MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (OSBORNE) -- The Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration says paid attendance at last weekend’s contest was up slightly, but a photo by the local Times-Gazette shows large open sections in the event’s 30,000 seat arena.
The Big Lick, held in Shelbyville every year since 1939, was once one of Tennessee’s largest tourism draws pumping millions of dollars annually into the mid-state economy.
But the controversial practice of horse soring has steadily chipped away at interest in the sport. Soring is the practice of inflicting pain on a horse to force the high-stepping gait the breed is known for.
Supporters say soring is rare. Critics contend the practice is endemic to the sport.
In late July, the U.S. House passed a measure that would outlaw many of the techniques routinely used by Walking Horse trainers. The bill's fate in the U.S. Senate is uncertain, given that it is strongly opposed by both Tennessee Senators.
Veteran competitor Rodney Dick won the 2019 Grand Champion title this past weekend riding a horse named I'm Mayhem.
Dick's win may further tarnish the Celebration's reputation. Officials say he begins an 18 month suspension October 1 for repeated violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. He's also been ordered to pay a $2,200 fine.