Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

The Walking Horse Championships in Shelbyville, Tennessee

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There are whole lot of tourist draws in the area in Middle Tennessee where I grew up: There’s Lynchburg, home to the famous Jack Daniels distillery; there’s Sewanee, the most beautiful college campus in the country; there’s Bell Buckle, where people hail from near and far to try the Southern fare at the eponymous cafe; there’s, of course, Manchester, which boasts one of the music industry’s biggest events, Bonnaroo, annually; and there’s Shelbyville, which welcomes a quarter of a million walking horse horse lovers for a 10-day period over Labor Day each year.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

Yes, you read that correctly. Walking horses. The Walking Horse National Celebration, in fact.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

Growing up down the road from Shelbyville, I just took it for granted that everyone knows what a walking horse is—after all, a horse is a horse (…of course, of course). Or is it? (What—you don’t know? Apparently, that’s not the case.)

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

I’m not sure of the proper way to explain it, but the walking horse walks fast at a brisk pace that lifts its legs high like a Clydesdale. Walking horses that show are based on leg height and extension. (Or something like that.)

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

Wiki states that they were originally bred to “carry the owners around their lands” and are “known for their unique four-beat ‘running walk.'” There you have it. And they wear sparkly outfits, which is just icing on the cake—the riders, that is, not the horses.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

I had been down in Shelbyville the week before to interview some of the visiting trainers and was shocked to learn that children as young as two compete, including these adorable almost-five-year-old Chinese twins, Bebe and Maxine, who live in Venice, California and were participating in their fourth Celebration. I thought I misheard them when they told me this, but nope—’tis true. Inconceivable!

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

I got to see them compete in lead line on the final night, and it was funny to see them in tuxedos and not tutus!

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

The outdoor arena where the shows are held is pretty cool and seats 30,000 people at once. While SVV and I weren’t exactly sure what we were watching, it’s one of those experiences that’s fun even when you have no clue what’s going on!

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

My former roommate Katy—fancy-schmancy copy chief at Teen Vouge, I might add—happened to be in town over the weekend of the Celebration to visit, and so she accompanied us to the third night of the shows.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

What she didn’t know is just exactly what she was in for…

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

We went down onto the field and presented awards. In as random as my life is, this was probably one of the more random things I’ve ever done—serving as an awards presenter at the Celebration.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

We had been told “not to wear cutoffs—but don’t wear sequins either.” Check and check. Good thing sundresses are my daily wardrobe.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

What no one told us is that plenty people would be in sequins, particularly all the “Miss This or Thats” who were also handing out trophies.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

After we waited and waited, then waited some more, then gave our award—which more or less consisted of us walking out on the track carrying a huge glass bowl, posing with the winner, then carrying the huge glass bowl back to the central podium—they asked us to stay and give out another. And then another. Before we knew it, we had participated in four different classes.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

The funny thing is that while our job was relatively easy—smile! look pretty! don’t drop it!—you would think it was rocket science with as much direction as our escort friend gave us on how to hold the darn thing.

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

But I didn’t have enough of the Celebration in one night—oh no. My cousin Rebecca and her girls were here to visit for Labor Day, so we took her four year old, McKayla, to a “girls’ night” at the Celebration (or the World Championships).

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

I think she was impressed (until she fell and skinned the whole front side of her shin, that is…you’ve never heard a child scream so loudly). I’m pretty sure she was just there for the popcorn and donuts in the first place, though she did tell me at the end of the evening: “this is the coolest girls’ night ever!” (Probably the sugar talking.)

Walking Horse Celebration | Camels & Chocolate

COMMENTS
  • September 8, 2012

    I’ve heard of walking horses but never seen them. Such style and love the rider’s costumes. Oh, and you two beautiful award givers too.

    • September 8, 2012

      Ha! I didn’t feel sparkly enough—particularly compared to the young riders decked out in their country couture.

  • September 8, 2012

    thanks for sharing, these are wonderful pictures & great story.

  • September 8, 2012

    These photos brought back such beautiful memories. I lived in Nashville in my early twenties and went to the Celebration. Thanks for sharing.

    • September 8, 2012

      And I bet it’s hardly changed since then! Though maybe the arena is new? It looks new to me, and I can’t remember if it was the same one I went to as a kid when I would attend the Celebration.

  • September 8, 2012

    What a wonderful story!! And the pictures are great too.

  • September 8, 2012

    The sky in the first stadium shot is gorgeous! I lived in Kentucky for three years and loved the horse culture there as well. We went to Lexington Horse Farm a lot and horse shoes and rodeos – love it!

    • September 8, 2012

      Where *haven’t* you lived?! I’m guessing it was because of the military?

      • September 8, 2012

        I’ve been around….. 😉 Yep, Fort Know, KY

  • September 8, 2012
    Janice Ng

    For the six years I’ve lived in Tennessee, I have not explored it much at all. I think a true traveler is one who will take the time to be familiar with his/her own backyard before traversing the globe!

    • September 8, 2012

      I spent my first 22 years living in Tennessee and didn’t explore that much of it then either. It wasn’t really until I wrote a big on the state (Tennessee Curiosities) a few years ago that I really got interested in everything the South has to offer. Now, I love exploring to the small towns when we have a random afternoon open–the more off the beaten path, the better!

  • September 9, 2012

    The photos shows how beautiful your experience was that worth to be treasure!That was such a great story! 🙂

  • September 9, 2012

    Thanks for you for sharing photos from your fun visit to the Celebration. I wonder why the “no sequins” edict? You ladies still looked very nice with your sundresses. I did a stint once as a ribbon girl at a horse show in Kentucky long ago. No sequins for me, either, but I was more of a patent leather Mary Janes age. 🙂

    • September 9, 2012

      Ha! There were totally patent leather Mary Janes types giving out awards with us. (I felt old.) I felt like cowboy boots was more fitting, though! (And also I can’t fathom trying to walk out on that field in heels in front of all those people! An accident waiting to happen is what that is.)

  • September 9, 2012

    All of those kiddos are adorbs!

  • September 9, 2012
    Cissy

    Thanks ~ as a resident of Shelbyville, I appreciate so much your positive and lovely photo blog on the Celebration.

    • September 9, 2012

      I love Shelbyville! You guys have the best square of any towns in that area. I absolutely adore the antiques mall there, and the Lane Street Inn is super cute, too.

  • September 10, 2012

    So many interesting people and things to see at those kinds of fairs lol

  • September 10, 2012

    As odd as this sounds, this whole affair doesn’t sound weird to me at all. But then again, it probably has something to do with the fact that I just spent a month going to Thoroughbred races. And while they do move MUCH faster than your walking horses, a lot of the tradition and pageantry is the same.

    Though that’s pretty kickass that you got to present the trophies! How’d you finagle that one?

  • September 10, 2012

    1 yay the good life!
    2 i am having a Taylor Swift moment
    3 ooh cowgirl boots !

  • September 11, 2012

    I grew up going to county and state fairs and seeing all sorts of horse shows and yet I’m always still amazed at how massive the horse showing field is. There’s SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS to show horses.

  • September 14, 2012

    Totally sounds like a cool day and night out, whatever the strangeness of the event (I’ve never heard of it)! Lots of pretty scenery and interesting people – I love it!

  • September 19, 2012

    How much fun, you looked so pretty and in your element. 🙂

  • September 25, 2012
    Mama of BiBi & Maxine

    Wonderful post!!! Makes me really miss the most wonderful 10 days of the year. The twins and I enjoyed meeting you. We would love to show you some of our favorite places in Venice if you are ever out this way. : ) Beth

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