Cel­e­bra­tion steps up ef­fort to curb Ten­nessee walk­ing horse abuse

Or­ga­niz­ers say an­i­mals bet­ter off than ever

The Covington News - - AGRICULTURE & OUTDOORS - By Kristin M. Hall

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Or­ga­niz­ers of the largest Ten­nessee walk­ing horse show say they are fi­nally tak­ing ac­tion to curb the phys­i­cal abuse that has scarred the breed’s im­age.

“For 68 years, we kind of sat back in a role of in­de­pen­dence, and let the in­dus­try han­dle its own prob­lems,” said Ron Thomas, CEO of the Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse Na­tional Cel­e­bra­tion, which be­gins Wed­nes­day in Shel­byville.

“Af­ter last year, we saw all the neg­a­tive events that played out on our stage, and we couldn’t sit back and let that hap­pen again.”

The 11-day show ended abruptly in 2006 af­ter fed­eral agri­cul­tural in­spec­tors dis­qual­i­fied sev­eral of the breed’s top horses. In­spec­tors look for signs of sor­ing, a type of abuse used to ex­ag­ger­ate the breed’s nat­u­ral high-step­ping gait in the show ring.

The dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions caused such an up­roar that off-duty High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cers who were work­ing as se­cu­rity en­cour­aged U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture of­fi­cials to leave as crowds of up­set horse­men gath­ered.

The can­cel­la­tion of the World Grand Cham­pi­onship class sparked heated pub­lic hear­ings about changes to the in­spec­tion and train­ing rules for walk­ing horses.

“I think it was a great wakeup call,” Thomas said. “Th­ese horses have to be treated and trained bet­ter.”

Sor­ing prac­tices in­clude us­ing caus­tic chem­i­cals, painful shoe- ing and other tech­niques to make hooves ten­der which causes the horse to prance del­i­cately in the ring, a unique gait also known as the “Big Lick.”

In ad­di­tion to tougher fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, the Cel­e­bra­tion has added new rules de­signed to gain back the pub­lic’s trust in the mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar horse show cir­cuit.

In­spec­tors will be able to re­move shoes to check the weight, hoof-testers will be used to check for in­flam­ma­tion inside the foot and stalls on the stage grounds will be open for ran­dom in­spec­tions. Ad­di­tional se­cu­rity mea­sures will help to pre­vent an­other crowd from form­ing if horses are dis­qual­i­fied, Thomas said.

“The prob­lem ended up be­ing an un­e­d­u­cated, mob men­tal­ity,” Thomas said. “They were scream­ing and yelling. If there is an is­sue this year, we’re go­ing to se­cure the area.”

Ear­lier this year, the USDA an­nounced tough­ened reg­u­la­tions de­signed to keep train­ers and own­ers who vi­o­late the rules out of shows and sales.

Martha Day, an in­spec­tion and an­i­mal wel­fare di­rec­tor with the Na­tional Walk­ing Horse As­so­ci­a­tion, said the USDA’s in­creased en­force­ment put a spot­light on a prob­lem that had been ig­nored for a long time.

“I think it brought pub­lic aware­ness and helped move for­ward with what needs to be done,” Day said.

Nev­er­the­less, Day said she still sees walk­ing horses en­tered into shows that are in such pain they can’t stand up through in­spec­tions.

“Just within the past 12 months, I in­spected a horse and it was so sore, when I picked up the hoof to pal­pate, the horse just fell down right on me,” Day said.

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