Friday, September 22, 2023

MTSU and Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration go hand in hand


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Photo by Tayhlor Stephenson / Lifestyles Editor

Story by Kristen Brothers / Contributing Writer

Story updated on Sept. 5 at 4:24 p.m. to correct “Prize Jubilee Encore” to “Pride’s Jubilee Encore.” Sidelines regrets the error. 

Just South of Murfreesboro, there’s a renowned annual event that takes place every last week in August. It’s not a high-profile football game where all in attendance wear royal blue; it’s a horse show, known as the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

People come from far and wide to witness the highly anticipated event, show their horses and be a part of something so special. No, Lightning the Blue Raider does not make a guest appearance, but plenty other Blue Raiders are integral to the Celebration and have even devoted their lives to the horse show.

What is the Celebration?

The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration began in 1939 and continues today. A tradition like no other, it is a 10-day night and day Celebration of the Tennessee Walking Horse in which trainers and owners alike show their horses exhibiting the flat walk, the running walk, and in some cases, the canter.

The event is held at the Celebration Grounds in Shelbyville and takes place in a large outdoor arena situated around a large show ring. The folks of Shelbyville are looking for a World Grand Champion, which will be crowned tonight.

Over 2,000 horses participate in the event, and local clubs and organization provide concessions at various food booths around the arena; the country ham sandwiches and world-famous Optimist Club donuts alone seem to rally quite the crowd.

In a show that’s so close to Murfreesboro, MTSU is well-represented in multiple ways.

MTSU freshman and horse science major Kaitlyn Rippy and her family, of White House, are no strangers to the Celebration. Rippy has been showing horses in the leadline classes since she was 5, and she plans to pursue a career as either an embryologist or a veterinarian.

“My uncle is the one who kind of got us involved,” Rippy said. “I started showing because of him. My dad and my brother, Nick, also do some showing.”

Rippy has won the title of World Grand Champion in Western Trail Pleasure, with her first World Grand Championship coming in 2010 on her horse, “She’s Pretty Jazzy.”

Her love for the Celebration runs deep, just as her family’s commitment to the Walking Horse industry does.  

“Shelbyville is where the Walking Horses are,” Rippy said. “It brings people together.”

A trip inside the ring

Blue Raiders don’t just ride into the ring; they belong inside the ring as well.

MTSU alumna Andriana Jones Lamb, who majored in ag business, has found her home at the Celebration as well, but her connection to the show is a bit different.

Lamb is the data entry clerk for the Celebration, so it’s her job to get the judges scores to the fans by putting the data in a PowerPoint and projecting them to the video boards around the arena and barns. She has held the position for five years, but before that she spent every Celebration, from the time she was 13 until she was 20, working in the VFW Food Booth with her mom and sisters.

“It’s how a lot of people in Bedford County make their living,” Lamb said. “A lot of businesses wouldn’t be in Bedford County if it is wasn’t for the Walking Horses.”

The Celebration has taken a hard hit in recent years because of government law against soring horses, but this year’s show has hosted more people, more horses and more Celebration spirit than it has in years.

“I don’t think people really understand the impact of how big the Celebration is,” Lamb said. “I want to see the Celebration back to how it used to be, and I think it’s getting there.”

Lamb remembers a time when guests of the show would have to form a line each night hours before showtime at 7 p.m. because there were so many people who wanted to be a part of it. It used to be a huge deal, and it’s slowly regaining its prominence.

MTSU alumni to ride for World Grand Championship

It’s an especially special show for one Blue Raider in particular–Bill Callaway.

Callaway graduated from MTSU with a degree in ag business and full intentions on training horses like his father and brother. And this year, all the hard work and sweat of this Blue Raider is paying off as he is set to ride “Gen’s Black Maverick” (last year’s Reserve World Grand Champion and winner of last Saturday night’s A Division Qualifying Class) for the World Grand Championship tonight.

It’s something people devote their lives to, and that rings true for Callaway.

“I was born and raised in the horse business,” Callaway said. “My dad has been showing since 1973.”

With a lifetime full watching his father train and learning to train himself, Callaway is more than prepared to earn the big title.

In 2001, Callaway’s father and mentor won the World Grand Championship on “Pride’s Jubilee Encore,” and tonight he hopes his name will be called for that final spotlight ride around the ring, decorated in a floral horseshoe of roses.

“I’m a Middle Tennessee grad and a hometown Shelbyville guy that has a chance to bring it right back, and I would appreciate any support that I can get,” Callaway said. “It’s a hard task to (accomplish).”

Though the Celebration may be a foreign event, it has True Blue written all over it. From the barns to inside the ring to the World Grand Championship class, students and graduates of MTSU practically live for the Celebration.

The final night of the Celebration commences at 7 p.m. tonight at the Celebration Grounds in Shelbyville. Tickets will be available onsite.

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email

For more news, follow us at, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News


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