By Linda Scrivner

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. - Waterfall Farms played host to the fourth and final Academy Winter Tournament of 2004 with 120 entries Saturday, March 13, 2004. Exhibitors and spectators enjoyed a wonderful afternoon watching the horses and riders at the facilities graciously donated by William and Sandra Johnson. Kathy Graves judged the Classes.

Three of Waterfall’s breeding stallions were exhibited between classes. The crowd enjoyed viewing Lined With Cash, JFK, and the highest priced walking horse sold to date, Jose’ Jose’. Jose’ Jose’ was purchased for the facility at a price over a million dollars.

The purpose of the afternoon was to ride in a non-competitive and fun environment. And the crowd at Waterfall did just that. Students competed diligently, jumped off their horses to play with each other, assist each other and encourage their friends when they showed.

TWHBEA Executive Director Charles L. Hulsey was greatly encouraged by the response to the winter tournaments. “These 120 exhibitors are all new to the show ring and Tennessee Walking Horses," Hulsey said. "This is the purpose of the program. Two years ago, before the program started, they were not showing and may not have even been interested in the Tennessee Walking Horses. The introduction of this program with certified instructors and riding lessons has truly created new interests and new markets. Most of these will go on to show at other shows after learning and enjoying showing in the academy program. Joni Jenne' and Jane Meredith have done an absolutely great job,” Hulsey concluded.

Jenne' was so proud of the program that she confidently said, 10 years from now our riders will present a whole different and better look in the show ring at the Tennessee Walking Horse shows. In one class there was a fourth generation rider in the show ring. All four generations were present as Shannon Lay took to the rig. .

One young rider proudly waved his fourth place ribbon and exited the ring with a big smile. Most of the children exited the ring and were met by parents, instructors and grandparents smiling and congratulating them on their good rides.

This atmosphere leads to many success stories. Tiny Claire Ottman may soon leave the program and enter the 11 and Under division at the regular shows. Her mother Elizabeth Ottman said they just hadn’t found the right horse.

It was amazing to watch this seasoned veteran who is seven years old and weighs only 42 pounds, manipulate her big horse. Claire said her favorite part of the program is riding and that she learned a lot.

Elizabeth Ottman said that she loves the academy program. “Everyone is so nice. The girls play, go in the ring, come out and play. They look forward to cheering for the other kids. Sportsmanship is highly stressed. It’s an excellent program,” Ottman said.

This attitude was true of many other riders as they demonstrated what they have learned in their lessons and in the academy program.

Mary Ann Wheatley is another success story. Two years ago she suffered a severe head injury, which was life threatening. When she learned of the academy program, she called Joni Jenne’ to find the closest instructor. Wheatley began training with Leigh Bennett of Alvaton, Ky. Wheatley called and arranged for lessons, driving a four hour round trip from Ohio each time.

Wheatley exclaimed that she had made two years progress since Christmas. “I’ve taken lessons three months and now I’m comfortable again thanks to Leigh. I’m a big spokesman for the helmets. If I had had a helmet I probably could have walked away from my accident. We don’t ride without helmets,” Wheatley concluded.

Wheatley has purchased show ring veteran Mr. Reach and thanks to the academy program, she plans to show him later this season under the direction of Bennett Stables.

These TWHBEA Academy shows are the “little league” of the show ring, teaching students the basics of showmanship and sportsmanship.

This concludes the coverage of the fourth Academy Winter Tournament. The Academy Championships will be held Saturday, March 27, 2004, at 10:00 a.m. in conjunction with the Trainers’ Show.