By Sadie Fowler

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — As pictures que weather passed through Shelbyville for the opening ceremonies of the first official night of the 80th edition of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, everything felt on point. The grandiose white flag horse passed through the gate as a decent crowd nestled in their seats waiting for the youth riders to emerge for the first class of the night. Then, the somber moment came as Celebration announcer Mark Farrar recognized what many sadly expected would come — a moment in silence to recognize long-time local radio station owner, Celebration supporter and advocate of the Shelbyville community at large, Rusty Reed, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this month after suffering a heart attack while on a fishing trip. Rusty loved the horse, his friends and family, and the community in which he actively served — he will be greatly missed at the Celebration. 

A prayer in Reed’s memory followed, led by local pastor the Rev. Mark Ashley, then the singing of the National Anthem.

But, as Rusty would have said, the show must go on, and it did, with Owner-Amateur Youth Riders 6-11 on Walking Mares. Indeed, it was quite a show. Four young riders graced Maverick Arena to start off what’s looking to be a fantastic Celebration. When the cards were turned in, Emma Wright received the winning nod aboard Extra Special José for Sammy and Gayle Cagle. Walk On Command and Jamen Smith commanded a respectable reserve finish for Baum and Smith.

The gentleman of the Celebration followed with 10 riders vying for top honors in the Elite Owner-Amateur Gentleman Riders on Walking Stallions class. Last year’s winning rider Robert Deutsch settled in for reserve on a different entry this year, Memphis Raines, while A King Thing did his thing for an impressive Celebration win with Bob Adcock skillfully and comfortably cruising down victory lane for the final pass.

A quality and quantity filled group of 17 entries walked through the gate next for what proved to be an exceptionally competitive class. The sharp and flashy Strike It Blue made his owners proud as he wore the blue ribbon out of the ring in the Three-Year-Old Walking Geldings Riders’ Cup class for Eric Lackey who was cheering in the stands alongside wife Diane. Though Lackey had been listed in the program to ride his three-year-old handsome gelding, Tyler Baucom expertly filled in for the awesome ride. 

“I’m speechless,” said Lackey following the class. “I’m so happy for Tyler and Strike It Blue. This was such a deserving win for Tyler as he is responsible for taking him to a world championship level.”

Bill Callaway dutifully directed Yeti to a strong reserve finish in the competitive field for Keith and Lorraine Rosbury. 

The first of two splits appeared on center stage next for the Owner-Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Walking Stallions. Just a couple classes earlier, Bob Adcock had rode out last as winner with A King Thing … In this class, he continued to collect his Celebration royalties aboard A Kingpin, representing the state of Pennsylvania in winning fashion. Kick It To The Moon and Stacy Blackburn rounded out the field of 13 as the reserve champions. 

The B division of the Amateur Riders on Two-Year-Old Stallions walked through the gate next and it, too, was filled with depth and quality. The crowd celebrated alongside fans of As I Am and Jason Myatt when they put on a powerhouse performance to earn a heartfelt victory in front of reserve champions, Win Dixie A and Gail Walling, who also heard support from their local fan base.

Talented youth riders proved their abilities in the class that followed, for riders 15-17 on mares or geldings. There was no doubt about the decision of the panel on this one, which landed current world grand champions The American Patriot and Lilly Beth Harville the well-deserved unanimous winning position for Kimberley Wood Morrison. José Miss Dolly, one of three former world grand champions in this outstanding class, captured reserve with Lilly Riddley in the saddle. 

Numbers remained strong in the next class, the 16-entry Owner-Amateur Riders on Park Performance Walking Mares or Geldings class. Robert Deutsch had already been in Maverick Arena earlier in the night, and this time he wasn’t going to settle for reserve. He walked away wearing a smile and sporting a blue ribbon with his prized mount, Ted Who. Bustin José and Ronnie Reed also stood out for a nice reserve. 

Announcer Mark Farrar acknowledged how tough it was to win the next class, and he was on point with his assessment. Pro V 1 bested the field of 11 with Abby Fox enjoying the smooth ride. He’s Made In The USA earned the crowd’s approval for their polished performance that landed them in the reserve position. 

The first division of the Owner-Amateur Novice Lady Riders on Novice Walking Mares and Geldings featured 13 pairs teaming up with hopes to win their first Celebration blue. Lined’s Lady MG and Kim Bailey were the lucky ones to win the blue ribbon with Goody Goody and JoAnn Frank putting in the good ride for reserve.
Beth Beasley and A Superbowl MVP braved the storm of contenders vying for the blue in the B division of the same class and came out with the blue. I Got Your Back and Stephanie White did not back down and they emerged with a solid reserve finish. 

Layered with horses who could win on any given Saturday night all summer long in Middle Tennessee, the Owner-Amateur Four-Year-Old class entertained the crowd in the brisk and dark air as the night began to wrap up. Last year, The Darkest Hour and Madison Scarborough won the three-year-old version of this class, and this year they topped the four-year-olds in a stunning victory topping 15. The top awards in this class could have gone to a number of entries, thus Diana Cruse gratefully accepted the red streamers with A Classic Action. 

The second to last class of the evening featured the pros directing 15.2 and under entries. Charlie Green made the winning ride aboard the pretty gray gelding of Tam Brogdon’s, Bouré, in unanimous fashion while Steele Grey teamed up for reserve honors with Michael Wright. 

Thirteen entries showed up for the final class of the session, officially wrapping up the first night of the 80th edition of the Celebration. When the cards were turned in, He’s Starbucks and Suzanne Moore received the judges’ approval as Owner-Amateur Ladies Show Pleasure World Champions with I’m Moonlighting and Stephanie Elliott receiving praise for their reserve finish.  

Many of these special moments were also captured on camera by Shane Shiflet. As a fun side note, it was also announced during the show that Shiflet’s wife Suzy had won her first world’s champion of champions a state above, in Louisville tonight. In between his own classes, Shane was able to watch the special moment on Facetime.