By Mark McGee

In a year when there have been so many changes in the world we live in, visitors to the 82nd annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration will notice a major one.

For the first time since 1994 the Celebration flag horse will not be ridden by legendary trainer Bud Seaton. A white horse with a rider carrying the American flag to begin each evening performance is one of the strongest Celebration traditions.

“You have to be able to ride and guide one-handed and you have to be flawless doing it,” Mike Inman,
CEO of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration said.

“The fact that Bud made it look easy is a testimony to what a good horseman he is. Trust me, it is not easy.”
Seaton rode to the World Grand Championship in 1979 aboard Threat’s Supreme for D&S Enterprises. He finished reserve with Flashy Pride in 1990. The next year Vicki Self became the third woman to win the world title aboard Flashy Pride for owners Art and Frances Barnes.

“Bud’s posture and demeanor on a horse always impressed me,” Inman said. “He was a picture-perfect rider. His horses always seemed to be very deliberate…not rushed, but not slow. He always had them doing the right gaits.”

Ronnie Spears, a two-time World Grand Champion rider will be the new presenter of the American flag. Spears won his first world title in 1974 on Another Masterpiece for owner Henry Moore. His second world grand championship came in 1990 with The Pushover for Dr. and Mrs. William Varner.

The veteran trainer, retired and living in Florida, is looking forward to returning to the show ring. He will be riding White Diamond Dollar, owned by Dr. Bob McCloy and his wife, Curtice. The mare is trained locally at Dick Peebles Stables.

“It gives me a chance to come back to Shelbyville, visit friends and enjoy the show,” Spears said. “To me it is an honor.

“When I was a young trainer, I thought it would be the cat’s meow to ride the flag horse at the Celebration. I have always thought the flag horse is a big deal.”

He knows he has big stirrups to fill replacing Seaton. “Bud is always aristocratic looking in the saddle,” Spears said. “He presents himself well.

“Bud was a great trainer. He rode for many years. He always did a wonderful job riding the flag horse.”

Spears was not expecting the call from the Celebration, but he was happy to fulfill Inman’s request.

“Mike called me and told me Bud had decided to retire,” Spears said. “They wanted someone who had won the Celebration to ride the flag horse.”

This will not be the first time Spears has been in the center ring with the flag horse. He has dealt with the challenge of carrying the flag and directing the horse around the ring. It is also not the first time he has replaced Seaton as the flag horse rider though the last time was temporary.

“One year Bud broke his back and Ron Thomas (then TWHNC CEO) called me and asked me if I would ride,” Spears said. “I am glad to be able to do it again.”

As a young trainer in West Point, Mississippi at Circle R Stables, Spears provided a white horse to the Celebration. Becky Majors owned the mare.

“In the mid-60s I had a white mare,” Spears said. “It was around 1965. They called me from the Celebration and said they needed a flag horse.

“I know I brought her to the Celebration at least two years, maybe three. At the time, a different rider who had won the World Grand Championship rode the flag horse each night. I enjoyed meeting all of those riders and talking with them a minute or two.”

White Diamond Dollar made her flag horse debut in 2017.

“The McCloys have provided a great horse for us,” Inman said. “She is a young horse. Hopefully, she will be in that position for quite some time.

“The white horse is the opening act all 10 nights of the show. White horses are not only rare, but you must have one with the right amount of talent and temperament and an owner willing to spend the money to train the horse knowing you can’t show it. It is like finding two needles in a haystack.”