Alexis Landreth, a pretty 16-year-old who is a junior at Silverdale Baptist, had never known what a kidney stone was until late this summer when she found out first-hand at the Dollywood amusement park. The pain soon became so intense she called her mom from a Knoxville hospital’s emergency room but instead of crying out, she first told her mother, “I’m still going to ride!”
This was just one week before she did ride, oh did she ever, at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds several weeks ago and, before an enthralled crowd of avid perfectionists in Freedom Hall, Alexis beautifully guided a horse named Manhattan’s Irish Crème to the highest pinnacle a juvenile horse and rider can reach – the World Champion of Champions Three-Gaited Pony blue ribbon in the American Saddlebred Championships.
At a time when horse shows are being viewed with public disdain due to the scurrilous actions of a terribly misguided few in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, Alexis Landreth represents all that is good and pure and delightful in a show ring. As her mother Dionna laughed, “She would have the horses in our house if they could take their shoes off!”
Alexis rides natural-gaited horses – beautiful animals void of the wretched soring that leading equine veterinarian groups are now urging to be banned from show rings – and the saddle-bred dance she and her Manhattan’s Irish Crème performed in Louisville overcame a wistful start to turn into a waltz that will long be remembered with her blue ribbon that came in a ring known the world over for its hallowed tradition of green wood shavings on which the horses perform all week.
In her first preliminary class there were just three riders and the three judges electrified the crowd when they split three ways. So as the horses were called again to the rail, Alexis hissed to her horse, “Remember to trot!” and Manhattan’s Irish Crème seemed to perk his ears before taking his master for the ride of her life. She was a unanimous selection.
We like to think that doesn’t happen, that the horse had no idea Alexis was so sick with the urinary blockage resulting from her medicines to combat ulcerative colitis, but to her grandparents and friends that were watching, she was then a unanimous winner every time she took her horse through the gate for the rest of the show.
Are you kidding me – by the end of last year Manhattan’s Irish Crème was named as “Pony of the Decade.” But to Lynn and Bob McKamey, grandparents Kathy and Jim Davis, her mother Dionna and Alexis herself, they believe the horse delivered a string of performances that were dedicated to its young rider. Oh my goodness, it was indescribable.
“When the judges tied in the first preliminary, it was as though all of our hearts stopped at the same time but when Alexis was called back to the rail, it suddenly became very emotional because it was like a spell came over the two,” said her grandmother Lynn. “The crowd was going so crazy in the finals Alexis couldn’t hear the announcer call her the winner.
“Then she saw her trainer, Tammy Devore, as Tammy rushed forward crying to lead Alexis to the presentation with the blanket of roses. She got this startled look on her face, and then rode a victory lap all of us who were watching will never forget for the rest of our lives. When she finally got the doctor’s permission to compete, it was like, ‘Oh, we don’t have to worry anymore about that,’ and she immediately posted a picture of her kidney stone on Facebook, if you can believe that!”
Alexis is just that way, according to her proud mother. “She’s a typical girl who loves music, her grandmother’s high heels, boys and the world around her, but when she gets with her horses, she changes. She wants to know everything, to spend every minute at the barns and to play with her horses when they aren’t training together. She’s so dedicated.”
The Devore Stable, which includes about 60 of the most stunning saddlebreds you ever saw, is in Sonora, Ky., and Tammy was voted “Trainer of the Year” just last year. Alexis, one of Tammy’s favorites, not only trains for a couple of weekends every month but also stays at the bunkhouse for weeks at a time in the summers. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t one day become a trainer,” said Dionna, “but I can tell you she’ll be involved with horses the rest of her life. She’s passionate about them.”
Technically Alexis has two more years that she can still compete as a juvenile and, lest you be confused, a “pony” is simply a smaller horse, not those Shetland things at kiddie parks. “Manhattan’s Irish Crème is very much an athlete,” said Lynn, “but we also know that there is a bond that he has developed with Alexis and to watch the two of them together gives you chill bumps.”
Boy, I’ll say – World Champions of Champions at the American Saddlebred World Championships and, to imagine, this was just days after she posted a photo of her kidney stone on her Facebook. “There isn’t another girl like her,” her entire family agrees but, then again, there aren’t a lot of world champions walking among us.
Chattanooga's Alexis Landreth rides her beautiful Manhattan's Irish Creme to the World Championship for Three-Gaited Ponies in the American Saddlebred World Championships recently in Louisville, Ky.