SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration began Wednesday. The stands in the outside arena sat empty, but within days hundreds of horses will compete for top honors in the 77th Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
"There's nothing like the feeling of coming down that shoot over there to come down here in front of 20,000 people with the lights and the organ music going. The horse senses the excitement just like any other athlete," Celebration CEO Mike Inman said.
Before his time as the CEO, Inman competed for 27 years in this Shelbyville tradition.
"It's the longest running agricultural event in the state and it's the largest agricultural event in the state of Tennessee every year," he said.
Competitors and breeders from as far away as Alaska make their way to the small town of Shelbyville, boosting the local economy with nearly $40 million.
However, the big prize comes in small packages, ribbons worn on the winning horses and of course there's the bragging rights.
"Celebration is a ton of work, the 26 horses that are showing we show a total of 51 times," trainer, Hannah Pulvers said.
Pulvers has trained walking horses for 14 years. Wednesday was only the first day but already she had a handful of winners.
"I lived in Oregon and always dreamed of the Celebration. Used to travel across the country every year and compete with a few horses then I always just knew that one day I'd move out here and hopefully have more horses than just the few that we have."
Around 500 horses will make their rounds in the arenas. Every horse is inspected 15 to 17 times throughout the competition and then again in the winter, months after it has ended.
"Come see the real Tennessee Walking Horse and you'll come away with a good impression," Inman said.
The Grand Championship competition will take place in the Outdoor Arena on September 5. If you're looking for something the entire family will enjoy the Carnival Pavilion opens Thursday and runs through the 30th.