New Soring Inspections Beef Up Celebration Plan

Exhibitors at the 70th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration will be scrutinized more closely than ever before. Officials and organizers have adopted new inspection measures to send the message that Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations will not be tolerated at the event.

"We're aiming for 100% compliance," said Celebration Chief Executive Officer Doyle Meadows, PhD, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Tennessee.

The new strategies expand the event's operating plan from 2007 to include pre-performance tack inspections, specifically to detect pain-causing foreign objects hidden beneath girths, and eye screenings for the presence of atropine, a chemical that ophthalmologists use to dilate patients' pupils. Use of the drug is thought to make horses step higher in order to compensate for their limited vision.

Random barn inspections, drug screenings, hoof inspections, restricted access to inspection areas, and other measures will carry over from the 2007 plan.

"We're starting to see social change. Young trainers want to be compliant. They love this horse and they want to be a cut above what some people were doing in the past."
--Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows

Directors beefed up security and inspection rules last year to restore the Celebration's image, potentially tarnished in 2006 when inspectors temporarily shut down the event after finding a high rate of noncompliance with the HPA and violations of Tennessee's anti-soring laws. When several top competitors declined to participate, no World Champion was crowned that year. (Read more.)

Stricter rule enforcement and meticulous inspections resulted in a 98% HPA compliance rate at the 2007 Celebration.

But Meadows wants to do more than pick up two more compliance percentage points. This year, he aims to use the event's high profile to persuade remaining intractable trainers and owners that there is no benefit in clinging to soring and other suspect practices.

"We can afford to do the drug testing and adopt the security measures smaller shows can't," Meadows said. "We can set the example. We can let them know that if they're noncompliant, they're cheating."

However, USDA National Horse Protection coordinator Rachel Cezar, DVM, has reservations that a single event can foster industrywide change.

"The Celebration is the biggest event for this breed," she said. "And the public attention it gets can make a difference. We always hope for 100% compliance, but ending soring and other HPA violations is a work in progress."

Still, Meadows believes the tide is turning.

"We're starting to see social change," he said. "Young trainers want to be compliant. They love this horse and they want to be a cut above what some people were doing in the past."

The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration takes place Aug 20-30 in Shelbyville, Tenn.

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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