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Asheville - Another Sensational Horse Show

Lead story by Bob Funkhouser
Photos by Leeann Mione and Bob Funkhouser

Western N.C. - It all began 21 years ago. A new show was established at a brand new facility in Asheville, North Carolina. It was a good time of year in the mountains of western North Carolina and it was an easy stop for major Saddlebred barns from different regions of the country. In addition to some Carolina/Virginia stables, a handful of Kentucky trainers like Donna Moore showed up at that inaugural Lions Club show. There weren't a lot of horses the first year but there was superb quality in every division. The word quickly spread about what a great facility it was and how convenient the airport/hotels/show grounds were from one another and Asheville grew to one of the top six or seven shows in the country year in and year out. Like all shows it has fluctuated on the number of horses, but the one constant since that very first event has been the Louisville quality. This year there was great anticipation as manager Ray Cloninger was expecting his largest turnout in a while with many of the biggest names in the industry holding a reservation card. Longtime show secretary Joyce Wilson reported 370 horses and ponies showed with stables coming from as far away as New Jersey. Some of the biggest names in Kentucky and Tennessee came as did the top barns from Florida. The locals (North and South Carolina, Virginia) more than held their own against these and other stables from the southeast. It's always hard to live up to "pre-game" hype but this one came pretty darn close to matching the greatest of expectations. With many, many divisions and qualifiers offered, it is always a challenge to pack each and every class, but even those that had only four or five entries usually featured three or four world's and reserve world's champions. It was that way from the gaited division all the way through to equitation riders. What made this show better than it has been was the fact that there were many large classes this year and they were jam packed with world and national champions. The very first class of the week had eight entries in the amateur harness qualifier. There are many shows where you don't see eight in the entire harness division. Outside of Louisville, Kansas City, and Lexington you would be hard pressed to find the lineup of gaited horses that participated at Asheville this year and in certain years at Lexington and Kansas City this group would have surpassed the level of outstanding performers. Included in this array of stars were some of the best junior horses of '03 making their start in the open ranks. Five-Gaited Grand Champion Walterway's Remember Me was one such winner. Then you had tricolor champions like Tigerlee, Carolina Cat, Breaking News and Sammyshine to complete the gaited division. Enough said! Some of the greatest names in the walk-trot division were on hand with showdowns in several sections. In My Soul, a Lexington Junior League grand champion and Louisville reserve world's champion already in her young career, was a standout in the open division. Announcer Peter Fenton called her name out twice as the grand champion and over 15.2 winner. There was much more of a veteran mix in the other three-gaited sections. Stablemates CH Americana's Jazz Man and CH Lady Periana had the ladies and ladies amateur sections all wrapped up with world class performances they are consistently known for. From the amateur section, veteran Page Me made not one, but two of the best performances ever with his current owner. CH Sportster lit up the ring as the junior exhibitor grand champion; not his first trip to the winner's circle either. Nor was it the first for 2003 Three-Gaited Pony World's Grand Champion Simbara's Audacity. The winter must have been great to Call Me Ringo because the already popular harness stallion put on the performance of his lifetime, a lifetime which includes victory pass after victory pass from the greatest venues. Amateur grand champion Kool Tyme has already been a world's champion in three other divisions. Returning to his roots, Radiant Success was again sporting a mane and a blue ribbon. World title holders were found in every section. Some of the household names included Ashland, Desert Prince, Sweet Virginia, Callaway's Capitol Reporter, CH A Step In Time, Harlem's Strong Will, Sarah Taylor, Heartland Heiress, Alexandra Flynn, Jessica Saft, Rachel Machamer, and Ellen Wright. Young horse classes were also loaded with talent, many having already triumphed on the green shavings of Louisville or Kansas City. There were big-time performers among all the young horse divisions but the star of stars was a bay son of three-times Three-Gaited World's Grand Champion CH Hollywood Excellence. With a look all his own, Hollywood Agent was electrifying. These young horses have already delivered at the highest level, but they were back in 2004 with much more to give: I'm First, Victoria Lynn, The Great Gaspar, and Longshadow Sovereign Spirit were impressive in their wins. The one black eye was the pony division but that is the case at 75 percent of the shows across the country. Of the cob-tail, long-tail, and pleasure driving sections, only the pleasure driving had competition and the many times champion Ali was the final star there. In addition to providing a great facility and even greater competition, the Asheville Lions Club show is also known for its hospitality. The down home welcome mat includes a barbecue party held in the arena one night and a pizza party following another afternoon performance. Another reason this show has been so successful is the caliber of officials Cloninger surrounds himself with. Doug Shiflet, Bill Whitley, Joyce Wilson, and David Herlocker were all recognized in center ring for their 20 plus years of service to the show. Judge Hoppy Bennett took the picture of the four honorees for Shiflet. Bennett was joined on the panel by Jim Taylor and Adam Clauson and the three of them kept the show moving at a great pace. There were also many unanimous decisions. By the time they had penciled in the last champions and the last of the vans had rolled out of the foggy mountains of western North Carolina the 2004 Asheville Lions Club Horse Show had been logged into the books as one of the best in its rich history. Win or lose, trainers and exhibitors went home with a clear understanding of where they stood on the national level.

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