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High Step It to Shelbyville for Tennessee Horses and History

The home of Tennessee Walking Horses. See these animals up close at the Shelbyville Walking Horse National Celebration.

At one time, Tennessee Walking Horses were commonly bred to haul people and equipment around the myriad plantations that populated the state; their gentle gait made them a comfortable ride.

Since 1980 they've been the vehicle of choice for park rangers all over the state as they patrol the grounds. Their high-stepping gait causes many people to mistake them for Clydesdales, but they're unique to Tennessee, the first breed of horse to be named after a state.

And, they are the reason that Shelbyville is known internationally. During the final weeks of summer each year – Aug. 26 through Sept. 3 this year—the town is flooded by visitors coming out for the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, which runs for 11 days and ends the Saturday night before Labor Day.

An ongoing tradition since 1939, this festival still sees hundreds of thousands of spectators each year from around the world. Horse events aside, there's a dog show, barn-decorating contest, trade fair, and plenty of food and booze—not to mention, other things to do at the end of a long show day.

Eat + Drink

New to town, Yummy Thai is a favorite dinner spot among locals for international cuisine. There's also The Coffee Break on the Square for lunch and a Farmers Market that operates on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings.

(Credit: Prichard's Distillery)

Shelbyville is the perfect home base from which to explore southern Middle Tennessee's various culinary offerings (its booze, too). When you're not mingling with equine at the Celebration grounds, spend the day hitting up the distilleries—Jack Daniel's and George Dickel are a 20-minute drive, while Prichard's and TennSouth are about 45 minutes away; or, take the time to meander around Bell Buckle, a small, picturesque railroad town which spans the equivalent of a single city block. Grab a country meal at Miller's Grocery in Christiana.


The old-timey downtown square is now alive with boutiques antique malls, from which you can easily unearth a plethora of affordable treasures. Looking for women's wear? Pink Poppy Boutique and Lemon Lane Boutique have great selections of clothing, pursues and jewelry.

(Credit: Tennessee State Parks)

Shelbyville is also a stone's throw from a handful of some of Tennessee's best state parks, including Tims Ford and Henry Horton, a great place to put a canoe in the water and soak up the lingering days of summer.


(Credit: Lane Street Inn) 

The charming, pet-friendly Lane Street Inn occupies three green acres just blocks from the Celebration grounds and blends historic character with modern amenities.

Memphis natives Eben and Emily Bryant—a wizard in the kitchen, who cooks up a magical breakfast spread each morning—rescued the derelict mansion in 2007 and have spent the better part of the last few years rehabbing the 7,000-square-foot Greek revival.

The result?

(Frank Sinatra Room, Credit: Lane Street Inn) 

(Frank Sinatra Room, Credit: Lane Street Inn) 

Five roomy suites, each with its own theme like the Frank Sinatra—a room with a distinct 1940's feel, lined with the jazz artist's albums on the walls and outfitted with a red leather settee and other Hollywood memorabilia—or the newest of the lot, the Frank Lloyd Wright, a Craftsman Mission suite including a huge modern bath with rain shower head and deep soaking tub. There's also the Sammy Davis Jr. Room, the Western-style Sierra Room, and the Asian-inspired Serenity Room; Sammy and Frank can be combined into the Rat Pack Suite for families.

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