The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 23, 2013

North Ala. gears up for racking horse event

Associated Press

— PRICEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Jimmy Smith appraised the horses as they ambled past in their signature gait during the 42nd Annual Racking Horse World Celebration.

"It's a 1-2-3-4 action," the 80-year-old owner of Jimmy Smith Jewelers and racking horse aficionado said during the opening competitions on Sunday night.

"See how smooth that is?" said Smith, of Priceville.

Smith, who has been a supporter of the celebration since it began in 1972, said racking horse enthusiasm peaked in the early '80s.

"On Saturday nights, they'd fight for these seats out here," he said. "It went through a slump, but it's building back up."

Smith gestured to the ring as about 10 young riders paraded their horses.

"I don't know how many states that represents out there, but that's several states," he said.

Those out-of-town visitors mean hotel stays, meals and other expenditures here.

"The people of Morgan County don't realize the impact it has on the county," Smith said.

Vice President of Horse Shows Melisa Taylor said Celebration Arena, at Priceville, boasts 757 stalls.

"We have all but 80 rented. This show's probably going to be the biggest we've put on in 10 years," Taylor said.

In 2012, 565 stalls were rented, according to the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

This year, 188 competition classes are being offered, compared to 170 last year.

Contest entries and gate numbers are up so far this year, Taylor said. It was too early in the celebration to go into detail about those numbers, she said.

"The economy still hurts us in some degrees," she said, "but what we foresee for the future is strong industry. To us here in Decatur, the racking horse is like apple pie and good old American family fun."

Shows are held nightly at 6 p.m. except Thursday, when show time is 5:30 p.m. The celebration runs through Saturday night, when the world grand championship will be decided.

"We have lots of good world grand champion contenders this year," Taylor said.

Priceville Town Councilman Jerry Welch was one of about 20 Civitan Club members working parking and ticket sales Sunday. He said the event generated so much business Priceville Civitans began teaming up with Somerville Civitans.

"We take that money and turn it back over in the form of scholarships and money to schools for food and treats for the kids," Welch said. "100 percent of it goes back into the community."

Many spectators come from other states and plan long stays for the celebration, Welch said.

"This is a big boost to our economy," he said.

Admission is $5 per person through Wednesday, and $7 per person for the remaining nights. Parking is $5, daily.

Morgan County Celebration Arena is at 67 Horse Center Road off Alabama 67 East.