by Mark McGee | photos by Shane Shiflet

The National Weather Service warns that if you are close enough to hear the thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.

Roughly an hour before the start of the Saturday night performance of the 85th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, thunder could be heard through the driving rain. In order to prevent anyone from being struck by lightning, the start of the show in “The Big Oval” was delayed for 125 minutes.

With the “all-clear” from the National Weather Service, Ronnie Spears, riding White Diamond Dollar made a late appearance with the Stars and Stripes. The invocation was delivered by Tim Rhodes of Christian Ministries Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Dr. Stephen Smith from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, sang a rousing version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Ring announcer Mark Farrar kept everyone informed of the weather conditions delaying the start of the 12-class schedule. The rain, in diminishing intensity, continued through the first four classes. Organist J. Brantley brightened the evening with his music.

MTSU President Sydney A. McPhee was the special guest of Rick Insell, women’s basketball coach for the Blue Raiders. 

The show kicked off with the ever popular, Lead Line World Grand Championship. The Silver Lining and Piper Anne Teague, with handler Rachel Teague of Bell Buckle, Tennessee, opened the evening with a unanimous victory in the Lead Line World Grand Championship class. In seven shows this summer, they have four wins, including three blues in a row. Oakley Kate Davis and handler Ashtyn Moore were reserve, while Harlee Anne Beard and handler Anne Marie Beard tied third. Ten entries competed, one more than listed in the program. Kenny Smith called the class. 

All nine listed entries competed in the Yearling World Grand Championship for  call judge Kenny Smith. Making the spotlight walk for the world title were Josephine’s Time and handler Robert Nelms for Joe Link of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. The team is unbeaten in seven classes this year, including the Yearling Fillies or Geldings class and the Youth 12-17 Yearling Fillies or Geldings class, both on Friday morning at the Celebration. Fire’M Up Charlie was guided to second by Claire Hankins for Bruce Vaughn. Both the first and second place winners were sired by Walk Time Charlie. Perfect War Hawk and handler Chris Richards placed third for Chavigny Beasley.

Ole Rocky Top and Lilly Riddley rode to top honors in the Owner-Amateur Ladies on Geldings class for The Alan Riddley Family from Kings Mountain, North Carolina. They have won four blues in five classes in 2023. A Pink Floyd and owner-rider Lisa Baum took home a red streamer, while Command On Parole and owner-rider Sheryl Crawford tied third. David Sisk called the gaits for 10 of 31 expected entries.

The spin of the wheel in center ring landed on Kenny Smith as the call judge with 11 of 17 planned entries in “The Big Oval” in Three-Year-Old Mares, Div. A class. I Am Sweet Maggie May and Jimmy McConnell made the sweet trip to the winner’s circle as the unanimous selection of the five-judge panel for owner Beverly Sherman of Shelbyville, Tennessee. It was their three blue in four classes this show season. Time To Be Glamorous THF was second with Todd Claborn in the irons for Travis Hale. I Am Shady, with Tyler Baucom in the irons, walked out with a yellow ribbon for Dr. Barbara Moersch.

He’s A Lucky Strike and Aubrey Derrickson struck for a blue ribbon for owner Dr. Ralph Derrickson of Morehead, Kentucky, in the Owner-Amateur Novice Youth 12-17 class. No longer Celebration novices, they have seven wins in nine classes in 2023. Second place was Jose’s Ritzy Hawk, with Emma Black riding for Robby Black. Legally Blonde and co-owner Jamen Smith were the third place tie for co-owner Brenda Marmon. Leah Boyd called the gaits with 15 of 24 programmed entries making an appearance. 

Eleven of 18 listed entries participated in the Three-Year-Old Mares, Div. B class with Derek Bonner calling the gaits. Josh Watts was in the saddle aboard Jimmer’s Country Girl to claim the unanimous blue for owner Carole Baxter. Jimmer’s Country Girl has four wins in four classes this summer. Oh! My Black Betty and Dan Waddell were reserve for Verner Smith and George Zamora. A yellow streamer went to Polly Gray with Tanner Burks aboard for Dr. Lynda Brogdon. I’m A Dixie Dolly, fifth with Kayla Baucom riding for Stephen and Nora Capper, was the top-rated Futurity entry.

Patrick Mahomes, with Paul Simmons aboard for Terry Manier, scored a touchdown win in the Owner-Amateur Novice Gentlemen on Stallions class. No longer Celebration novices, it was the second blue in six classes for Patrick Mahomes. Hawkins was ridden to a red streamer by Kevin Luttrell for Alex Luttrell. I’m Nashville and owner-rider Brian Perkins were third. Eight of 15 programmed entries made their way to “The Big Oval”, with Nathan Clark serving as the call judge. 

Six of 14 listed entries were under the direction of call judge David Sisk in the Owner-Amateur Youth 6-14 Ponies class. The Ultimate Honor lived up to his name earning the unanimous approval of the five-judge panel with Jack Harney riding for The Justin Harney Family from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. They are undefeated in four shows in 2023. I Like Gin and Caroline Stanley placed second for Pam Parker. Switchblade FSS was the third place tie with Ally Jo Jacobs in the irons for Jacobs and McWaters.

Wired And Lined walked to a blue ribbon with owner-rider Kelsey Wright of Reagan, Tennessee, in the Owner-Amateur Youth 12-17 Show Pleasure class. It was their second top finish in four shows this year. Pushing JFK All Over and Landon Coffey received a red streamer for Coffee and Myers. Third was My Texas Tornado with Maddox Whittenberg in the saddle for Merv Whittenberg. Kenny Smith was the call judge as 11 of 17 expected entries participated. 

Derek Bonner called the gaits in the Owner-Amateur Novice Gentlemen on Mares or Geldings class with 17 of 22 expected entries competing. She’s Lady May was the first-place tie with Frank Mosley riding for Dr. Barbara Moersch of Jacksonville, Alabama. She’s Lady May has three blues in five classes this show season. Playin Poker claimed second with Steve Powers on board for Doug Powers. A Master’s Degree W and owner-rider Jack Heffington walked out with a yellow ribbon.

Three of the four entries started the Aged Stallions, Div. A class undefeated. Only one still remains that way following the competitive class. Called from the line up to take their victory lap was the team of Dixie Road and Link Webb for Joe Barnes of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Glory JC and Jeff Laughlin were reserve for Jannie Chapman, while Mach I and Jimmy McConnell rounded out the top three for The Molly Walters Family. They competed under the direction of call judge Leah Boyd.

Nathan Clark called the gaits as four of seven program entries competed in “The Big Oval” in the Aged Stallions, Div. B class. In his first show of the year, Justified Honors, the World Grand Champion in 2021 and 2022, took the first step to a third world title. With a unanimous first place performance with John Allan Callaway riding for Lisa Baum of Shelbyville, Tennessee, this was their second blue in the class repeating their 2022 performance. Jose’ Revival and Casey Wright were second for Debbie Woods, while Honor And Remember claimed the third place tie with R.M. Kellett on board for The Jacobs Family.