by Lynn P. Raciti-Shost

Third Annual Tennessee Walking Horse Academy Championships

Shelbyville, Tenn - This year’s Academy Championships took place on Saturday, April 2, during the WHTA National Trainers' Show. The American Flag was carried by the current 11 and under equitation champion Paige Bennett and the national anthem was sung by Susie Taylor. The ringmasters for the show were Jennifer Holman of the U.S. Equestrian Federation in Kentucky, and Tommy Hall and Mark Taylor, both of WHOA.

Sherri Dietz-Ward of Harrodsburg, Ky., judged the 112 entries in 27 classes in two divisions. Classes in the Academy program are divided into two divisions: Performance/Pleasure and Equitation.

Unlike larger shows, in the performance/pleasure division the rider is judged on his or her showmanship, ring generalship, and presentation of the horse to the horse’s best ability. It is not a case of the rider with the best horse wins but the best rider wins. Equitation classes are judged on basic seat, hands and posture as well as the ability to maintain effective control over the horse.

Chelsea Mazzell continued her success from March’s show by picking up four more blue ribbons and Stacy Merida from New York again won the Academy Adult Flat Shod Specialty Class. Morgan England, coached by instructor Alice Klein, also repeated her wins in the 12-14 Performance Horse Specialty and 12-14 Equitation Performance Specialty classes. Guided by Leigh Bennett, Megan Whitmer did the victory pass for both the 15-17 Performance Specialty and 15-17 Flat Shod Specialty classes.

The academy program is a chance for children and adults to learn to ride and show in an environment that stresses safety, fun, and good sportsmanship. It allows students to ride and show without owning a horse; the horses are owned by the instructors and rented by the hour by the students. This also gives everyone a chance to experience flat shod and performance horses at the same time. They learn basic showmanship. There are no braids, or flashy day coats, and some of today’s academy youth will surely be tomorrow’s Celebration participants.