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N.C. State Championship Celebrates Golden Anniversary

by Bob Funkhouser


RALEIGH, N.C. - The script couldn’t have been written any better as the golden anniversary show closed out with a Five-Gaited Championship that had bragging rights on the line. In the 50-year history of the North Carolina State Championship Show two current day trainers were tied with four Five-Gaited Championships each to their credit. Peter Cowart and Lewis Eckard also happened to be first and second respectively in this year’s open class to set the stage for a Saturday night show down. Johnny Lucas, who holds the all-time record with six, was on the rail coaching his son, Bo.


Both Cowart and Eckard are as competitive as can be and when the gates opened for the final time on championship night both came bursting through with the intention of winning a fifth title. Announcer Mark Farrar played out the scene and when he finally relayed Judge Donna Pettry Smith’s decision, the silver went home to West Wind Stables with Cowart riding CH Breaking News to the Five-Gaited Grand Championship for the McClure/Arndt ownership. The ground covering, white-faced gelding left little doubt this was his night. Breaking News has now accounted for three of Cowart’s titles. Another Feather and She’s A Red Hot Chili Pepper captured the other two.


The West Wind family gathered following

Peter Cowart’s winning ride in the

Five-Gaited Championship


Just inducted into the UPHA Carolinas Horsemen’s Hall of Fame the night before, Eckard is well known for his exciting Five-Gaited Championship rides aboard Bandstand and three-time winner CH CaroLouise. Riding Becky Rankin’s young, gray gelding, Fog, Eckard commanded this year’s reserve grand championship for Drowning Creek Farm.


West Wind Stables and Drowning Creek Farm were two of many Carolina/Virginia stables that came to Raleigh adding to the record number of horses. “We sold more stalls than ever and had to put up a tent,” said ringmaster and host Raleigh Lions Club member Bill Whitley.


“It has taken us a while to get over being known as the Hurricane Show,” added Mary Lynn Whitley, referring to the pounding the North Carolina State Championship took from Mother Nature for a few consecutive years even though it boasts a state of the art facility complete with covered make up arena


“This was our largest show,” said Bill Whitley. “We did finally get over the weather problems and I am very appreciative of the participation this year. We look to keep the momentum going and come back with some more innovative ideas next year.”


Synonymous with the Raleigh Lions Club, the North Carolina State Championship was actually started by the Raleigh Piano Club. According to Whitley, the local piano and choral group put on the first show in 1957 across the street on the racetrack. The groups decided they didn’t want to host the show again next year and since there were several Lions Club members who worked on the show that were also members of the piano and choral groups, they asked the Lions Club if they wanted to take it over. They did and it’s been a great relationship every since.


From the outdoor race track to Dorton Arena and now across the road at the famed Governor James B. Hunt Horse Complex, the Raleigh show has gone through many faces but the one constant has been the dedicated horsemen, many of which are now watching their grandchildren training and showing.


A lot of the show officials have been around for years as well. Photographer Doug Shiflet has 25 years under his camera strap and show manager Ray Cloninger has served 27. The show honored Cloninger in center ring with a well-deserved lifetime contract, a customized chair and a golden anniversary shirt. Having run the ever-efficient office for as long as anyone can remember, Joyce Wilson and her staff, including assistant secretary Barbara Woodlief did another great job.


Officials for the 50th anniversary of the

NC State Championship Horse Show

(photo by Doug Shiflet)


Good people, good horses and good times have been what the North Carolina State Championship is all about. Trainer Claude Shiflet, who has won the Five-Gaited Championship with Commander’s Countess and Dark Lady Love, has attended nearly all of the State Championship shows, missing only a few years when he was training for the A.E. Knowlton family in Ohio.


“There have been a lot of good times at this show,” said Shiflet. “There is always a party and the camaraderie among customers has always been something. In the early days we had some great parties back at the hotels.”


“This has been a good show over the years,” added Johnny Lucas. “Shoot, there used to be a lot of nice horses shown here. They talk about this year being the largest and it may very well be with all the pleasure horses, but in one of the first years of the show they had 19 horses in the Five-Gaited Stallion/Gelding class. That’s what the industry was like back then.”


Pep Peppiat, Glenn Lanning, Ray Pittman… there have been many great horsemen winning championships at Raleigh over the years. It has, and continues to be, home to many dedicated Carolina horsemen who ride and drive their tails off in order to beat you, yet support one another and enjoy each other’s company. That’s never more evident than when you see the ring flooded with horsemen in support of each year’s inductees into the UPHA Carolinas Horsemen Hall of Fame. This year those inductees were the legendary Marge Lovell and one of the greatest trainer/breeder/judge this part of the country has ever produced, Lewis Eckard. (see separate story)


From Heads Up Academy, Master Gold Card

retired at the 50th annual NC State Championship

with Kerrie Beth Fersch riding.




(see above for the Five-Gaited Open Championship)

Ventura’s Gold Card and Sara Scheck finished the golden anniversary show as the Ladies Five-Gaited Grand Champions for Judy Megelich and Ingleside Farm.  They had been reserve in the qualifier behind Julie Burmeister and Ima Star Buck for Jerry Horoschuck. Kathy Cook gave Classic Native Dancer a great ride for reserve grand champion honors.


Sara Scheck and Ventura’s Gold Card


When they’re right, they’re right and in the Amateur Five-Gaited Championship Vickie Byrd and Attaché’s Crown Royal were right! It was their second victory pass of the week. Totally Courageous and Carol Smith were twice reserve.


A stablemate to the Amateur Five-Gaited Grand Champion, the Cash Lovell Stables-trained CH Diamond’s Hope couldn’t have been any better to win the Junior Exhibitor Five-Gaited Championship with Sarah Longworth piloting with expertise every step of the way. Stepping up with a very nice performance, Bluebonnet’s Wild Thing and Cara Wolf took home the reserve championship to West Wind Farm. Earlier in the week Adrienne Fitch and It’s More Than Likely turned in a picture perfect performance to receive the qualifying blue over CH Diamond’s Hope and a host of other contenders.


The Garison family has been a longtime supporter of the North Carolina State Championship Show and this year their winner was Novice Five-Gaited Champion The Witness. He was ridden by Rick Felder for Jennifer Garison. Rae Lee Mills had Fort Chiswell’s Sixshooter in reserve for Dickey Davis.


Mercer Springs Farm came to Raleigh in hurricane force to take a bushel of top prizes back to West Virginia. One of those titles was the Junior Five-Gaited Stake that was won by True Blue Cat, ridden by Smith Lilly for Lisa Lucas. Greg O’Kelley and Callaway’s Credence were pushing hard for reserve honors.


The Five-Gaited Pony Championship and qualifier also belonged to Mercer Springs Farm, specifically Little Lord Huntley and Andrea Wolkoff. Sarah Martin and I Believe I Can Fly moved up a notch to take reserve grand champion honors. Small Packages was reserve in the qualifier with Jocelyn Brock catch riding for Camille Cowart.




There were three fancy entries for the Three-Gaited Championship that went the way of Joker’s Wild and Jon Walker. Joker’s Wild marched a good four-cornered trot to win the tricolor streamers for owners Bob and Jan Gunn. Winner of the open class, MJB High Fire was reserve grand champion with Robbie Lucas riding for longtime Johnny Lucas and Sons Stable customers Mr. and Mrs. Heck Newton.  Making the victory pass in the ladies class and coming back Saturday night meaning business, Sublime Light and Jacqueline Leon was third for Mr. and Mrs. Larry Young.


One of the most popular Saturday night champions was Saddle & Bridle representative Brenda Pulis who rode her Spool’s Top Star RHF to the Amateur Three-Gaited Championship under the direction of West Wind Stables.


Brenda Pulis and Spool’s Top Star


“This was my Louisville,” exclaimed Pulis as she leaned over to hug her grand champion. “I can’t believe it.” They qualified with a reserve in the ladies class. Mercer Springs Farm was home for amateur reserve grand champions You Move Me and Michelle Ducworth. They had made the victory pass in the amateur qualifier in which Carol Reedy and Omerta were second.


Representing the Harrison Shiflet Stables, Jenna Norton and the Great Day’s Came The Son gelding, Callaway’s Paisano, swept the junior exhibitor walk-trot division. Both times the Jamie Mullins-trained First Shot was reserve with Jordan Banner.


The Kirk Simpkins/Jordan Banner team was on top in the Junior/Novice Three-Gaited class as the high going Bubble Bath, with Jamie Mullins in the irons, turned back all challengers including reserve champions Megan Whitby and Let The Magic Begin.


Although it was a one-horse class, probably the most thrilling performer of the week was World’s Champion I’m McDreamy in the UPHA Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited Classic. Having gotten stronger since Louisville, the white-legged son of Supreme Heir was simply thrilling for Kim Cowart and owner Jacqueline Ware.


One of the newest teams in the walk-trot pony division, Stephanie Miller and the multi-titled CH Royalty In Black went two for two. Meghan Toms and Attaché Allure moved up a notch to command the reserve grand champion streamers. Grant Shiflet had occupied the reserve slot in the qualifier with Another Hot Summer Night.




What would the North Carolina State Championship Horse Show be without the history of the Allen/Wellington family and their champions trained by Lewis Eckard? Several of the top champions mentioned in Eckard’s Hall of Fame induction were owned and shown by this family. This year they added to the legacy.


Eckard guided the All Well Farm entry of First Asset to sweep a highly competitive three-gaited park division. Riding under the Simpkins/Hamby ownership, Jamie Mullins was reserve in the championship with Mountainview’s Dark Penny. They were behind reserve champions The Perfect Blind Date and Betsy Boone in the qualifier.


The Austin family had many fond memories of the golden anniversary show, one of them being the Amateur Three-Gaited Park Championship. Aimee Austin and Woulda Coulda Shoulda made their second victory pass of the week. Brenda Oakes and Ms. Amber Merchant took two reserves home to Florida with the MJO Stables.


Robbie Lucas put Katie’s Dream and Britt Mitchell in the winner’s circle of both the Junior Exhibitor Three-Gaited Park Championship and qualifier. Absolut Leigh So and Here’s Beanski traded second and third place ribbons with Mackenzie Ligas and Lindsey Gettig as their respective jockeys.


There was some nice, young talent in the Junior Three-Gaited Park class beginning with champion Cat’s My Daddy, ridden by Smith Lilly for Hawley Tool Sales. Harrison Shiflet was second with Sexy Rexxy, followed by his sister-in-law Suzy Shiflet riding Uwharrie’s Relay.


Fine Harness


Sweeping J.D. Massey, Asheville Lions Club and now the North Carolina State Championship, Just Wicked was the Fine Harness Grand Champion and open class winner for Kim Cowart and owner Sharyn Lackey. Of the six horses in the class three were black including the grand champion and reserve grand champion. Krista Dent drove So Unique to their second reserve.


No stranger to the Raleigh winner’s circle, Callaway’s Four Leaf Clover was last year’s Five-Gaited Grand Champion with Smith Lilly. This year he directed Four Leaf Clover and Karen Thornhill to the Amateur Fine Harness Championship and qualifying win. The Dale Sloat-trained Elegant Artistry was reserve in both events with Sarah Miller at the whip.


Showing signs of being able to perform on the big stage, The Rein Dancer was the standout winner of the Junior Fine Harness class. Harrison Shiflet presented the gray son of Kalarama’s Spanish Dancer for Joan Sonnabend. Jeff Shelley had the reserve winner in My Blues Brother.




Coming from the amateur division, Wildwood Flower and Larry Scott were named the Roadster To Bike Grand Champions for owner Steve Crabtree. Larry Jenkins’s new speedster, Repete Plumsted was the reserve grand champion after trotting to the blue in the limit class with Jon Walker driving for Larry Jenkins.


Rebekah Cloninger has become quite the roadster exhibitor. She claimed the Amateur Roadster To Bike Championship with Royal Count and the Roadster Under Saddle Championship and qualifier aboard Diamond Hustler.  Winner of the Amateur Roadster To Bike qualifier Joanna’s Lost and Rae Lee Mills scored the reserve amateur championship. Texas native Lindsey Greenwald sent High Velocity to the reserve under saddle championship while Eclipse and Ashley Walker claimed the red streamers in the under saddle qualifier. Eclipse was also reserve in the amateur bike class with owner Steve Deutsch.


Rebekah Cloninger

“Queen of Raleigh's Roadster Division”


The Carolinas has long been known for its roadsters in both the horse and pony divisions. After taking reserve in both the amateur qualifier and championship, Cappuccino came back with trainer Steve Gassen to win the Road Pony Championship for owner/amateur driver Brenda Kelly. Reunited with Ferocia, Jeoff Bodenhorst was the reserve grand champion driver. In their only appearance of the week, Lewis Eckard and Hawkeye’s Chatter Box crossed the finish line in first in the open qualifier. Danny Troutman and Stat accepted the reserve streamers for Chip Pugh. World’s Champions Cappuccino and Razz Ma Tazz were among the challengers. Razz Ma Tazz and Chip Pugh made the blue ribbon presentation in the Road Pony To Wagon class.


Brooke and Quintus Vander Spuy had Regal’s Star Attraction LF and Jeoff Bodenhorst ready for all challengers to take both the Amateur Road Pony Championship and qualifier.


Enjoying victory passes from Raleigh to Freedom Hall, Zildjian and Caitlin Leith were at it again taking the Junior Exhibitor Road Pony Championship and qualifier back to Ingleside Farm. Showing for Dustin Deaton, Rebekah Cloninger was reserve grand champion with China Princess. Dustin Lassett has the reserve drive in the qualifier with Doing Time.


What a picture Jake Butts and Perfect Offering made in the road pony under saddle division. With athletic precision, they manhandled the competition with two winning performances. Courtney Bebber’s John Glenn was twice reserve.




We are used to seeing Kim and Peter Cowart running to the winner’s circle with horses in all divisions, but they have proven to be just as successful in the pony ranks. They greeted Tamra Arndt in the winner’s circle with It’s Showtime in the Harness Pony Championship and Heartland Parade Time in the Hackney Pleasure Driving Pony Championship. Both entries won their qualifiers as well. DRS First Lady and Wait & See’s Postmaster were the respective reserve grand champions.


Charles Leonard and Willowood Balladeer were left unchallenged in the Hackney Pony Championship.


Show and Park Pleasure


While the Illinois/Wisconsin circuit receives great accolades for the depth of its pleasure divisions, the Carolinas can boast of stout participation in the pleasure ranks as well. On display at Raleigh were stars like World’s Champion Stonewall’s Stargate, winner of the Adult Five-Gaited Pleasure Championship and qualifier for Stefanie Sanchez and West Wind Stables. Magnolia Stables was the name behind the twice reserve champion CH Social Worth, shown by Aimee Austin.


Stonewall’s Stargate and Stefanie Sanchez


There was some hard ridin’ going on in the junior exhibitor gaited pleasure classes. Allison Combs and Summit Up brought their best to garner tricolor honors ahead of Drew Taylor Hewitt and the always-busy Sunken Treasure. In the qualifying round it was Allie Wellington and her newest star, CH MMMBop, making the blue ribbon victory pass, with Sunken Treasure in reserve.


Allison Combs and Summit Up


With son Smith in the spotlight in class after class, mom Sandy Lilly added to the cause with two more winning ribbons for the Mercer Springs tack room. She rode Maggy London to sweep the park pleasure division. Showing for Barbara Baker, Suzy Shiflet rode the sporty Uwharrie’s No Dice to the reserve championship. Quintus Vander Spuy and Paradoc’s Korygami collected the red prize from the qualifier.


In fact, Mercer Springs swept the entire park pleasure division as Leslie Tickle rode Royal Illusion to top the Junior Park Pleasure class and Smith Lilly was aboard for the victory pass in the UPHA Park Pleasure Classic with King’s Lovebird. The Gordon/Tickle partnership and Dr. Nancy Trent were the respective owners. Susan Orton and The Pool Boy and Kathy Cook with Daimler were the reserve winners.


First through third in the adult pleasure division were the same in the championship and the qualifier. Topping Judge Smith’s card was CH A Chance To Dance with Marie Gwinn, followed by Bongo and Ginger Reagan and My Forgotten Favorite with Simone Lovell.


Moving up a notch with a stake night performance, Stephanie Miller rode Thomas Edison down victory lane in the 14-17 pleasure championship. Finishing two places higher was the team of Irish Cappuccino and Amy Rawlings. Grant Shiflet and Vertical Horizon got the winning nod over Thomas Edison in the qualifier.


Allie Wellington and CH It’s Yabba Dabba Doo Time have owned the Carolinas this year and the golden anniversary of the North Carolina State Championship was no exception. Lewis Eckard met them in the winner’s circle of both the 13 and under championship and qualifier. Thrilled with his ride, Ingleside Farm’s Drew Love brought home the reserve championship aboard Picabo Street. The red streamers were carried from the qualifying round by Mountainview’s Truly Amazing and Hanna Norwood.


Stephanie Wellington couldn’t have

been more proud of daughter Allie and

CH It’s Yabba Dabba Doo Time.


There was a large turnout for the Novice Rider Three-Gaited Pleasure classes, both of which were own by Over Achiever and Alexandra Foster. CH Future Treasure carried Chandler Gray to two reserve finishes.


Country Pleasure


Selvaggio, CH Riva Diva, CH Wing’s Main Attraction, CH Santana’s Night Moves, Really Worth It and O Ain’t I Somethin’ were all two-time winners. Bonnie Koch was teamed with Show Pleasure Driving Grand Champion Selvaggio; Donna Finch was aboard Adult Country Pleasure Grand Champion CH Riva Diva; Adrienne Fitch rode Junior Exhibitor 14-17 Country Pleasure Grand Champion CH Wing’s Main Attraction; Meredith Macy was the winning jockey on CH Santana’s Night Moves; Anita Simpson and Really Worth It were two for two in country pleasure driving; and Luanne Kilday O Ain’t I Somethin’ were unstoppable in western pleasure.


Novice Rider Country Pleasure Grand Champion The King’s Will and Patricia McClaurin had to overcome a reserve finish in the qualifier that was won by CF Star At First Sight and Brittany Keel.


The King Of Wishful Thinking and Melanie Carroll represented the best of the Country Hunter Pleasure Championship.


No stranger to the winner’s circle, Santana’s Flaming Dawn made Alexandra Ennis smile in both English Pleasure Pony classes. Another team that knows its way around a winner’s circle, Stephanie Brackett and CH Much More Radiant ranked supreme in both Walk and Trot Pleasure classes offered.




Having just judged the equitation division at Louisville, Liz McBride Jones sent Emma Nichols to the top of the Saddle Seat Equitation Championship over Heather Boodey’s USEF Medal winner Kim Mueller.


Emma Nichols


World’s Champion Cagle James landed two more wins with blue ribbon performances in both the 10 and Under Walk and Trot Equitation class and the UPHA Walk and Trot Challenge Cup. Caroline Brown and Vanessa Patch were the reserve riders.


In Hand and Futurity


Not only did Anita Simpson win two country pleasure driving classes, her Sir William Mack won the Carolina Futurity Yearling class and the ASGN Yearling class with Smith Lilly presenting. Lilly had an incredible week in the futurity division. He also won the star-studded Carolina Jackpot Weanling class with the Nifong/Green entry Just A Gypsy and the Carolina Futurity Open Weanling class with Nifong’s Diamonds And Orchids. Nifong struck again with Stephanie Miller leading Silver Market to the Carolina Futurity Amateur Weanling title.

Paul Boone also got a piece of the money with Slot Machine in the Carolina Futurity Two-Year-Old In Hand class, while Jon Walker and Color Blind took top money in the Carolina Futurity Two-Year-Old Harness class.




Morgan enthusiasts and Saddlebred/Hackney fanciers alike were treated to a great display of talent and charisma. Hometown Tara Farm presented the record breaking JW That Special Flaire, the Park Harness World Grand Champion for the past two years as a two and three-year-old with Judy Whitney Harris. Tara trainer Ken Swanson has taken over the training since Whitney Harris’s unfortunate stroke and all the eyes of the Morgan world were waiting to see the new combination.


Both times to the ring with the youngster with boundless energy and athletic ability proved to be outstanding for Swanson and an extremely proud Fran Pugh. Judge Fay Lowry had them on top both times.


“He’s a lot of horse and I was very happy with what he gave me in both classes,” said Swanson. Chet Sowle and Fire Pinks Cozzette were reserve in the first round.


Ken and Dini Swanson and the Tara Farm

customers entertained the audience with

world class Morgan champions including

the sensational JW That Special Flaire.


Swanson has a pair of leg-waving park harness champions as he also put Krista Headley and the talented stallion Tara’s Firewalker in the ring for the Morgan Amateur Park Harness Championship and qualifying titles.


Emory Sykes rode Captivation Of Foxridge to the Morgan English Pleasure Championship after placing reserve to AFF Elusive Dream and Christie Bennett in the amateur qualifier. Elusive Dream and Bennett went on to win the amateur/junior exhibitor championship. Leah Ling and Arboria Invictus, winners of the junior exhibitor class, were reserve in that one.


Ken Swanson was back in the winner’s circle, this time with Morgan Pleasure Driving Grand Champion CBMF Ruling Class. Owner Holly Johnson made the winning drive in the ladies class. Scott Thacker took the reserve championship home to Tall Tails Farm with The Short Shot. In their one performance Swanson and LBJ Uptown Girl captured the Open Morgan Pleasure Driving class for Copper Beech Morgan Farm. Longtime Carolinas supporter Mary Daughtry was second with Hollybrook Indian Brave.


Also sporting the Hollybrook prefix Hollybrook Walk In Tall was presented by June Davis for the Morgan Amateur Pleasure Driving Championship and qualifier. Ken Swanson and GLB Leader Of The Band had the winning look in the junior pleasure driving class for owner Krista Headley.


Mary Ann Harris had RAM Wham Bam Precision and Laura Austin in top order to win the Morgan Classic Pleasure Saddle Championship and qualifier. Fran Williford and Bear Brook Noble Bar finished the week with the reserve championship. They had also been reserve in the junior exhibitor class behind Glorious Answers and Natalie Tetterton.


Mary Ann Harris, Dan & Brenda Austin

congratulate Laura Austin

 riding RAM Wham Bam Precision


Under the direction of Harry Daughtry Stables, Hollybrook Independence and Cathy Minard defeated Face The Nation and Dan Redman on the way to the Morgan Classic Pleasure Driving Championship later in the week.


DAF Amazing Grace and Carlette Hunt were invited to the winner’s circle a third time as the Morgan Western Pleasure Grand Champion. They were also successful in the open and amateur qualifiers as well as being named reserve amateur grand champion. Sheila England and Savenac’s Commandore jogged to the open reserve grand championship. Standing in the championship winner’s circle of that section was Salem Total Eclipse with Elizabeth Abernathy sitting tall in the saddle.


DAF Amazing Grace and Carlette Hunt


Closing out the Morgan division, FRF Center Stage and Beth Kelly won the Hunter Pleasure Championship and amateur class. Open winner Toast Of Broadway was the reserve grand champion for Krista Dent.


There were only two Friesians on the grounds, Gregor Vom Eichenhof and Ozark PF, however, there was a full slate of academy riders. Many of the Carolina barns have done a great job of promoting their saddle seat riding programs and are bringing many people to the horse show and into the business.


The new owners coming in from the academy ranks and all of the children and grandchildren of Carolina horsemen now showing ensure the next 50 years of the North Carolina State Championship Horse Show will be as exciting as the first.


This concludes the highlights of the 50th anniversary North Carolina State Championship Horse Show. Complete results can be seen and searched by clicking here.


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