TN Walking Horse Celebration trying to restore reputation - WSMV News 4

TN Walking Horse Celebration trying to restore reputation after animal abuse scandal

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A Tennessee tradition is underway again but with some big changes. The 75th Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration kicked off Wednesday. This year, organizers are hoping to restore the event's reputation after an animal abuse scandal, and they're hoping to turn around a troubling financial trend.

It's the granddaddy of all Walking Horse competitions in the world, and Jamie Hankins has been coming every year since 1962.

"The thrill of competition and showing the best against the best," said Paris, KY, trainer Jamie Hankins.

He's been showing horses at the competition for 45 of those years.

"We've won about 15 World Amateur Championships," Hankins said.

He said the competition in Shelbyville has gotten a black eye because of allegations of soring and abuse.

"It's a never-ending battle to get rid of the last of the bad apples," he said.

Opening round of amateur competition got underway this morning in Calsonic Arena.

Organizers said the horses undergo 10 different inspections before they are able to compete. The celebration currently has a 98 percent compliance rate.

"We have a very thorough inspection process and very serious penalties for those who receive infractions," said Michael Inman, Walking Horse Celebration CEO. "We'll keep doing that until we weed out the last few that are there, and concentration of the vast majority of people doing things right."

The Celebration is facing another problem. For the past six years, it has fallen on tough times. In 2012, it lost $438,356. Organizers are hoping changes made this year will help boost revenue and ticket sales.

New this year, no coolers are allowed; and for the first time, beer and booze will be sold inside Celebration Stadium. Some civic organizations that run concessions feel that will cut into their bottom line. This is their sole fundraiser to fund their budgets for the entire year.

"Coolers in the past would not only contain an adult beverage, but also water and food," Inman said. "So actually, we think it will be an up-tick for our local vendors."

The Walking Horse Celebration is the largest agriculture event in the state. It brings in between $38 million and $40 million to Bedford County.

The Celebration continues for the next 10 days.

A new Grand World Champion will be crowned the Saturday before Labor Day.

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