by Mark McGee | photos by Shane Shiflet

The final Saturday of the 85th Annual National Tennessee Walking Celebration started and ended with record breaking numbers.

New this year, the show kicked off with the ever-popular Stick Horse class. Ring announcer Mark Farrar called out each name and entry of the 127 adorable teams that participated in the class. 

J. Brantley set the musical pace for the evening, which also included a tribute to long-time Celebration organist Larry Bright. 

The invocation was given by Jimmy West from Edgemont Baptist Church in Shelbyville. The Cavaliers from Shelbyville presented a harmonious and stirring a cappella version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with Ronnie Spears and White Diamond Dollar presenting The Stars and Stripes.

The first of the 14 classes for the evening kicked off with Kelly Querrey making her first ever spotlight ride with She’s Venomous in the Owner-Amateur Three & Under Trail Pleasure World Grand Championship. Querrey is from Needville, Texas. She’s Venomous has struck for blue ribbons in four of eight classes this year. This Is Who I Am was reserve for co-owner Chad Spencer riding for co-owner Scarlet Spencer. Party Mode and owner-rider Emily Woodruff were the third place tie. All six programmed entries made the gate call with David Sisk calling the class.

All five listed entries worked for call judge David Sisk in the Park Pleasure World Grand Championship. Amber Zahnd claimed the floral horseshoe and tri-colored ribbon riding Gomez for owner Brock Wampler from Midway, Tennessee. They were the unanimous choice of the five-judge panel. It was the first world grand championship for both Amber and Wampler. The winning team also topped the Park Pleasure Western class the first Wednesday night of the Celebration. Reserve was Papacito with Chris Zahnd in the saddle for Karen Bean. The top two finishers were sired  by Jose’ Jose’. He’s A Dixieland Delight and Jeff Laughlin walked out with a yellow streamer for Vickie Penick.

It was a repeat spotlight ride in the Owner-Amateur Four & Five-Year-Old Country Pleasure World Grand Championship for Shipwrecked and co-owner Dr. Shana Hughes, riding for co-owner Jason Hughes of Russell Springs, Kentucky. They were the unanimous choice of the judges. They won the Owner-Amateur Three & Under Country Pleasure World Grand Championship in 2022. In 2023, they are undefeated in six classes, including the Owner-Amateur Four-Year-Old Country Pleasure class Monday morning. Reserve was Kelly Querrey aboard Bombay Sapphire PVF for co-owner Finley New. A Knightime Menace and owner-rider Vickie Moore were third. David Sisk called the gaits with all seven expected entries in “The Big Oval.”

The spin of the wheel in center ring landed on Nathan Clark as the call judge with 17 of 18 expected entries riding in the Owner-Amateur Youth 12-17 World Grand Championship. Nevermore and co-owner Julia Callaway of Shelbyville made their first ever spotlight ride for co-owner Dr. Barbara Moersch from Jacksonville,  Alabama. They were the unanimous selection of the judges. In 2023, they have five blues in seven classes winning the Owner-Amateur Youth 15-17 class the first Thursday night of the Celebration. He’s A Lucky Strike was reserve with Aubrey Derrickson aboard for Dr. Ralph Derrickson. Extra Special Jose and co-owner Emma Wright placed third for Cagle and Wright.

It was a repeat performance for John Allan Callaway and The Honor Code with back-to-back spotlight rides in the Show Pleasure World Grand Championship for owner Lisa Baum from Shelbyville. They were the unanimous selection of the judges. They are undefeated in 10 shows dating back to 2022, and are five-for-five in 2023, including the Show Pleasure Stallions class Tuesday night. Nathan Clark called the class with six of seven entries making it to “The Big Oval.” Acclaim, with Winky Groover in the saddle, received the reserve award for Carolyn Rutner. The world grand champion and reserve world grand champion were both sired by Honors. They Call Me Samson and Link Webb rode to a yellow ribbon for Boston Kate Tillman. 

Call judge Leah Boyd directed the 11 of 14 listed entries in the Owner-Amateur Mares & Geldings World Grand Championship. A Home Run By Ted knocked it out of the park for owner-rider Greg Kiser from Rosedale, Virginia, for the floral horseshoe and tri-colored ribbon. Harley Quinn and owner-rider Beth Collins were reserve, while Ole Rocky Top left the ring with a yellow ribbon with Lilly Riddley riding for Alan Riddley.

Blacklist made the spotlight ride in the Trail Pleasure World Grand Championship for the third time, this time with Carrie Martin DeJarnette in the saddle for new owner Jane Pirolo of Franklin, Tennessee. Blacklist has 11 Celebration world titles. This year, Blacklist has eight blues in 12 classes, including the Owner-Amateur English Trail Pleasure in morning classes the first Wednesday of the Celebration and the Trail Pleasure class with DeJarnette Tuesday night. I’m Thunderstruck N.D.R. placed reserve with David Mast riding for Wayne and Debbie Simons. He’s A Knight Rider and Joe Lester rode to a yellow streamer for Andrea Coleman. All three program entries competed for call judge Leah Boyd.

Two of the three listed entries worked for call judge Kenny Smith in the Park Performance World Grand Championship. The unanimous selection by the judges to ride out with the floral horseshoe and tri-colored ribbon was Praise And Honor, ridden by Jeff Laughlin for Doris Penick from Walterboro, South Carolina. They have four top honors in a row this show season in five classes. They were first in the Park Performance Five & Under class the first Wednesday night of the Celebration. So Real was reserve with Patrick Thomas aboard for Cynthia and Marian Wright.

Stapleton and co-owner Maggie Moore earned the spotlight ride in the Owner-Amateur Country Pleasure World Grand Championship for co-owner Jim Leek from Christiana, Tennessee. The team has six blues in seven classes in 2023. Monday night they won the Owner-Amateur Western Country Pleasure class. Slingblade placed reserve for owner-rider Debbie Marbry, while owner-rider Lisa Baum and Eye On The Title claimed the yellow ribbon. Derek Bonner was the call judge with all eight listed entries performing. 

Call judge Leah Boyd set the gaits for the nine of 12 programmed entries competing in the Two-Year-Old World Grand Championship. No Apology and Jimmy McConnell didn’t have to make any excuses for their top performance for owners Bryden and Tuttle from Calimesa, California, and Gallatin, Tennessee. Spotlight On Jose’ 4G was ridden to reserve by Bill Callaway for Bob Adcock. The first two award winners were sired by Jose’ Jose’. 8 Mile SWF and Casey Wright picked up a yellow streamer for Darrell Oliver.

Owner-rider Bob Adcock and Born A Maverick made their first ever spotlight ride as a team in the Owner-Amateur Four-Year-Old World Grand Championship. A Shade Of Jose’, with co-owner Buck Buchanan on board for co-owner Donna Buchanan, was reserve. Primo and owner-rider Justin Harney left the ring with a yellow streamer. Ten of 11 expected entries made the gate call, and with the spin of the wheel, Leah Boyd had been dedicated as the call judge.  

It was perfect attendance in the Open Specialty World Grand Championship with all seven planned entries working under the direction of call judge Leah Boyd. Warbird and Ryan Blackburn wore the floral horseshoe and the tri-colored ribbon for Ginger Williams from Reidsville,  North Carolina. They have three blues in four classes this year. Reserve honors went to Powerstroked By Jose’ and Rodney Dick for owner Susan Coleman. Tua MCF was ridden to third by Knox Blackburn for Keith and Lorraine Rosbury. 

I’m Jordan and Kenny Compton repeated as the Owner-Amateur (Canter) World Grand Championship winners for Della Compton of Tazewell, Virginia. They have two blues in three classes this show season. He’s Whiskey Cavalier and co-owner Kim Butler rode to the reserve world grand championship honors for co-owner Bryson Price. Honor My Country won a yellow ribbon with Stephanie White aboard for Toni White. All seven programmed entries competed for call judge Kenny Smith.

Following a drag of the track, seven of the nine programmed entries made their way into “The Big Oval” one at a time under the spotlight to ride for the Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship, the ultimate honor in the industry. As usual, the horses were put to work on the rail and then asked to park in for conformation judging. The entries were all then re-saddled and put back on the rail for a workout to the crowd’s delight.

After all the work was complete, along with all the extra passes to the lineup, the spotlight searched for the 2023 Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Champion. For the third year in a row, the spotlight settled on the team of Justified Honors and John Allan Callaway for owner Lisa Baum of Shelbyville, Tennessee. The win came as a unanimous selection from the judging panel. The reserve world grand championship honors were presented to Jose’ Revival and Casey Wright for Debbie Woods. The top two award winners were a repeat of 2022. Dixie Road, with Link Webb aboard, won the third place ribbon for Joe Barnes. 

Justified Honors and Callaway became the third horse and rider team to win three consecutive World Grand Championships. They entered into the category with Talk Of The Town and Steve Hill won in 1951, ’52 and ’53, as well as I Am Jose’ and Casey Wright who won in 2013, ’14 and ’15.

Another elite category is trainers who have won four Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championships. A few trainers have won four, but John Allan Callaway is the first to win four in a row. In 2020, he rode Master’s Razzel And Jazz to the title, followed now by three years with Justified Honors.