Soring Controversy Shuts Down Show

In the wake of controversy over soring violations at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., in August, the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) is aggressively pitching its plan to promote consistency in USDA inspections at horse shows.

Friction over interpretations of USDA scarring rules have plagued Tennessee Walking Horse events all season, but came to a head at the National Celebration when USDA issued 225 violations/disqualifications under Horse Protection Act rules that prohibit soring. The "noncompliance" findings resulted in heated exchanges between trainers and inspectors.

Event organizers temporarily halted competition and postponed preliminary classes at the event on Friday, Aug. 25, until the evening of Aug. 26 at the request of trainers who complained that "inspections were getting out of hand," according to Chip Walters, Celebration public and media relations director.

The show resumed on Saturday evening, with preliminary, pleasure and amateur classes, Walters said, but since several horses and trainers at the event were barred from championship completion, there were too few exhibitors to compete in the championship class.

"Initially, we thought we would have five of eight competitors in the championship class, then we learned three had left and weren't coming, so there was no class," Walters said.

As a result no national champion was chosen for the first time in the event's 68-year history.

"The situation was that the DQPs (designated qualified professionals) were seeing some of these horses for the very first time," said USDA Horse Protection Coordinator Todd Behre, DVM.

That's because, said Behre, many National Celebration exhibitors whose horses were likely to show soring signs had opted out of earlier shows where USDA inspectors were present, rather than risk becoming suspended or banned from competition earlier in the season. According to Behre, trainers did not expect inspectors to be so strict in their rule enforcement at the Celebration.

"One trainer told a DQP 'Your job is to get this horse into the ring'," Behre said.

TWHBEA President Jerrold Pedigo said his organization has been working with Tennessee Walking Horse industry organizations nationwide on its Horse Industry Organization (HIO) Sanctioning Plan for more than a year to standardize training procedures and establish a standardized rulebook for certified DQPs who carry out USDA inspections at horse shows.

"It's not that the law is vague," said Pedigo. "It's all about interpretation."

Outlawed with the passage of the Horse Protection Ace in 1970, soring is a practice whereby horses are subjected to deliberate skin lacerations around their hooves or the application of caustic chemicals such as diesel fuel, kerosene, or lighter fluid to irritate their forelegs, thereby achieving higher stepping animation.

The HIO Sanctioning Plan establishes a committee of representatives from sanctioned horse industry organizations headed by a certified veterinarian to establish standardized training procedures for inspectors. The plan also calls for clear and consistent guidelines for interpreting the results of inspections under USDA regulations.

"There are as many as 100 DQPs who receive training and certification through the USDA over a single weekend in various locations each year," Pedigo said. "Often it's difficult to have that many people understand the process and--perhaps more importantly--understand the inspectors' conclusions. We want to make training available so that no matter what the region, inspections will be carried out consistently."

While Behre says the TWHBEA effort is laudable, it's not enough to eradicate the soring practice completely.

"What it takes is pressure from the associations to change members' minds about soring," he said. "That's not going to happen overnight."

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Walking Horse Association has cancelled its annual Kentucky Walking Horse Celebration on Sept. 20-23 in Liberty, Ky.

"It's not a protest, really," Kentucky Walking Horse Association President Earl Rogers Jr. said. "It's that we felt we couldn't make any money. Many of the competitors could not come because they're either suspended or banned from the shows."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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