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KEITH JOHNSON wanted two of his grandsons, twins Tucker and Tanner, to participate in the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. After his family had retired from showing horses for the Celebration in 2007, he felt it was time to give the twins the opportunity to ride. It was never about winning, but experiencing the same thing that generations before them had experienced: what it feels like to be a horse rider in the Celebration, but most of all, enjoy the horse.
The boys come from a family of winners. Their maternal grandfather, Mike Hilley, was a very successful walking horse trainer for many years. He is also proud of their accomplishments with their horse and enjoys attending shows that they participate in along with their Nana, Gloria.
While it was never about making sure everyone had a trophy, it was about doing the best you could. Keith and his wife Suzy have both won at the horse show. Then, their sons Adam and Joel went on to win, too. In 2007, the family stepped away from the horse show circuit. Both Adam and Joel were starting families of their own and had other interests. 12 years later in 2019, the 11-year-old twins Tucker and Tanner were putting their cowboy hats on. It was their turn to begin showing and also participate in the Celebration.
Keith picked out a horse for the boys. He had been searching for the perfect horse for quite a while when trainer Jessica Hlebak of Stonewall Farm in Shelbyville found IB Smokin Joe. This was the beginning of the boy’s first horse experience. Jessica taught them how to ride correctly with her talented skillset. Tucker and Tanner were excited about their first horse and were hopeful that they would learn to ride, and eventually show at the celebration.
The lights turned on. They climbed on the back of the horse. The audience anxiously watched. The judges scrutinized the boys. Pen to paper with a score. Would Tucker or Tanner be able to be the next winners in the Johnson family? Win or lose, the entire family was watching with pride and excitement. No matter what happened, the question is always “Did you have a good time and did you do your best?”
With a mixture of fate, love, and talent, Tanner won his class in 2019, making another member of the Johnson family a Celebration winner. Suzy Johnson was hopeful that some day there would be another Celebration winner. At least one member of each generation has won a class at the Celebration.
“I’m proud of my children and grandchildren,” Suzy said. “My sons are great citizens, They’re great young men. They’re good husbands and fathers. We share the same bond of enjoying the comradery of being with each other. I don’t care what my grandkids do, I am proud of all four of them.” -GN