Story by Sadie Fowler | Photography by Shane Shiflet & Marty Barr

At the tender and ripe age of 15, Designer Champagne might be a “classic” horse, but he’s also about as tried and true as they come — and he’s definitely a pleasure to watch or ride. Timeless, elegant, effortless and bubbly, Designer Champagne has always been a standout, and this year he’s representing the best of his peers as he’s the designated star of stars to which the 2019 Year in Walking Horses is being dedicated.

Designer Champagne, or Bubbles, is even more of a pleasure to ride if you are one of the few lucky enough to partner up with him in his domain, and it is definitely his domain. Designer Champagne is more than a horse that is simply owned by a person, Kimberly Walden, in this case. No, Bubbles is a celebrated super star and then some. He and his owner have a bond and connection that becomes instantaneously obvious upon watching them interact.

His record speaks for itself, but the most telling and true summary of this living legend among the walking horse breed is this: Just two year’s ago he was holding a very special title while walking to victory at the Celebration when it was announced that he was the only horse in history to win the English and Western Amateur Country Pleasure World Grand Championship.

Since 2014, Bubbles has been owned by Walden, and their chemistry as horse and rider is as unbelievable as it is real. Walden is almost without words as she tries to describe his talent. “He’s just that special,” she said. “He’s my horse … He’s amazing … To be honest, I get just as much or more watching others like Mackenzie Lawrence or Abi Smith show him than I do riding him myself in the show ring. It’s a special sense of accomplishment to see things like that come together.”

Th ough his record is astonishing, Walden doesn’t require the dozens and dozens of blues he earns — and he’s earned somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 in the past six years — in exchange for a spot on her A-team. A home-grown colt, Designer Champagne foaled in the Pacific Northwest on October 8, 2005, at Swinging Gait Ranch, owned/operated by Sue Ritter of Tenino, Washington. 

Sired by Design To Love, he was destined to be the only foal out of his dam, Tennessee Copper. Th is colt’s
original “barn name” was “Champ” — and he definitely lived up to his early moniker.

After spending his first two years raised on pasture with a collection of pasture mates to help teach him manners, Bubbles was sold on February 2, 2008 to Chris Edmondson of Redmond, Washington. 

From Swinging Gait Ranch, he went on to  Michelle Clark of Ridgecreek Farm in Shelton, Washington, to be started under saddle for Chris. 

“After a few weeks of being with Michelle I went to visit her barn to see how Bubbles was doing,” Ritter said.  “While watching Chris ride the youngster, Michelle said to me, ‘I have people looking for show quality
horses all the time. Here is a horse that needs to be in the show ring, and all Chris wants to do is trail ride!’

“Chris did trail ride Bubbles in eastern Washington for a couple of years — but eventually needed to get out of the horses — so Chris sold him back to me in late 2010.”  

Bubbles had developed a bit of an “attitude” so he went to Rob Keyser for a couple of weeks schooling on western Washington trails.  “Once he returned home, I worked him until the next spring,” his former owner said.

In April of 2011, Bubbles was sent to Linda Arnold of Arnold’s Walking Horses, where he was prepared for the season’s first show. While there, they advertised him as being for sale as a combo trail/show horse. 

Allison Smart of Smart Strides Training Center in Shelbyville, Tennessee, heard about Bubbles from Arnold. It didn’t take long and Bubbles was on his way to Smart in the Volunteer State in early June, 2011. 

On June 25 he won his first Country Pleasure Western Two-Gait class competing against 11 horses at the WHOA Kiwanis Versatility Show in Murfreesboro. A few days later, on June 28, Maggie Moore and Jim Leek purchased him and so started his winning ways — southern style. 

He was on a roll from day one and Bubbles really started to sparkle when connecting with his next owner.
Moore and Leek sold Designer Champagne to Walden on April 4, 2014, and as they say, the rest is history. 

In 2018, prior to the Celebration, a polished television ad grabbed Celebration fans’ attention when it was stated that he was a five-time world champion and seven-time world grand champion. Of course, that was two years ago and the wins never stopped coming in.

Yes, Walden loves the blues but she loves Bubbles even more. Whether talking about his demeanor, his color, his smarts or his attitude, she looks at him in the pasture at her home in Shelbyville with pure joy and love in her eyes as she tries to convey the message of “What’s not to love about Bubbles.”

Walden has enjoyed the thrill of victory on Bubbles more times than she can count, but as previously stated, she loves training him for others to enjoy as well, and some of those moments rank at the very top of Walden’s memory files.

“My favorite Celebration moment was when Mackenzie Lawrence won her first world championship and first world grand championship on him with me training,” Walden said.

Also, Abi Smith had shown him the last two shows of 2019 under Walden’s direction and won both times, beating even the trainers with horses in the ring.

“I think what I enjoyed most about Abi is how she appreciated it all so much,” Walden said. “Just looking at her picture makes me cry. She said it was her favorite picture ever.”

“For me, getting him ready and preparing him for myself or someone else is the best sense of accomplishment.”

Walden found great satisfaction in Lawrences’ rides with Bubbles as well. 

“Her dad, Jamie Lawrence, is a family man. He’s a really good friend to me and I have tried to be there for him as well,” Walden said.

“I believe in helping people however you can and I am glad I was able to help Mackenzie … I thought it was something she needed so I gave her Bubbles to show.”

Both young ladies had great success and both times Walden felt like she was the real winner.

“I approached them because I felt it was a need,” she said. I enjoy working with children, people, my parents, my dogs and my horses. I learned this early in life. It’s important to help others.”

From near and far, and all corners of the map, Bubbles has touched lives and made a lot of diff erences in them as well. Even still today, Bubbles’ breeder keeps up with one of her favorite horses of all-time.

“She loves him and keeps up with him,” Walden said of Ritter. “She watches him every time he shows.”

In his 15 years on Earth, Designer Champagne has not only made a deep impact on the lives of his winning riders, but he’s had a broad reach as well. In fact, he’s carried at least 10 riders to unforgettable rides and he’s known as the horse who can and will take anyone on him for the ride of their life.

“It’s important to give back and help people in the industry,” Walden said. “I have always had a heart for giving.”

Like owner, like son … it appears Bubbles enjoys giving life to as as well. many riders he can as well, and he’s got plenty of life left in him to give.