Dale Watts: new TWHNC judge

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By ZOË HAGGARD – [email protected]

Mississippian by birth and basketball coach by trade, Dale Watts, 67, had a unique journey to become one of the judges of the 2021 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

But with what he calls a “natural eye” for horses, Watts says he’s thrilled to be one of five judges at this year’s show.

Growing up in Summit, Mississippi, Watts’ family raided rack horses in the early 1970s. Then, through his many visits to the celebration in Shelbyville, Watts remembers watching Billy Gray, CA Bobo, Allan Callaway, Jimmy McConnell – industry legends – and found the walking horse’s gait “exciting”.

Today, along with his son Josh, he runs Pioneer Stables, named after a school Watts coached for several decades, located in Summit and Shelbyville.

Despite the differences in rules and application, Watts says he draws similarities between training basketball and training horses.

Much like training young students, trainers are going to find horses that are more talented, friendlier, and more rebellious than others.

And just like the best basketball players, horses can have free nights, so “the best horse fights for itself,” according to Watts.

“These people are working hard to put horses in the rink … It’s about what they’re doing that night.”

It is a way for him to ensure an honest judgment, knowing the rules and the prayer.

“The first thing I do is put my nose in the rulebook and chill, chill, chill to get ready. And I guess the second thing I do is… pray, ”he said.

He said he remembered some of the best advice an “old” judge gave him many years ago: “It was almost 40 years ago, when Watts was a young apprentice in Milton. , in Florida.

Today, after judging the Fun Show last spring, Watts said he was honored to take that advice and apply it to the celebration.

“I will make mistakes. I’m human … But first and foremost, I want to tie – by tie, I mean place the horse that is the best horse that night, ”he said.

A horse that likes to shake its head, take long strides and stay balanced is what he says he’s looking for. For that to happen, Watts said, your mind has to slow down and watch their feet – not just look at the figure.

But more importantly, as you judge both friends and strangers, Watts said it’s important for a real judge to judge from the saddle down.

It’s also a way to keep the industry going, he said, as he remembers attending at least 30 shows a year in Mississippi. Now the number of shows has dropped to two.

“Keeping the industry together is crucial… We’re in there because we love horses. “


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