By Sadie Fowler

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Just on the heels of the National Futurity, which went off without a hitch Wednesday evening, the 80th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration continued Thursday morning with nine classes on the agenda, mainly model and pleasure classes. Indeed, if there was a theme to the morning it could easily be described by “smiles and sweet victories,” especially for the ladies in the house, including Allison Thorson, Lauren Hamilton, Susan Coleman and Tammy Hubbard, all of whom had particularly special rides.

As show patrons and members of the local community stood in a long line outside the Optimist Donut booth, which also opened its doors Thursday morning, a steady crowd gathered inside the Calsonic Arena for the first class of the day, the Rider’s Cup Model Pleasure Walking Stallions class. Walk Time Charlie is indeed a model depiction for walking horse breed standards, thus it was no surprise to see two of his offspring take the top two awards in the early order of the day. Robert Nelms made his 10th entrance into the ring thus far — yes, 10th — and sealed the victory in unanimous fashion with Promise Keeper for Rushing Creek Walkers. Demonic Presence secured the reserve ribbon among a field of four with Zach Parsons handling for owner Karen Bochenek. 

The judges have been steadily in line with one another so far and the decision in the second class of the morning, the Owner-Amateur Riders on Three-Year-Old Western Trail Pleasure Walking Horses, also came in unanimous order. Looking sharp and styling the blue ribbon come finish time, Sriracha SF and Jordan Howell represented the partnership of co-owners Howell and Harper Grider. Susan Paul smiled brightly as she directly another handsome entry in the crop of six, Electric Cowboy, to the reserve ribbon. 

The Model Pleasure Walking Geldings (Rider’s Cup) class came next with nine entries competing in front of judges Sam Sorrell, Leigh Stuart, Ross Campbell, Mike Hilley and David Sisk. Loose On The Outside made a tight finish for the second year in a row with a very busy Robert Nelms in hand for Rushing Creek Walkers. Without A Warning followed up a reserve finish from the previous night’s Futurity by again wearing the red streamers out with Leighanne Tibbs directing. 

It’s always impressive to see the judges come to a unanimous decision, but when there’s 17 entries in a class — many of them world class contenders — it’s incredible. On Thursday morning, the Celebration hosted its very first All Day Pleasure, No Registration Required class and when the announcer called number 657 out as the unanimous winner, the crowd cheered loudly as Lauren Hamilton emotionally reached down and hugged her gorgeous entry, Petal Pushin’ Jazz, earning the another world championship of the week for Southern Serenity. To get any ribbon in this class was respectable, thus Maggie Moore was all smiles when she was named the reserve champion aboard Roan Ranger, a horse she owns with Jim Leek.

No strangers to the winner’s circle, especially in this class, Australian Gold and Allison Thorson geared up for a repeat win in the Amateur Riders on Trail Pleasure Optional Tack class with striking combo Gi Gi’s Lunch Money and Claire Hankins holding onto their position from last year as well as they walked away as the reserve champions.

“Australian Gold is a four-time World Champion and all of her wins at the Celebration were in this exact class,” said Thorson following the win. “Like any sport or competition, it’s hard to stay on top and to keep coming back for the same class. A lot of time, effort and hard work by many, from my family, friends, and veterinarians, contributed to us being able to maintain everything. I truly enjoy working with all of my horses and this win was very special.” 

The Owner-Amateur Riders on English Lite Shod followed with another repeat winner and another unanimous decision! Last year’s winners, the beloved Roscoe Jenkins and Susan Coleman heard their fan club cheering loud as Coleman sported a big, blue ribbon smile as they walked down victory lane. La Patrona, also no stranger to top ribbons, earned reserve in the field of eight with Dale Steinmetz in the saddle. 

Andee Patton can no longer say she’s never had the Celebration blues as she bested a field of eight in the next class of the morning, the Owner-Amateur Novice Riders on Novice Park Pleasure Optional Tack class. Patton had Gintastic in fantastic order for this blue ribbon, representing their home state of Virginia. The Blue Grass state was also represented in this class as Custom Chrome JB and Savannah Upchurch made a poised and polished performance for reserve.

The largest class of the morning, requiring a workout, was the Owner-Amateur Novice Riders on Novice Country Pleasure Walking Horses, Optional Tack and it featured 22 entries vying for their first Celebration blue. The workout worked such that the seven entries to receive spots of three of the five judges’ cards parked in while the remaining entries worked the rail again for a second look. When that was complete, the original top seven joined the others on the rail. Once the judges had given a second look to all 22 entries, calculations were quickly made and the results efficiently revealed. I’m Viva La Vita and Tammy Hubbard celebrated the monumental victory with One Breath Away and Perry Walden finishing just one step away in the quality-filled class as the reserve champions. The Dixie Chicken and Phil Dieter proudly walked away as well, wearing the yellow streamers.

The sun shined bright but the air was brisker than the normal August heat, and the Thursday morning session mirrored that comfortable weather with the session wrapping up around 11:30 a.m. The Park Pleasure Walking Horses Five and Over Rider’s Cup class closed out the session with Southern Serenity capturing a second big finish of the morning with Dosé expertly guided to victory by Patrick Thomas for Sherry Roberts. He’s A Dixieland Delight and Jeff Laughlin once again made a strong performance as the reserve champions for Vickie Penick.