Hawkinsville Harness and BBQ Cook-Off festival underway

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HAWKINSVILLE, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Horse lovers from around the world are in Hawkinsville this weekend for the two-day harness festival.

"It’s the only place in Georgia you can see harness racing," says the 42nd Annual Hawkinsville Harness Festival Chairperson Chelsea Tyner.

Organizers say the harness festival brings in more than $2.6 million each year. Aaron Bennett of Bennett Farms brought three horses to train at the Hawkinsville Stables.

“They’re here for the winter to prepare for the race next summer and ours are going to Indiana,” says Bennett. “But, there’s a lot of them down here from Pennsylvania to Ohio, Ontario and some back to Michigan."

One of his horses is named “Victory.” Bennett says did pretty good during a trail run Friday.

"He trained this morning and went a mile in two-minutes and five seconds," added Bennett.

Even though Bennett’s thoroughbreds will not compete at this annual event, Bennett says he’s looking forward to watching the races, and checking out some of this year’s new events, likes a bar-b-que cook-off.

"Hawkinsville is where I won my first trophy and that’s what got me started in this mess and that’s the reason I’m broke now," laughed Walter McDowell.

Nearly 19 teams will compete for the top prize of $1,500.

“It’s a great competition,” says Jim Sewell, Vice President of Georgia Barbeque Association (GBA). “The GBA is really an up and coming organization. We do about 20 to 22 contest a year throughout the state of Georgia."

The Hawkinsville Harness festival will also feature a massive Easter egg hunt. Organizers say they are planning to hide more than 1,000 eggs.

"It’s for children 10 and under,” explained Tyner. “I think that will be neat to tie in Easter on this weekend and to the festival."

Other festivities include the Taylor Regional Hospital 5K Run, live bands and a ComSouth fireworks show.

"We do this festival to kind of give back to the horsemen," says Lee Slade, President of Hawkinsville City Chamber. “They wind up the training with racing their best horses.”