LEWISBURG, Tenn. - On Saturday, August 3, Tennessee Walking Horse enthusiasts from across the country will gather in Murfreesboro, Tenn. for what promises to provide perhaps the hottest equine competition of the week - the annual Tennessee Walking Horse Versatility Show. Held at the MTSU Livestock Arena and sponsored by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA), the event will spotlight the breed’s top versatility athletes.

“We are delighted to invite all middle Tennessee residents, as well as International visitors from across the country, to join us for a thrilling demonstration of the diverse athletic abilities of the Tennessee Walking horse,” said Bob Cherry, executive director of the TWHBEA. “From jumping to barrel racing, Tennessee Walking horses are skilled and agile competitors, and the Versatility Show is designed to showcase the many talents of our breed.” The Versatility Show will be held in the outdoor ring as well as the adjacent arena. Classes will begin at 9:30 a.m. and will include Tennessee Walking Horse Over Jumps, Obstacle Driving, Western Riding, Basic Reining, Water Glass, Barrel Racing, and Pole Bending. Last year, entries dashed and dazzled, competing with true camaraderie and sportsmanship. From familiar faces to novice newcomers, the seventeen diverse classes were filled with topnotch versatility horses and riders from around the nation, including several Supreme Champions and Youth Superior Champions.

Although many people have never seen a walking horse jump or run poles, the TWHBEA has coordinated a Versatility Program for the past 25 years. And, as TWHBEA Pleasure Horse Coordinator Sis Osborne explains, the Versatility Program is actually quite a popular outside of Tennessee. “In some area of the country, the flat shod Tennessee Walking horse is even more popular than a padded horse. Many people use their walking horses as “working horses” - herding and penning cattle, driving buggies to and from town, even competing in cross-country endurance marathons,” said Osborne.

“Tennessee Walking Horse clubs in several states host regular versatility shows, where barrel racing and basic reining are as common as the standard English plantation classes,” Osborne continued. “And, in areas where there are few Tennessee Walking Horse shows, our Versatility Program participants often compete in their local saddle clubs against quarter horses and thoroughbreds. You might be surprised at how often a Tennessee Walking horse beats another breed at its own specialty!”

In the TWHBEA Versatility Program, horses and riders earn points by competing in various versatility events. As points accumulate, the horse is awarded special versatility designations, such as “Honor Roll”, “Champion”, and “Supreme Champion.” The Association also encourages versatility participation by offering a separate program for youths 17 years old and younger. The TWHBEA’s Versatility Show will offer both Adult and Youth classes for water glass, barrel racing, and pole bending. In all classes except Water Glass, entries in the Versatility Show will compete individually (one at a time). In some events, competitors will be racing the clock. In others, precision and coordination will determine winners. For instance, barrel racing and pole bending are primarily speed events. In barrel racing, competitors run in a cloverleaf pattern around three 55 gallon drums placed in a large triangle. In pole bending, entries run in a serpentine pattern around six poles placed 21 feet apart in a straight line. In both events, the horse and rider with the fastest time win.

Basic reining and western riding classes are more complex and perhaps more difficult for unfamiliar spectators to “judge,” but both are thrilling to watch. In both events, each horse-and-rider team execute a predetermined pattern of maneuvers. Basic reining, which emphasizes precision and speed, consists of a pattern of spins, sliding stops and several gait changes.

Western riding, on the other hand, focuses on teamwork, requiring each entry to not only perform correctly executed gait changes but to also jump and log and negotiate through a closed gate.

The Water Glass class, which features the Walking Horse’s smooth, easy-riding gaits, is the only class in the Versatility Show where all entrants will compete in the ring together. As the horses enter the ring, each rider holds a full glass of water. The winner is selected based on one single, simple criteria - at the end of the class, the entry with the most water left in the glass wins. “When most people think of the Tennessee Walking Horse, they envision the high-stepping, long-striding, smooth-as-silk running walk, which gives riders what we call the ‘glide ride.’ And, that’s certainly one of the things that makes our breed so unique,” said Cherry. “But, many people - even some here in middle Tennessee - don’t realize our breed’s wide range of athletic abilities. That’s why we’re hosting the Versatility Show, with free admission to anyone who’d like to come, watch and and learn some amazing things about the Tennessee Walking Horse!”

Guests are encouraged to bring the entire family out for a fun filled day of fast action. Remember this action packed show is free to the public. The MTSU Livestock Arena in Murfreesboro, Tennessee is the place to be on August 3rd. Take note that this event kicks off at 9:30 a.m.