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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Walking Horse Celebration Shuts Down Over Soring Inspector Issues

Billed as the largest horse show in North America, it boasts 4,570 entries for an 11-day show, a ten year waiting list for box seats, and $650,000 in prize money but the 68th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee was suspended after two classes had been completed on Friday.

At issue: the USDA's federal mandate to examine horses to make sure they are not "sore"; the Walking Horse trainers want to do their own inspections.

At other shows earlier in the year, trainers simply refused to show, and sometimes didn't even unload their horses, if the USDA's veterinary inspectors showed up. Some shows are large charity fundraisers, and they simply didn't take place.

The Celebration is by far the largest showcase of the breed and this type of showing, and not all classes ask horses to do "the big lick" type of gait. The show has arranged for streaming video on the internet and even pay-per-view on cable television, in addition to selling thousands of reserved-seat tickets.

According to the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, "Trainers decided not to show because USDA inspectors were checking every horse presented for inspection, an unprecedented procedure. The requests (to cancel Friday night and Saturday classes) were made to allow for meetings between the Trainers' Association, the National Horse Show Commission and the United States Department of Agriculture. Attempts at reaching a resolution to the conflicts concerning the inspection of horses prior to showing, especially concerning what is known as the scar rule, failed Friday night, prompting the cancellation."

The newspaper also says, "The USDA inspectors arrived midway through the show Thursday night, but did not inspect any horses. Friday night the USDA inspectors took an active role in the inspection process. According to reports, more than 30 horses were turned down in the first two classes, including nine in a row. Apparently, the inspection of horses participating in the Two-Year-Old Gelding class forced the trainers to make their request.

"Attorney David Broderick of Bowling Green, Ky., told Tennessee Walking Horse owners on Saturday afternoon that a lawsuit filed earlier this summer is seeking clarification of the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and could provide some long-term answers to the dispute between the industry and U.S. Department of Agriculture regulators.

"Industry personnel claim that federal regulators are being unfair in their inspections of walking horses, resulting in horses being unfairly excluded from competition. For example, Broderick said the technique of palpation, or examining a horse's leg for sensitivity by means of an inspector's touch, is sometimes done in too forceful a manner.

"Owners discussed other possible solutions with Broderick, including pressuring horse shows to hire veterinarians instead of designated qualified persons (DQPs) to inspect horse shows. It's also possible that horse owners will hire veterinarians to inspect horses before sending them into competition, in order to gather evidence which could be used to challenge the federal inspection techniques.

At the 100th anniversary Wartrace show earlier this month, many trainers opted not to show rather than subject their horses to inspection. At that show, a junior exhibitor's father complained, 'There are more people watching the inspectors than watching the horse show'," according to the newspaper.