Every year, for the 10 days leading up to Labor Day, Shelbyville, Tennessee, becomes the horse capital of the world. More specifically it is the home to the largest equine event (outside of thoroughbred racing) in the world, as thousands of incredible horses and tens of thousands of dedicated fans gather to watch "the greatest horse show in the world," The Celebration. This is an annual event, now in its 67th year, that honors and shows off the Tennessee Walking Horse. The World Grand Champion is crowned at the culmination of the event.
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.