By Sadie Fowler

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Following the hot and steamy National Futurity, which went off without a hitch Wednesday evening and featured several great classes despite going pretty late into the night, the 81st annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration continued Thursday morning with 11 classes on the agenda, mainly model and pleasure classes. 

 Mirroring the excitement in the show ring, which truly was right on target with Celebration quality and enthusiasm, patrons and members of the local community stood in a long lines ready to get their annual dose of Celebration delights. Yes, the donuts are here, as well as the country ham biscuits and all the other indulgences offered by the various booths that opened Thursday morning. 

Thursday morning, a steady crowd gathered inside the Calsonic Arena for the first class of the day, the 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 his offspring called to the winner’s circle in the first class of the day. Nor was it a surprise to see Robert Nelms leading Promise Keeper to that win for Rushing Creek Walkers — repeating their win from last year. Always one of the busiest trainers of the model division and the morning sessions during the Celebration, Nelms has won at least a half a dozen times by this point in the show. Representing Jazz King, The Kings Way and Natalie Johnson for owner Les Howell for a very respectable reserve finish. 

The Amateur Western Trail Pleasure Three-Year-Old class served as a typical Thursday morning session at the Celebration, meaning big numbers and very stiff competition. This year’s class had 15 entries in it and many are well-known veterans familiar with victory lane, including class winner Habanero Picante, by José José, and Kimberly Walden, who put on a spicy hot performance to secure the blue. Sired by The Dixie Lineman, The Big Bang PL made a grand show as well, with Christy Duvall wearing a big smile out of the ring with the reserve ribbon. 

 Looking sharp and styling come finish time in one of the most competitive classes of the morning, the local and horse crowd alike went wild as Joel Johnson and IB Smokin Joe scored the blue ribbon out of a field of 15 in the All Day Pleasure World Championship, only the second time the Celebration has hosted this class, for Tanner and Tucker Johnson, who happen to be sixth generation in the walking horse business. Pushing hard and giving the winners a run for their money, last year’s world champions, Petal Pushin’ Jazz and Lauren Hamilton, were reserve but put on a performance for which they should be proud. 

The Model Pleasure Walking Geldings class came next with a new winner walking away with the blue, Carolina Chrome, by Walk Time Charlie, with Laurie Toone handling for Borg/Tate. The tried and true entry of Rebecca Emerick, The Texas Lexas, made a solid presence his many fans were glad to see for the reserve finish with Russ Thompson handling.

No strangers to the winner’s circle, especially in this class, Australian Gold and Allison Thorson geared up for a yet another win — three in a row to be exact — in the Amateur Riders on Trail Pleasure, Canter, Optional Tack class. Classic and consistent, this mare is a true legend as this marked her fifth world championship in this class collectively speaking. The striking combo of Sweet As Strawberry Wine, by José José, and Amanda Manis heard the crowd’s approval as they walked away as the reserve champions.

“Like any sport or competition, it’s hard to stay on top and to keep coming back for the same class,” said Thorson of her dependable mare. “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 entries followed with another interesting outcome as La Patrona moved up a notch from last year to top the field of seven with Dale Steinmetz in the saddle. Susan Coleman, who rode to the win in this class last year aboard her beloved Roscoe Jenkins, heard from her fan club as she directed her new partner in this division, The Pinch Hitter to a strong reserve finish.  

Savannah Upchurch and Custom Chrome JB can no longer say they’ve got the Celebration blues as this sharp pair moved up a notch from last year and bested a field of 13 in the Amateur Novice Park Pleasure class. Ronnie Rushing had He’s Just A Gigalo in fantastic order for the reserve in this deep class. 

Exactly similar to last year’s version of this class, the largest class of the morning was the Amateur Novice Country Pleasure class, twenty-two solid entries deep, the quality in this class had the judges working hard to not only pick out the winner, but to tie the class in general. Though the numbers mirrored last year exactly, the top two finishers were different. After all was said and done and tabulations were finalized, the team with the highest score, Score Diamond In The Ruff and Victoria Kalosis shined bright throughout the class and couldn’t have been more proud to make their trip down victory lane. Perfectly appropriate for a Celebration reserve, Designed To Celebrate and Sara Kate Long earned the nod of approval as well for owner JoAnn Palazzo. 

The sun shined bright and the normal August heat mirrored the competition in the show ring all morning long, including the contenders that got the crowd excited in the Park Pleasure class. Southern Serenity wrapped up a great morning and celebrated a repeat win when Patrick Thomas expertly guided Dosé to Celebration victory for Lisa Baum. Also getting the crowd’s attention, Dirty Sexy Money is always popular and this time he wore the red streamers out of Calsonic with Jeff Laughlin in the saddle for Jannie Chapman. 

Two equitation classes were added to this morning session, adding a little length to the morning but giving it a little extra pizazz as well. The Youth 12-14 riders hit the ring first and all four worked hard as they performed rail work followed by patterns. Ani Drane was poised and polished for the blue and her fan club indeed let her know they were proud as she walked away with the blue ribbon followed by reserve champion, Corbin Parker, another rider whose talent was also on display.

The final class of the morning featured the older equitation riders and the support for all three of these young ladies was evident as well. The clean and sharp-riding Jayden Jackson put in a masterful performance from start to finish and earned the 15-17 title while Mia Thomas gave it her best shot as well and left with a respectable reserve.