The Walking Horses
few weeks ago, we decided to go to Shelbyville to see the Tennessee
Walking Horse National Celebration. Just like country music stars,
these horses have their own award shows, and a following of
enthusiasts, most of who drive campers and pull horse trailers. The
event is the biggest thing going in a town so small that the stadium
complex holds more people than the entire population, including the
I began to suspect that we might have trouble finding parking when I
noticed that the Celebration Complex was located right in the middle
of a residential neighborhood. Never missing the chance to make a fast
buck, redneck neighbors were renting out front yards to campers.
We refused to pay the inflated price to park on a lawn and so we ended
up doing some creative parking on the side of the road and walking a
country mile to get back to the horseshow grounds. I was beginning to
wish that I had a horse myself.
Inside the fenced complex was a maze of stables, horses, people, horse
trailers, pickup trucks, and golf carts all stampeding to the show. We
decided to take a short cut through what looked like a barn, but
turned out to be the horses' warm-up area. "There has got to be a
better way to get there," I grumbled, as we waded through mud
trying to avoid stepping in anything awful.
Seeing the price of tickets, we decided that novices like us could see
just fine from the general admission seats. Actually, I didn't care
how high we had to climb in the bleachers as long as we could get away
from the smell of horses.
In case you care, Tennessee Walking Horses are a breed valued for
their beauty, gentle temperament, and the smoothness of their ride.
They are called walking horses because of their very peculiar gait,
which is totally unrelated to anything resembling the boot-scooting
The horses lift their front hooves high into the air when they
walk in a prancing motion, and their heads bob in unison. When running, the
horses maintain the same unusual gait and simply shift into high-speed
Walking Horses have been victims of severe abuse in the past due to a variety of
training practices, the worst of which is called "soring." The horses'
legs are injured with caustic chemicals making it painful to walk. This causes
the animals to lift their legs even higher when walking to take pressure off,
and thus perform better in the ring.
This abusive tradition has been outlawed, but is still allegedly practiced by
some. This year Federal Inspectors decided to crack down on perceived violators,
eliminating a large number of horses from competition, much to the anger of
owners. There's more at stake here than just blue ribbons, like prize money and
reputations. We didn't know then that the year would end in controversy and
without a Grand Champion Walking Horse.
The evening we were there went by without incident. There were different events
for different types of horses: professional, novice, juvenile, over 5 years old,
under 3 years old, hobby horses, rocking-horses, brooms and any other category
they could think of.
We saw black horses, white horse, gray horses and horses of every shade of
brown. Riders wore traditional riding attire of long coats and derby hats. These
odd outfits also came in black, white, gray and every shade of brown.
The horses went round and round like a carousel as the organ played on and on.
Their legs went up and down, heads bobbed, and riders floated smoothly along. I
became more and more mesmerized as the horses whirled around.
After a while, I could almost swear I was seeing same horses in every event.
"Isn't that the same gray horse?"
I may not know much about horses, but I do have a little bit of horse sense. And
I figured out that when they all begin to look alike, it's probably time to go