Zachary Swafford, 12, rides his horse, Jazzy Sally, out of the ring after winning eighth place in the Owner-Amatuer Youth Riders 6-11 Show Pleasure Mares/Geldings class on Thursday evening during the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn. Swafford, who has been showing at the Celebration since he was 7 years old, said he plans to keep showing until his body won't let him anymore.Photo by Alyson Wright.
Zachary Swafford, of Pikeville, Tenn., was 8 days old when he attended his first Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
And he's been to every Celebration since for the past 12 years -- often as a competitor.
This week, Zachary took home ribbons in two shows.
They'll be added to his "wall of fame," said his mom, Tammy Swafford.
Born Aug. 17, Zachary turned 12 this year, but on Aug. 7, he was still 11 and so was able to enter for a final time in the competition for owner-amateur youth riders 6-11 years old on walking mares and a similar competition for youth riders on 4-year-old trail pleasure walking horses.
"I'm the barn jockey," he quipped Thursday night of his position as only child at Swafford Stables.
His dad, Eric Swafford, grinned.
"This is our quality time," Eric Swafford said. "It's what we do."
"Most people take vacation and go the beach. We come to the horse show," Tammy Swafford said.
"I'm 39 years old, and this is my 40th Celebration," Eric Swafford said. "I never miss it."
Eric Swafford said he and his brothers caught the horse bug from their father, and they, too, used to show horses. Now Eric Swafford said he just trail rides, but he's passed the show torch on to his son.
On Thursday night, Zachary -- in the signature walking horse fedora hat and long coat -- rode Jazzy Sally and took eighth place.
He was all smiles.
On Friday morning, riding The Cotton Bowl, Zachary flew around the ring in a running walk, often leaving competitors in his dust. This time he took a fifth place.
The youngster said he rides at least four times a week, but it hasn't made him popular with classmates. Most of them don't know about his side life, he said.
But next week, the fun's over and he'll have to return to school.
As for the current controversies of the walking horse industry and concerns about soring and horse abuse?
Zachary had a decisive answer.
"We don't do it," he said without a moment's hesitation.
And as for his thoughts on those who do?
"Get 'em out [suspended]. It will make it easier for me to win."
His mom and dad grinned again.
"Out of the mouths of babes," said his mother.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...