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A Celebration Of History, A Celebration Of Challenges, A Celebration Of Tomorrow

by Bob Funkhouser

To paraphrase a famous line from The Grateful Dead, “What A Long, Strange Trip It Was.”

Long and strange are most certainly two descriptions of the 2003 World’s Championship Horse Show which was celebrating its 100th anniversary. Officials, exhibitors, and the horses and ponies themselves seemed to be trying to provide enough, drama, highlights and lowlights for all 100 years during the August 17-23 running of the gem of horse shows.

With 2,150 horses put into “every stall available,” as show manager Scarlett Mattson put it, the Centennial of Champions had created a lot of excitement in the show horse community and now that excitement was back in the barns and in the stands. People were ready for great, positive things to happen. They were yearning for stars to emerge. This is the place where legends are made and heroes are recreated. The battlefield known as “the green shavings” places horses and riders up on pedestals and then just as quickly can cast them aside like the many thrown shoes in the early part of the week. Those early sessions were plagued with time out after time out for lost shoes and the age old debate over the condition of the ring seems to continue with no solution in sight.

“We had had so much rain during the past month that the dirt was probably wetter than usual when we put it in and that could have contributed to some of the problems,” said Mattson. “The feedback we get from the blacksmiths though is that the majority of lost shoes are due to over riding.”

Some of the greatest moments of the week were perhaps moments from the past. A series of videos were played overhead during some of the nightly performances depicting the men, women, and horses who had made the hallowed walls of Freedom Hall what they are today. Images of Oak Hill Chief, My My, Lady Carrigan, Wing Commander, Tashi Ling, Yorktown, The Lemon Drop Kid, Local Talent, Colonel Boyle, and Starina flashed before our eyes. For the many who had only heard the tales, Lee Roby, Earl Teater, Tom Moore, Garland Bradshaw, Jim B. Robertson, Art Simmons, and many other legends had come to life on the big screen if for only a minute. Nola Minton, Joan Robinson Hill, Helen Crabtree, Sallie Wheeler, they too revisited us with the grace, charm, and character that we can only hope to live up to today.

More than a few tears trickled down the sides of faces as the history of this great show was replayed for us. The biggest cheers went up as the images of CH Sky Watch and CH Imperator shared the screen just as they had shared the biggest stage in the show horse industry. Their greatness still leaves all of us with something for which we can aspire.

These feel good moments were badly needed as it had been a long year of war, a year of downsized portfolios, and a year of internal strife. The mysterious happenings at Double D Ranch which turned into the deaths of three of the five afflicted horses, including the much loved CH Wild Eyed and Wicked, have cast a dark shadow and remained a part of the week’s conversation. Also, the death of Wicked was at last count one of some 13 world title holders from 2002 that were deceased or knocked out of action. The most recent was Callaway’s Regatta, just the week before the opening horn sounded for the first class. This 2002 World’s Grand Champion Ladies’ Amateur Five-Gaited entry was faced with colic surgery for the second time within a couple of days. Shown this year in juvenile classes, Regatta did not survive the second attack.

Although the weather was extremely pleasant compared to the stifling heat that has been a part of Louisville during the past, there was another casualty once the show began. Manilla Thrilla and Mark Utoft had made a huge name for themselves just a few weeks ago at Shelbyville and they opened up their week at Louisville with a victory pass in the Junior Three-Gaited Over 15.2 class on Monday evening. Wednesday morning Manilla Thrilla was taken to the clinic.

"We had slight rotation in one foot, what they would classify as stress founder," said trainer Mark Utoft the week after the show. "He's still at the clinic but doing great. All signs are positive right now and we would hope to have him back in action next year. It was so thrilling to beat the caliber of horse that we did at Shelbyville and then to win at Louisville was icing on the cake. You hate that this happened, but there's not a lot you can do about it. We have to wait and see how it plays out."

Each year there are unexpected accidents to both horses and riders and with the number of both gathered on the Kentucky State Fairgrounds it’s a wonder that the number of incidents is not higher. Trainers and exhibitors take their chances showing under extremely stressful circumstances and for the most part they come out no worse for the wear and tear. One exception to that this year was Steve Wheeler, the young and successful second trainer at the Nelson Green Stables.

Warming up for the National Three-Year-Old Five-Gaited Futurity with last year’s Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited World’s Champion I’m First, Wheeler was kicked in the knee by another trainer’s horse. Wheeler entered the class but it was obvious to most in the stands that something was not right. Fellow trainer Pat McConnell rode up to Wheeler in the class checking on him.

“I rode up beside him and he was a funny color and had a blank look on his face,” said McConnell. “I kept asking, ‘are you all right? Are you all right?’”

Finally Wheeler pulled to the middle and Nelson Green entered the ring and started conferring with judges and officials. In the middle of all this confusion Wheeler was finally helped down from the horse by two ringmasters. Wheeler could not put any weight on his right leg and was taken from the ring and transported by ambulance to the hospital where it was reported he had a severely broken leg.

Back in center ring it was determined that Green would finish the class. Dressed in work jods and a polo shirt he attempted to mount the stallion but with the crowd cheering and all of the commotion that had already taken place the youngster went up and then down to the green shavings. Throwing his hands to the air, Green backed away and then attempted his mount again, this time with the crowd in silence. After he was on, the crowd again began to cheer and again nearly caused another accident.

Meanwhile, the remainder of the horses that were geared up for this National Futurity had been standing around while the situation was being sorted out in center ring. Eventually the class was called to order and Green made one of the most memorable victory passes in Freedom Hall history - in his work clothes.

Colorado exhibitor Kayla Wooters was involved in an accident when a mount she was riding stumbled, sending Wooters head over heels to the ground. She was taken from Freedom Hall on a stretcher but was back again in riding clothes on Saturday.

What else could happen?

As unfortunate as it was, three young girls were eliminated from the five-gaited pony division when the size of their ponies was questioned and they were measured out. “We had some questions raised by parents about the heights of some of the ponies showing and they were measured and that was within the boundary of the rules,” said show manager Scarlett Mattson. “Three five-gaited ponies were disqualified, a Hackney Pleasure Driving pony was disqualified for switching divisions twice in the same year, and a park horse was disqualified for showing back in the Park Championship when it didn’t get a ribbon in the qualifier. These were unfortunate things that happened but those are the rules. You hate it for the kids involved. Those ponies can be remeasured the first of next year but they are out of that division for the remainder of this season.”

These bumps in the road put a small blemish on an otherwise wonderful week of large and competitive classes. From the 34-entry ASHA Kentucky Weaning Futurity which opened the show to the eight-horse $100,000 Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship it was a week filled with head to head competition. Granted, there weren’t superstars in every class, nor will there ever be class after class, but this was the best of the best for 2003. Horses and riders went home without ribbons who had been at the top throughout the season.

Judges David Cunningham, Brent Jacobs, Lisa Richardson, Michael Richardson, and Thomas Oxley more than had their work cut out for them with the size of the classes but they worked through them in an efficient manner. They were also aided with somewhat shorter daytime sessions as compared to the past because for the first time Thursday morning classes were held. Thursday used to be the day everyone looked forward to, but this year it was occupied by five classes, one of which was split. The short session still gave officials a long afternoon in which they could regroup for the championship sessions ahead.

After celebrating the past with great video presentations throughout the week it was time to celebrate with those who overcame the many challenges of making it to the winner’s circle in a championship class. History was made on several occasions and none better than the Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship which featured the largest amount of prize money in the history of the show. Sponsored by the Goodman/Manilow families and the Kentucky State Fair, $100,000 in prize money was offered in the gaited stake with $24,000 going to the winner and $20,000 to the reserve grand champion. The class paid all the way to eighth with $7,000 for the final ribbon of the show and the entry fee was only $4,000.

It was another of those wide open years with no clear cut horse dominating the pre-Louisville season. In what was only the second performance workout of the week, the panel sent the three open qualifying winners back to the rail and let them settle it. It was a history making performance for Callaway’s Forecaster and Nancy Leigh Fisher, making Fisher only the third amateur to win the big one, as well as the third woman.

“Oh my God she did it,” exclaimed Lynda Freseth from the in-gate the moment Peter Doubleday announced the new World’s Grand Champion and just seconds before she bolted into the ring to greet Andy [Freseth], Fisher and Forecaster.

“I was in shock,” said Fisher a few days following the big moment. “All I ever dreamt about was making the work out. That was my goal. I know it sounds silly but you really can’t put into words how it feels.

"I was out in the make-up ring before the class thinking, ‘I should really be nervous,’ but I wasn’t. I knew that we were going to do the best we could and whatever happened from there happened. I didn’t really feel pressure, it was gratitude that there was so much love for this horse. In the line-up Lynda said, ‘Now, you’re going to have to go again.’ I was actually looking forward to it. I knew he would give me everything he had. You just can’t imagine the effort this horse gives.”

This win also gave Andy and Lynda Freseth the distinction of being the only trainers in history to put an amateur into the winner’s circle of the Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship. Revel English was the first amateur to win it doing so in 1924 with Edna May’s King. He trained the grand stallion himself. Michele Macfarlane was the next amateur to win the title and she did it in 1988 with the self-trained CH Sky Watch and then again in 1996 with CH Memories Citation.

"People have said to me, 'This has to be a dream come true,' but it's beyond any dream we ever had," said Lynda Freseth. "Winning the gaited stake was so out there, it didn't seem like something that could be realistic. Our goal was to make the workout and I told Nancy Leigh [Fisher], 'Don't be worrying about saving this horse for Saturday night. If we don't make a statement in that gelding class, we won't have to worry about Saturday night.'

"Winning the gelding stake was the biggest shock we've ever had. That was enough for one week. Then people started coming up to us and saying good things about our chances on Saturday, so then we start thinking, 'You reckon we've got a shot at this.?' I knew I couldn't get all worked up and I didn't want Nancy Leigh to get worked up so we got together on Saturday and just talked about the class. Talked about stuff we didn't want to do and stuff that we thought we did well and wanted to emphasize."

There was also a great effort given in the Three-Gaited World’s Grand Championship as last year’s sensation An Heir About Her came back from “mere mortal” performances at Lexington and Shelbyville to again cast her magic in Freedom Hall. No horse has ever won the Three-Gaited World’s Grand Championship as a three and four-year-old and this majestic daughter of Supreme Heir now has five classes on the green shavings and five unanimous wins under her girth. All of them were under the ownership of Steve Hanes with trainer Chris Reiser in the saddle.

“To take a baby and then have her grow up to do something as a three and four-year-old that has never been done before is unbelievable,” said owner Steve Hanes. “And we are so new at all of this that it’s hard to understand just what she has been able to accomplish.”

In the third Saddle Horse open world’s grand championship Callaway’s Copyright quietly set about establishing another record that is unparalleled. The son of Supreme Heir won the three-year-old stallion/gelding class in 1999 and returned the next year to win the Junior Fine Harness World’s Grand Championship and his first blanket of roses. Since then the Fox Grape Farm entry has won three consecutive Fine Harness World’s Grand Championships and John T. Jones has been the driver for all three.

"He was a lot stronger and more settled this year," said Jones. "He's so game and I let him be that way. I don't try to make him something he's not. He's just an impressive show horse. I've learned to manage him, not train him. If you stay out of his way, he'll do the job."

Betty Weldon’s famed Callaway Hills bred both Copyright and Callaway’s Forecaster (Callaway’s Blue Norther x Callaway’s Country Gal) giving the Jefferson City, Mo., establishment two of the three open world’s grand champions. Callaway Hills was also credited with breeding the Ladies Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion Callaway’s Born To Win, the Ladies Amateur Five-Gaited World’s Grand Champion Callaway’s Arbitrator, the Five-Gaited Mare World’s Champion and Reserve World’s Grand Champion Adelita, the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited 13 & Under World’s Grand Champion Callaway’s Sunday Edit as well as a host of other qualifying winners.

Just as successful, Supreme Heir, the number one world’s champion sire for the past several years again represented the Hallston Manor family with a long list of world’s champions including two of the three open world’s grand champions (Callaway’s Copyright and An Heir About Her). Supreme Heir had title holders in every division available.

One of those world's grand champions which came out of the Callaway Hills breeding program was Callaway's Born To Win. He had been standing at stud at Callaway Hills for the past four years when Callaway trainer Bob Brison invited Gayle Lampe down to ride him.

"It was the most fun I ever had," explained Lampe. "I was thinking it would be great if he were to be available. A little later Bob [Brison] said he might be offered for sale and we put it together from there."

Having grown up in Louisville, Lampe had attended the World's Championship Horse Show since she was nine or 10. She had only shown in two classes at Louisville before this time so having her named called out as the Ladies Five-Gaited World's Grand Champion was a dream come true. For someone who has given so much to the industry through her work at William Woods, this was one of the best feel good stories of the week.

"It was the biggest thrill of my life," added Lampe. "Anyone that loves a Saddle Horse dreams of wearing the roses on Saturday night. He's absolutely the nicest horse I've ever been around."

Another Callaway Hills bred champion, Callaway's Arbitrator, also made a great success story. The fans at Freedom Hall have watched Ashley Birdsong grow up on Arbitrator and now to watch the John Wallen trained team go from juvenile champions to Amateur Ladies Five-Gaited World's Grand Champions was something special.

Louisville 2003 was a week of history and when they are playing videos (or what ever the format might be) 100 years from now showing some of the all-time greats there’s sure to be footage of Raymond Shively. The king of the roadster division returned to Rockport, Ind., with his twelveth bike world’s grand championship (Invincible Summer) and his seventh wagon title (Power Ranger). It was the second consecutive year for both horses to win in those divisions and their third year in a row for roses as they won in opposite divisions in 2000.

Coming back to Louisville to be a part of the 100th anniversary, the Kolkman family and trainer Rich Campbell brought the legendary Heartland Equality out of his two and half year retirement to grace the green shavings one last time. Just as refined as the day he left Freedom Hall in 2000 after winning the Hackney Pony World’s Grand Championship for the second consecutive year as a four-year-old, the larger than life stud pony again sent chills down the backs of spectators with his performance in the Hackney Pony Stallion/Gelding class. With only a months work he wasn’t quite as dynamic in the world’s grand championship but still strong enough to wear the roses for the third time in his career.

“We have an outdoor work area that’s next to his paddock and Rich [Campbell] is working all of these ponies that we were getting ready for here and they weren’t looking as good as Equality was turned out,” explained Kolkman. “We decided to start working him again and be a part of this special week. I wished he had fired a little stronger in the championship but hey, it was a good time to let my grandson drive him out of the ring. That is the last time we’ll show him.”

Besides enjoying the fact that many different “Heartland ponies” had won world’s championships the Kolkman/Campbell camp again made history with three-year-old Heartland King Of Kings (Dun-Haven Bandolier x Heartland Cameo) winning the Harness Pony World’s Grand Championship.

The amateur riders also created some history of their own. For the second consecutive year Phillipa Sledge won both the Amateur Three-Gaited World’s Grand Championship and the Ladies Three-Gaited World’s Grand Championship. A son of CF First Night Out and out of Callaway’s Coronet, the Sam Stafford trained Yes It’s True wore the roses for the third consecutive year after having won the open world’s grand championship with Stafford in 2000 and taking the amateur title now for the second time. The Premier Stables trained Lady Periana, a beautiful daughter of Periaptor, was again a true ladies horse to capture the title for the Sledge family’s Pidgeon Roost Farm. This line up of world’s champions as well as past stars like 1947 Three-Gaited World’s Grand Champion Nellie Pidgeon has made the Sledges the first family of the walk-trot division.

Speaking of first families, outside the families of Flirtation Walk (the dam of Wing Commander, Dream Waltz, Private Contract, Lover’s Lane and Primrose Path) and Dixie Duchess (the dam of Belle Elegant, Glenview’s Radiance, Summer Melody, and Denmark’s Grand Duchess) there’s never been another like Dr. and Mrs. Simon Fredrick’s hall of fame broodmare Denmark’s Radiant Society (Ronald Reagan x Denmark’s Society Sue by Oman’s Captain Denmark). Already the dam of World’s Grand Champion Be Happy, World’s Champion Rejoice, World’s Champion The Radiant Prince, World’s Champion Simbara’s Cara Mia, and World’s Champion Simbara’s Samba Jamba, this year she boasted Amateur Fine Harness World’s Grand Champion CH A Sweet Treat, Three-Gaited Pony World’s Grand Champion Simbara’s Audacity, and National Three-Year-Old Fine Harness Futurity World’s Champion The Great Gaspar. Another of her offspring, the stallion Simbara's Rising Son (by Sultan's Starmaker) sired the Junior Fine Harness World's Grand Champion Simbara's Sweet Lorraine. Denmark's Radiant Society's pages in the history books are safely reserved.

Jeff and Mary Gaylord McClean’s Golden Creek Farms kept adding pages to their personal history book. In addition to being inducted into the World’s Championship Horse Show and American Hackney Horse Society’s Halls Of Fame, Mary won the Amateur Harness Pony World’s Grand Championship with Joan Jett, the Junior Harness Pony World’s Grand Championship with Shake Don’t Stir, and the Amateur Road Pony Championship with Heartland Production. Several other Tom Lowry trained entries won blues for Golden Creek.

And just starting to make history, Lindsey Landrum, all 60 pounds of her, was the first rider to retire the Marvin Long Memorial Walk-Trot Challenge Trophy having won the 8 & Under World’s Grand Championship for the second consecutive year. The daughter of celebrated Walking Horse trainer David Landrum and his wife Karla, Lindsey has won five out of five walk and trot classes in three years on the green shavings and all of her rides have been unanimous.

Another trainer’s daughter who wore the roses under the direction of Lillian Shively is Betty Cox. From the famed Woodstock Farm duo of Carter and Karen Cox, Betty showed a lot of poise and grit to step up and dethrone a couple of veteran stars of the division to wear the crown of Senior Saddle Seat Equitation World’s Grand Champion. The Shivelys and trainer Todd Miles didn’t stop there as the Junior Saddle Seat Equitation World’s Grand Championship also returned to the black and red curtains of DeLovely Farm with Alexandra Flynn. There’s no doubt Lillian will be right up there beside Raymond when they show highlights at the bicentennial celebration in 3003.

The only two equitation championships that did escape DeLovely’s grasp was the 9-10 Walk and Trot with Chelsea Jo Roby and instructor Jo Cornell and the Adult UPHA Challenge Cup National Finals. That title was captured by another great Louisville story featuring Ohio sisters Kendra and Shelley Fisher. The young ladies have been training and showing their own horses for a few years now and 2003 has been their strongest on the national scene. Kendra landed the UPHA Adult Challenge Cup National Finals and then the following day went on to win the Adult Country Pleasure World’s Grand Championship with Bi Mi Add Lib, a horse that they also won Lexington’s Adult Country Pleasure Championship with.

It was a family affair with the Shatners as well. From Sunrise Stables William and Elizabeth Shatner each enjoyed a victory pass with a blanket of roses. His came from the Amateur Roadster To Bike World's Grand Championship with Spill the Ink and hers in the form of the Amateur Five-Gaited World's Grand Championship with The Full Monty, a horse she also captured Lexington's amateur championship with this season.

In spite of the naysayers, the future of this horse show and the Saddle Horse industry in general looks promising if the World’s Championship Horse Show is any gauge. It was a breakthrough year for a number of talented young trainers, not to mention a large group of extremely likeable young horses. Horses at all price levels were changing hands from newly crowned world's champions to those out of the ribbons.

Having put some world champion combinations together before, this was the first Louisville for Bret Day to win a personal world’s title. Mark Utoft will never forget his first ride to the winner’s circle although the joy was quickly diminished as his horse became ill.

The youngest of the professionals also had their day in the spotlight at Louisville 2003. Clark Clouse, Tre Lee, Matt Shiflet, and Mark Webster all won their first professional world’s title riding or driving. Perhaps never before have so many young trainers won classes at Louisville.

“The greatest thing about it is that they are all such good friends,” said Kristen Shiflet. “These guys are constantly talking back and forth and helping each other with horses. There’s something wrong if we don’t hear from Clark [Clouse] at least twice a day.”

There was another group of young trainers consisting of Chris Bowen, Randy Cates, and Kevin Tomasko who all sent their riders to world’s champion titles. They included Five-Gaited Pony World’s Grand Champion Jewels For A Lady; Junior Exhibitor Show Pleasure 14-17 World’s Grand Champion Undulata’ s Jimmy Hollywood; and 14-15 Show Pleasure World’s Champion and 14-17 Reserve World’s Grand Champion The Bachelor Prince, respectively.

Not only was Tre Lee one of the new generation to win a Louisville title, he also presented the most talked about young horse of the show and there were several to talk about. A son of Merchant Prince, Marching Orders put on an absolutely dynamic performance in section two of the Two-Year-Old Three-Gaited Stake. Purchased by Elizabeth Deknatel from Virgil Helm a few days before he showed, Marching Orders brought the house down under the direction of Rosemont Manor Farm who had bred and raised the colt before selling it to Fox Grape Farm who in turn sold him to Helm. After the class there were many more perspective buyers lined up.

The gaited division should be well stocked for years as there were 20-plus in the junior stallion/gelding qualifier and in the teens in the junior mare qualifier. The top three stars from that championship, Walterway’s Remember Me, Along Came A Spider, and She’s A Red Hot Chili Pepper, look to be solid stars for the future. From the three-year-old national futurity I’m First and Shame On You had the same look. Divine Renaissance was a big and impressive two-year-old world’s champion. In the years to come there will be many more from those classes emerge as stars.

Gaited, harness, walk-trot, in hand they all had their share of young stars. These classes were filled with viable show horses. The days of just bringing a youngster to see how it does are gone. Most of these owners and trainers have to feel these horses belong to justify the cost of bringing them through the gates. And they did!

Besides crowning the world’s champions of the Centennial Horse Show, Louisville ‘03 paid tribute to some very special horses and people. Callaway’s Criterion made his final appearance in a show ring before enjoying life in Tennessee with the Larry Nunley family. Six names were added to the World’s Championship Horse Show Hall of Fame honorees. Charles Lowell Cook, George Knight, Mary Gaylord McClean, Cornelia Serpell, Lee Shipman, and Leon Simms were inscribed alongside many other greats of the industry.

It was only fitting that Donna Moore should be somewhere in the celebration. In addition to being part of the historical videos, the horsewoman of horsewomen was honored in center ring with the Audrey Gutridge Award.

When it was all said and done, the long, strange trip had ended up a horse show fitting the billing it had received around town with increased radio and television coverage. The approximately 15,000 people on hand for stake night saw several performers pouring their hearts out for the roses. For those who were there for all 240 classes they witnessed a competitive spirit of horse and rider from the youngest to the oldest that makes this one of the greatest shows on earth.

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