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Going THE WHOLE NINE YARDS



By Mark McGee

The finale of the 65th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was an evening of history-making on many levels for trainer Bill Bobo.

To start out the final Saturday night of the show Bobo was awarded Trainer of the Year honors by the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association for a record-setting third time with previous honors in 1989 and 1993. To close out the night he would ride The Whole Nine Yards to the World Grand Championship, Bill’s first win in the big stake. With all five judges rating the team as the tops in the class the night was complete.

Almost.

Between the Trainer of the Year ceremony and the World Grand Championship victory ride, Connie, Bill’s wife of 33 years, had her foot stepped on a by a mare that refused to move her hoof. Connie fell on her back, passing out briefly from the pain and the blood loss. Trainer Sammy Day rushed to assist her, pulling her out from underneath the mare which appeared to be ready to trample her.

“Blood was spurting up and Sammy picked me up,” Connie said. “They brought a radio in the emergency room for me to listen to the class. They put a soft cast on my right leg, gave me a pain shot and then a state trooper drove 100 miles an hour down Madison Street to get me back.”

Connie was attempting to fix a flower on the lapel of trainer Brandon Stout when the mare stepped on her. She gives Sammy Day the credit for saving her life. Day also borrowed a mobile phone for Connie to use to talk to Christy Howard Parsons.

With Connie in the emergency room of Bedford County Medical Center, the show did go on. Bill and The Whole Nine Yards did delay their final victory pass long enough to allow a Tennessee State Trooper to bring Connie back to the edge of the show ring.

Bill, who carried a tie worn by his late father, C.A., into the show ring took all of the history making in stride.

“I don’t guess I will win the World Grand Championship seven times like I first thought I would,” Bill said with a laugh. “Winning Trainer of the Year for the third time was really a surprise.”

Bill spent a relatively stress-free Saturday afternoon. He closed his barn at 10:30 a.m. and went home and watched some of the University of Tennessee-Fresno State football game on television.

The class went the way he both hoped and expected it would.

“It was the ride of a lifetime,’ Bill said. “I knew he had it. The judges didn’t try to work us too hard. Every time we reversed we were the first ones to go. We were ready. This horse is a crowd pleaser. He always has been. I always wanted to win it, but I wanted the crowd to be for me too.”

For Luanne and Bob Sigman of Canal Winchester, Ohio, owners of The Whole Nine Yards, the Celebration was one filled with a constant stream of well-wishers and the almost daily task of handing out caps and buttons promoting the big stallion. The impact of the victory still has not settled in for the couple.

“It was becoming overwhelming,” Luanne said. “Everybody asks me, `How does it feel?’ I don’t know yet. We were out at the barn stake night at 4 p.m. and it never stopped until 3 in the morning. You really don’t know what to expect.

“It was wonderful to watch him in the class. This is a ride like no other.”

The Sigmans were pleased that so many longtime fans of The Whole Nine Yards have been along for the ride with them.

“The fans have been there for him for two years,” Luanne said. “They have never stopped loving this horse. We might own him on paper, but the fans are the true owners.”

The Sigmans watched the stake class along with the record crowd of more than 29,000 fans from the east side of the arena. They never thought about the victory until Bill’s No. 9 was called.

“He has been unanimous all but one time the last two years, and that was the first show in 2002 at the National Trainers’ Show,” Luanne said. “Sonny Holt tied him second.

“We made up our mind that win, lose or whatever the situation, we were not coming back next year. A horse and rider have their time, and when it is over with, it is hard to get the crowd back again. I’ve watched these classes through the years, and there is just a right moment.”

The Sigmans started riding horses with their kids in trail rides. They were introduced to the Tennessee Walking Horse on some of those rides and liked what they saw and heard about the breed.

The Sigmans attended their first Celebration in 1982 with Nancy and Harry Sims. In 1980 they bought their first show horse at an auction in Lexington, Ky. Luanne would make her first appearance at the Celebration in the show ring in 1983. She didn’t make the workout. She would try again with another horse, and she would fail to make the work out again.

“But it was a thrill coming down the chute,” Luanne said.

In 1992, her first appearance in the Celebration in eight years, she won Division A of the Four-Year-Old Amateur Stallion class with I’ve Got Style. That was the last class shown on the night when the show was stopped by stormy weather from the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.

“When they called my number I never heard it,” Luanne said. “But I heard the word Got. There were 27 horses in the class. I never had a clue we would win.”

The Whole Nine Yards, sired by Gen’s Armed and Dangerous, was selected by Bob, and the plans were to make it an amateur mount for Luanne. She soon realized, however, that the horse was destined for bigger things.

“We didn’t start out on this quest to win a World Grand Championship,” Luanne said. “We were simply looking for a two-year-old amateur horse for me. My husband spotted this yearling and it went from there. He was too much horse for me. As a two-year-old he was doing too much.”

Bob immediately liked what he saw in The Whole Nine Yards the first time he looked at him at Larry Williams barn in Maryville, Tenn. He liked the way he moved, showed him to Luanne and they decided to buy him. Their son Rob named the stallion. They have a daughter, Debbie, and another son, Shane.

Greg Lutz started training the horse, but eventually decided to stop training and pursue his other business interests.

“The first thing you know Greg has him down here as a three-year-old and the crowd gets him called in and we come out fifth. Then the next year Greg chose to put his training aside and told us to call Bill. He has shown nine times with Bill and won all nine times.

“It really means something to have Bill Bobo to ride him. Bill is so respected in this industry. He is a great trainer. He has done a great job. Had it not been for Greg referring us to Bill I doubt very seriously we would have been down here. We had never had a horse stabled in Middle Tennessee. It is just too far away from us.”

The Whole Nine Yards is known for his easygoing personality, something that is not always the trait of a World Grand Champion.

“You could ride him bareback in here,” Luanne said. “He loves people.

“This horse has gone right up the step ladder. But being five is not old. Now we have to make the right decision to take him to a breeding barn. I can’t wait to see his colts.

The Sigmans have turned down some impressive offers, but they could not part with the stallion. They view their victory as a plus for the industry as they are classified as average working people who were able to win the biggest prize the breed offers. Bob is a coordinator for a vending company and Luanne works for a construction and demolition business.

“We’re just normal, average working people,” Luanne said. “Just to come to the Celebration and get in the workout was like getting a ribbon for us.

“We did nothing but just be ourselves. It proves that it can happen. It is just a wonderful feeling.”

Bill remembers his first look at the talented stallion during The Whole Nine Yards’ three-year-old year.

“I saw the top of his head going around the ring at Lynchburg,” Bill said. “I never did see his legs. I was impressed with the way he looked just from that.”

Later, at the Celebration, Bill saw Lutz and The Whole Nine Yards in the Three-Year-Old Stake class.

“Greg got the crowd to recognize that horse in the three-year-old class,” Bill said. “ I saw them over at Calsonic getting ready, and I went over to talk with him about the horse.

“Greg rode him hard the whole way. The crowd picked up on him. The crowd is what makes you.”

Bill is convinced that he may not have ever been given the opportunity to ride him to both the Junior World Grand Championship and the World Grand Championship had it not been for his expressing to Lutz his admiration of the horse. Lutz spent almost a month working with Bill preparing The Whole Nine Yards for the title run.

“If it hadn’t been for Greg I don’t know if we would have gotten through it,” Bill said. “He is real meticulous. He goes over him with a fine-tooth comb. He was so slick and shiny I don’t know if a fly could have landed on him. He did a great job with this horse.”

Bill has a few exhibitions left with The Whole Nine Yards, but he is going to miss competing with the talented stallion.

“The Whole Nine Yards has got size, looks, stamina and all the ability, motor and willingness in the world,” Bill said. “Your mind goes 40 different directions before the thing happens, but he was a good enough horse to pull me through.

“I think God had a lot to do with it. He has kept this horse sound for two years. He has never taken an unsound step. He is just a great horse. He made me look like one of the top trainers.”

Now it all becomes a part of the breed’s rich history.

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