 24 brought the Elite Owner-Amateur Gentleman Riders on Walking Stallions to the track with 12 of the 14 on the official Lions Club program making the call to show for Judge Nathan Clark and his panel.  Making the victory pass in the event were Above The Line and Brad Spivey riding for Patricia Spivey of Jefferson City, Tenn.  Play Something Country and owner-exhibitor Jeff Smith pulled in to accept the red streamers to take back to Greer, S.C.  Kid Callahan and Ed Breedlove were third for Genevieve Breedlove of Buford, Ga.

The professional trainers made their first appearance of the evening in class 25, Three-Year-Old Walking Geldings (Riders’ Cup).  Fifteen of the 23 programmed entries made their way to the rail in the historic Celebration Arena to work for Judge Brent Grider and his cohorts.  Riding to the top of the class was the duo Sweetener and Clay Sanderson riding for Bobby Belew and Ben Kail of Lawrenceburg and Alamo, Tenn.  Headed back Georgia way with reserve honors were Generating The Command and Larry Edwards in the irons for Florence Edwards of Dawson, Ga.  King Air and Herbert Derickson secured third for Mr. and Mrs. Tim Brooks of Hot Springs, Ark.

Back in the amateur division, it was time to call class 26A, Owner-Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Walking Stallions down the hill with 16 of the 24 on the books making the call.  Judge Joel Weaver served as Call Judge for the large section of competitors.  Causing mayhem and excitement throughout Shelbyville on this night was the team of I’m Mayhem and SueAnn Dowell, 2012 Champions at the Pulaski, Tenn., Red Carpet Show of the South, in the irons for proud mom, Jo Ann Dowell of Powell, Ohio.  Headed back to the Bluegrass state with the reserve honors was Thunder In The Sky and owner-exhibitor Jim Woodburn of Sacramento, Ky.  Keep Your Cash and Sheryl Crawford rounded out the top three in the class for Crawford Colts of Carrollton, Ga.

Class 26B, Owner-Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Walking Stallions brought 19 of the 24 expected down the hill to work for World Championship acclaim in their section.  Judge Jennifer Bingham served as Call Judge for the split. It certainly was “twilight time” tonight as the team of Willie Twilight and Lorraine Rosbury rode to the winner’s circle for Maple Crest Farm of Bell Buckle, Tenn.  He’s Crimson Sky and Suzy Mathews collected the red ribbon for Arthur Gordon and Suzy Mathews of Orange, Calif. and Shelbyville, Tenn.  Brainpower and Debbie Eichler were third for Rising Star Ranch of Shelbyville, Tenn.

The young riders were back for class 27, Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 15-17 Years on Walking Mares or Geldings.  Nine of the 16 with reservations took the rail to work for their moment in the spotlight as Judge Chris Bobo called the gaits for the class.  Pushing their way all the way down victory lane was the team of Pushin That Jazz and Robert Cortner riding for Robert Cortner and Alex Luttrell of Alvaton, Ky. and Winchester, Tenn.  This win topped off an undefeated 2012 show season with wins at the Gulf Coast Charity Celebration, the Columbia Spring Jubilee, the Woodbury Lions Club Horse Show and the Pulaski, Tenn., Red Carpet Show of the South.  Cadillac’s Bum and Lilly Waites were reserve in the talented division for the Andrew Waites family of Hattiesburg, Miss.  Jose’s Dulce and Meghan Davis accepted the yellow streamers for Shamrock Farms of Shelbyville, Tenn.

A big class of 17 entries made the call for class 28, Owner-Amateur Riders on Park Performance Walking Mares or Geldings.  Judge Nathan Clark served as Call Judge for this class.  Many times a Park Performance World Champion, All American Ritz was back in the winner’s circle once again with owner Cynthia Wright taking the honors home to Jackson, Tenn.  All American Ritz topped this same division in 2011 and 2009 with Cynthia’s daughter, Marian Wright in the irons.  Another regular winner in the division, San Juan and Eric Lackey picked up the red streamers for Mr. and Mrs. Eric Lackey of Thomasville, N.C.  Time For Cash and Kasie Caldwell were third for Brenda Bell of Shelbyville, Tenn.

Another strong class of competitors made their way down the hill for class 29, Owner-Amateur Riders on Walking Stallions, 15.2 & Under.  Fifteen of the 21 programmed entries took the rail to work for Call Judge Brent Grider and the Thursday night crowd.  This certainly was a very talented class indeed with several current and former World Champions and World Grand Champions all in competition, it made for a very exciting class indeed.  However, only one could be crowned champion in the division and that honor went to the reigning Owner-Amateur 15.2 & Under WGC I’m P. Diddy and Sherri Pollack riding for Pollack’s Silver Spur Ranch of Saratoga, Calif. and Shelbyville, Tenn.  This team was reserve in this preliminary division in 2011 and was champions at the Tony Rice Horse Show and the Belfast Lions Club Horse Show in 2012.  Boure’ and owner-exhibitor Tam Brogdon were reserve taking the honors back to Panama City Beach, Fla.  Headed back Carolina way, Holyfield and Clay Mills were third for Corbin Mills and Bob Hill of Mt. Airy and Albemarle, N.C.

Class 30A brought the Owner-Amateur Novice Lady Riders on Novice Walking Mares or Geldings to the track with 13 of the 19 expected making the call to work for Judge Joel Weaver and his cohorts in hopes that they might just ride away with their very first Celebration blue tonight.  Organist Larry Bright was playing “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” while the ladies were in the line-up, but of course, all these ladies were thinking about was blue RIBBONS!  Winning that coveted first blue ribbon in the class with a unanimous decision of the panel was the team of A Beeline and owner-exhibitor Molly Walker of Hayden, Ala.  Remaining a novice for another day was Lined’s Lady MG and Kim Bailey as they accepted the red streamers for James and Kim Bailey of Lynchburg, Tenn.  The Major Flair and Jesse Stanfill were third for Jerrod and Stephanie Cagle of Lexington, Tenn.

Owner-Amateur Novice Lady Riders on Novice Walking Mares or Geldings, class 30B, featured 10 more teams looking to ride away with their first Celebration blue tonight as Judge Jennifer Bingham served as Call Judge for the section.  Win that first blue and carrying it home to the Palmetto state was Major G’s Hard Cash Girl and owner-exhibitor Heather McCormick of Moncks Corner, S.C.  Oh, by the way, they captured that first ever blue with a unanimous decision of the judging panel.  This team was reserve in this same event at the 2011 Celebration.  Headed back to the Lone Star state with reserve honors was Mexican Fire and owner-exhibitor Kimberly Coult of Livingston, Texas.  Taking third back to the West Coast was She’s All That Jazz and owner-exhibitor Beth Beasley of Venice, Calif.

Staying in the amateur division, class 31 featured the Owner-Amateur Riders on Four-Year-Old Walking Stallions with 17 of the 27 with reservations taking the rail to work as Judge Chris Bobo called the gaits for the class.  This was another very deep, very talented class that served to wake up the Thursday evening crowd that just might have been dosing just a little as the hour passed 10 p.m.  Capturing the win in this class with a unanimous decision of the panel was the reigning Three-Year-Old Amateur WGC team of I’m Pushin N Line and Janice Fostek, up for Joe Fostek of Roanoke, Va. This made their fourth 2012 win with previous wins coming at the FAST Spring Showcase, the Spring Fun Show and the Red Carpet Show in Pulaski, Tenn. Jose’s Dr. Pepper and Lucky Collins pulled in for the red streamer for Don and Lucky Collins of Bell Buckle, Tenn.  Low On Gin and Lee McGartland rounded out the top three for Mike and Lee McGartland of Ft. Worth, Texas.

The professional trainers were back for one final appearance on the Thursday evening schedule for class 32, Walking Geldings, 15.2 & Under (Canter) (Riders’ Cup).  Six of the 11 expected made the call to work all three gaits for Judge Nathan Clark and his panel.  Giving the crowd their admission’s worth with a stellar performance was the team of Admission Is A Dollar and Charlie Green riding for Dr. Pam Hendrickson of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.  Major Frivolous and Michael Wright were reserve for Sammy and Gayle Cagle of Lexington, Tenn.  I’m Redeemed and Derek Bonner were third for Della Compton of Tazewell, Va.

The final class of the evening’s schedule was class 33, Owner-Amateur Lady Riders on Show Pleasure Walking Horses featured 14 of the 28 programmed entries making the call to work for the final blue of the evening as Judge Brent Grider served as Call Judge for the class.  Just as Larry Bright was playing his signature closing song “Just The Way You Are”, official announcer Bobby Sands called the team of Godfather By Ultra Copy and Courtney Luttrell up for Courtney and Alex Luttrell of Alvaton, Ky. and Shelbyville, Tenn.  They topped the class with a unanimous decision of the judging panel and also topped this same class at the 2011 Celebration.  The American Choice and owner-exhibitor Dr. Linda Garrard of Humboldt, Tenn., were reserve in the class.  Turnbow and Lynn Womack were third for Womack and Sims of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

What a great opening night of the 74th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration!  With the final victory pass completed at 10:59 p.m., everyone will have time to get home and be back ready and rested for the Friday Morning performance at 9 a.m. in Calsonic Arena!  Make plans to be there and back in Shelbyville tomorrow night as well have a great night of competition, highlighted by the Three-Year-Old Walking Stallions.  You won’t want to miss a moment!