A September 2005 trip
to Shelbyville by Taylor Shelby
Quote: My parents recently got into the Tennessee Walking Horse business. We decided to go to Shelbyville for The Celebration, the largest walking horse event in the world. We did a lot of things I never thought I would. But boy, was it fun!
Every August/September, in Shelbyville, TN, there is a huge walking horse show called Celebration. This year, my parents decided to go and I wasn't about to miss out on such an adventure, so they let me tag along. It was an experience, to say the least.
My personal highlights:
The Tennessee Walking Horse These horses are just spectacular. Elegant and proud, they are a pleasure to watch. They get their name because of their unusual way of walking (see picture). I loved being able to see such perfect specimens of the breed.
Breakfast at Parish Patch Inn Every morning we got to wake up to beautiful misty morning and yummy homemade breakfasts at the Parish Patch Inn. I’m always in a good mood after I eat a big plate of blueberry pancakes.
Horse Auction at Wiser Farms An unusual sight for a tourist, although I probably should stop thinking of us as tourists in the horse world. I still felt like I had wandered into some secret club where they all knew the handshakes and the chants and what to do. But it was awesome! And probably my favorite part of the entire adventure.
Horse Culture The people were a breed of their own. They had these little traits that just humored me to no end. I loved that everyone had these massive trucks that had little stickers of walking horses on them. My bowler hat quota was filled for the year and there were plenty of tuxedos worn with cowboy boots. Yee Haw!
And P.S. I'm not directly related to Gov. Shelby, who this city was named after. But people did comment quite a bit.
The welcome center at the Alabama/Tennessee border was very helpful. The exceedingly nice lady gave us a map and told us a good way to get to Shelbyville, and we were able to pick up tons of great brochures that helped us figure out what the heck we were going to do while we were there.
On the way home, we drove down highway 231 instead of going straight to the interstate, and it was beautiful. I recommend that route if you aren't in a hurry.
This is an incredibly beautiful spot to spend a few days, and we tried to get a room there. Since it was the week of The Celebration, it was already booked, so we took an alternate room at the mill. There are lots of different types of rooms at the farm, so I don’t really have room to talk about all of them. You can check out the website at http://www.parishpatch.com and find out about all the different room types. They range from $121 to $208. The rooms that I think are the best are the little cottages. They have a separate bedroom, living room, and kitchen, and all of them have a back porch that looks over the most beautiful vista of open fields and green hills. The cottages can sleep between 6 and 8 people, and some of them have fireplaces.
There is a lot more here than just the rooms. They have a large conference space that they can rent out, but probably the most unique feature is the Whitney Chapel. This was built for the daughter of the couple in 2004 for her wedding, and it is one of the first things that you see when you drive in. They used stone from an old 19th-century fence (there are a lot of stone fences around that area), and it just looks beautiful and rustic and like it has been there for generations. You can rent out the space for weddings, and the inn can organize your entire wedding if you want them to. They also have the obligatory pool, but when we were there it was filled with leaves, so I’m not sure how much they use it.
Parish Patch is also a working farm, and everything they raise is used in the restaurant they own, Cortner Mill. The only thing that I saw while I was there was the barn and silo and the Beefalo that roam around the pasture next to the cottages. Beefalo are a new breed of cattle that are half buffalo and half cow. They are really cute. And when we were there, they had a new calf who was wandering around following his mom. He was darling. I hate to think of him being eaten one day!
All rooms come with a fantastic breakfast prepared just for you. I highly recommend this place and am sorry we weren’t able to get a room here.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 15, 2005
Parish Patch Inn and Farm
1100 Cortner Rd
Now, as for ambience, this place just can’t be beat. It is located at the end of this little road, that becomes a dirt road right after the mill. At night, it is so silent and dark out there, that you feel like you are alone in the world. The stars were so clear that they seemed like they were five feet away from you.
Inside, you walk into the ground floor, where the bar, restaurant, and waiting area are. Everything is made out of wood and you can look out the windows and see the dam and the small mill-pond. They also have this big glass table that is built over the water, and you can see where the flumes of water drove the mill stones. It always gave me the heebies when I looked at it, but it was still cool. There is a big deck on the back where you can sit and listen to the waterfall.
Now once you get upstairs, it is a little disappointing. We stayed in the Cortner Apartment, which is like the suite. There was a living room, bedroom, and a kitchen. The sofa folds out into a bed, but it was so uncomfortable that I just slept on it like a couch. The décor is unusual to say the least. It is sort of like you 90-year-old grandmother tried to redo the place, but she wanted to do it in the '70s style. There is a weird mix of turn of the century meets linoleum and naugahyde. The bathroom has some of the most atrocious wall paper known to man.
There were a lot of problems with this room. The A/C in the bedroom is so loud that it shakes the walls, but it is too warm to sleep without it. The shower in the bathroom had terrible pressure. There were windows all over that looked out to the river and mill pond, but all but one of them were so fogged up that you couldn’t even see out of them. It was like the place had the potential to be great, but it just didn’t make it. You also had to drive over to Parish Patch for breakfast, which is only about 5 minutes away, but at 8 in the morning, it seems much farther. If you can’t get anything else, it was neat just for the location, the history (which is provided in-room) and the great view out of the one window. The suite was $152 per night but wasn’t quite worth it.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on September 15, 2005
1100 Cortner Road
The place just looks wonderful. It’s an old 1825 gristmill that has been turned into a restaurant and has guestrooms upstairs. The main part of the restaurant is one big room, that was originally the warehouse. The floor was raised in 1929 after a major flood destroyed everything inside. If you look at the window frame outside, you can see the high water mark. The restaurant is decorated with antiques and machinery from the old mill. The buffet table is a huge piece of equipment that looks elegant draped with white linen and serving as a wine glass holder. That theme holds true throughout the restaurant. It is somehow casual and simple yet upscale and luxurious. People were dressed in jeans and suits, all at the same time.
One of the best decorations in the restaurant is the view. The dining room has huge windows that look over the mill pond and the dam. We were eating right at sunset, and the reflection on the water was breathtaking. It is hard not to be distracted by everything around you when you look out the windows.
The food was great. Everything they serve is fresh and local, and it certainly translates in the flavor. We started out with an order of frog legs ($50 for three pairs) because I had never eaten them. They were great. Tastes like chicken, just like everyone always says. The breading was remarkably good. For our entrees, I had chicken breast with sautéed mushrooms and warm goat cheese ($13). It was good, but the goat cheese was almost too much. Dad had a Beefalo Kabob ($13). I had to try a piece of the beefalo. It was like beef, but gamier. I’m not a huge fan of red meat, but this was good. The crowning order of the evening was my mother’s grilled salmon ($16). I don’t know what they made the glaze out of, but I’m suspicious that it may have been made out of rainbows and magic. I don’t like salmon, and I cleaned my mom’s plate. For dessert, I had a piece of fresh chess pie ($4), which is like custard. It was phenomenal. They also have a lot of flaming desserts available (Cherries Jubilee, Bananas Foster, etc.).
Reservations are required at Cortner Mill. They are open Tuesday-Saturday for dinner only and have a Sunday brunch at 11:30am. This was a wonderful place for a nice dinner.
Cortner Mill Restaurant
200 Cortner Mill Rd
I had no idea what to expect. No idea at all. I was amused from the moment we drove in, because we had to navigate through a sea of giant trucks and trailers in our little Acura. To add to the chaos, there were people riding horses EVERYWHERE. They were dodging people and vehicles and other horses. They also had a couple of people on racking mules, which are mules that have the blood of a walking horse in them so they have a jaunty little step. I don’t know if you have ever heard a mule bray, but it is one of those noises that makes me drop everything I have and keel over in laughter. Add that noise occasionally, and it was certainly a sight to be seen.
When we first got there, we decided to walk over to the stables, where they were holding the horses to be auctioned off. I’m not sure how long this auction was supposed to last, but there were hundreds of horses waiting in their stalls. I actually liked this part the best, because it allowed you to get up close to the horses and see if they were friendly or not. One of the ways that I always pick out if I like a horse is if it immediately walks right up to you and puts its nose down for you to pet. Now that probably isn’t something that a show horse should do, but I don’t want show horses, I want big dogs.
We heard the loud speakers calling for the first round of horses to come in, so we decided to go in and get seats. The arena was laid out in a big, long building. There were low, three-tiered benches on either side of a long, dirt walkway for the horses. I was alarmed, because the only thing separating you from the walkway was a little concrete wall that came up to my shins. Okay, just think about this. Horses, and walking horses in general, are big animals. They are huge animals. A lot of them are young and not particularly well trained. They are about to be ridden into an arena with people all around them hollering at their friends, waving things around, and milling about while a man screams into a microphone. Even I would freak out in that situation. But if I do, I don’t weigh 1,000 pounds and I won’t trample that poor girl sitting right next to the "wall" who only wants to go home a write a travel journal. But no one else seemed to mind, so I guess as horse owners, we have to get used to the possibility of being trampled at any moment. Thankfully, no one freaked out, and here I am. Whew!
The auction itself was fascinating. I sort of thought I would be bored, but there was so much to pay attention to that I wasn’t. It was weird how the auction actually happened. There was, of course the auctioneer himself, but he had a bunch of assistants. Because of the length of the arena, his helpers were fanned out along the sides and they sent the bids to him by way of whistles and hand signals. It happened so fast that I couldn’t never quite figure out what was going on, but everyone else seemed to. Maybe that’s something you learn with experience. They were all just standing in the middle of the runway, and the horses dodged them. If something seven feet tall, 1,500 pounds, and a mind of its own was bearing down on me, I would probably have wet my pants. Those guys managed to keep their composure just fine. Maybe I’m not meant for this…
We only saw about 15 horses get auctioned off. Most of them went for surprisingly cheap ($500-$700) but we did see one that went up to $10,000. Her owner declined the bid, so I’m not sure how much he was expecting for her. I think if we had come later, we would have seen some of the more expensive horses, but most of these were either young or old, so no World Grand Champions.
I loved hearing the auctioneer in action. I always thought when those guys were talking impossibly fast, they were actually saying stuff, but this guy was just rattling off nonsense words. Hm-ma-na Hm-mn-na Hm-mn-na! Stuff like that. It certainly made it exciting, which I guess is why he did it. I was even funnier because he was losing his voice, so periodically it would crack. He sounded like one of those guys in the old west movies with that crazy voice that is always cracking and at different pitches. It was great!!
Obviously, we didn’t buy any horses (there was no room in the backseat) but it was certainly a learning experience. I had a lot of fun watching the horses, the auction, and the people. It is interesting to see what kind of people are attracted to Tennessee Walking Horses. There was everyone from extremely wealthy people in white pants carrying around little pampered lap dogs, to good old boys chewing tobacco and whittling, to Mexican migrant workers. I just loved the variety. And the mules--I loved them too. If you ever have an opportunity to go to an auction like this, I highly recommend it. It was definitely a learning experience. And I am so glad that my parents have a trainer at the stables that can help them out, because I had no idea what I was doing.
My family has only been into walking horses for about nine months, and when our trainer told us we couldn’t miss Celebration, we decided to go and see what it is all about. The event is long, but we just decided to go for three days, and we made sure to be there for the final night. Every evening, and sometimes during the days, horses and riders compete in a competition that seeks out the best Tennessee Walking Horses. There are so many different classes that it is impossible to name them, but they range from Weanlings to Two-Year olds to riders aged 6-11 to western style to buggies, and every other class you could possible imagine. Frankly I found it dizzying.
Unless you are really hard core into walking horses, I can’t imagine seeing every event. We usually saw five to seven a night, and that was just plenty for us. It starts to look like a bunch of horses just walking around in a circle, and it is difficult to judge which ones were the best. There were certainly events where one horse stood out about all the rest, and when that happened, the crowd responded with cheers as the horse pranced by them. It created this wonderful vocal wave that just followed the horse across the arena. One thing that I loved about it is that the programs come with sections where you can pick your favorites and compare them to the judge’s choices. I did manage to pick some of the top horses, but other times I was completely wrong. They were all just so good!
The last night was the best, by far. By that point all of the horses had been picked from qualifying rounds and they were truly top notch. The highlight of the event is the crowning of the World Grand Champion, which is the best walking horse in the world. They were magnificent. I actually managed to pick the number two horse, but the one who came in first was beautiful.
A lot more stuff happens here than just the competition. They also have a trade fair where vendors from all over sell horse (and non-horse) related goods. They had people selling tack, shoes, trailers, barn stalls, clothes, and even one woman selling wigs (I have no idea how she got there). They also have an alternate arena where we got to watch a woman, Trish, teach us about training horses. She was excellent, and my mom said she has already tried out some of the tips on our horse, which is good, because he is somewhat unruly. You are also free to walk about the massive, extensive stables which house the champion horses. There is a general feeling of togetherness and friendship about the whole event.
There were definitely problems, though. Unless you know what you are doing, it is impossible to figure out what is going on. There is no schedule of the events happening outside of the competitions. If we hadn’t just wandered up, we would have had no idea they had demonstrations. There aren’t any maps of the area where the show takes place (and it is HUGE! You really need a guide to help you out). It was one of the most disorganized and confusing things I have ever seen. That said, we managed to make it just fine, so you probably can too.
This is certainly something that I would recommend seeing, even if you aren’t particularly interested in Walking Horses. You probably shouldn’t go every night, because it gets old, but it is exciting to watch them crown the champions. Tickets cost anywhere from $8-$100 and are available online at the website (www.twhnc.com) or at the door. You also have to pay for parking every night and that depends on where you do it. On the first night we actually parked in someone’s front yard, which was fun and all, but there are lots of other parking areas. If you get lost, anyone in Shelbyville can help you find the way to the arena.
Charleston, South Carolina