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Efforts to end horse soring go ‘all out’
AP, Celebration & Staff Reports
If it’s true that “money talks,” then some unusual offers are being made involving the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration that opens Wednesday morning in Shelbyville.
Evening classes do not begin until Thursday. There are 177 classes, the final one to crown the world champion on Sept. 1.
The first of the “money talks” promotion is a $10,000 Celebration giveaway spread over the 10 nights in an attempt to fill the stadium.
Celebration officials apparently see this as a way to help offset the devastation created by a series of events exposing the dark underbelly of the industry pertaining to horse soring.
In an unprecedented move, Celebration Association Membership has announced that $10,000 in cash will be given away in nightly drawings during the 10 nights of the Celebration.
On each of the 10 nights at 8:30 p.m. in center ring, a drawing will be held in which participants can win from $500 to $3,000 per night. The winner will have 10 minutes to claim the prize.
“All you have to do is register at any of our sponsored locations and be present at the horse show in order to have a chance to win the prize money,” said Donna Stone, promotional chairman and Celebration Association member.
“This promotion is being funded by local individuals, financial institutions and businesses,” said Stone. “They understand how much the Celebration contributes to our community and they wanted to take a hand in reaching out to our citizens and encourage folks to come back to the Celebration.”
Anyone will be able to register at the sponsor’s business or at any of the participating vendors on the Celebration grounds prior to each night’s drawing.
The second money offer comes from The Humane Society of the United States which has launched a hotline and reward for people to call in tips about abuse of walking horses.
The group says its number and $10,000 reward are posted on a billboard near the site of the Celebration.
To further scrub the industry as clean as possible, the Celebration is changing procedures used to detect signs that a trainer has applied painful chemicals to the horses’ legs.
The Celebration is considered the biggest show for Tennessee walking horses, which were first bred in the late ‘20s as a smooth-gaited plantation horse. It has now evolved into a breed that is judged in competitions for its high-stepping gait. But soring, banned by the federal Horse Protection Act, uses chemicals and other devices that painfully induce the horses to step higher.
In addition to a physical inspection by the U. S. Department of Agriculture looking for signs of abuse, each horse entered in the Celebration will now be swabbed for chemicals that harm the horse or mask soring.
The show’s board of directors announced in a news release that for the first time, it will make the results of those chemical tests public and it will result in trainers immediately losing their trophies and prize money if caught abusing horses.
While in the past the results of such chemical testing could be delayed, the show’s board of directors decided to pay for expedited results so that they will be available during the event that begins today and runs through Sept. 1.
“The Celebration is the premier Tennessee walking horse event in the world, so it is only fitting that we lead the way in reforming the industry so that all horses are treated humanely and trained in a safe environment,” said Dr. Doyle Meadows, CEO of the Celebration who is retiring Oct. 31. He will be succeeded by Mike Inman of Bessemer, Ala., who with wife Karen own and exhibit walking horses.
The industry has long struggled to rid itself of allegations of abuse, and this year the catalyst came in the form of an undercover video. The Humane Society of the United States released nationwide the undercover video taken at a trainer’s barn of horses being beaten and treated with chemicals to create the “big lick” gait that wins prizes and awards at shows across the country.
On the other side of the coin, the reaction from the stands may share part of the blame for soring as the crowd screams its appreciation for contenders that can consistently produce “the biggest lick.”
In the federal case stemming from the video, horse trainer Jackie McConnell of Collierville was indicted earlier this year and pleaded guilty to violating the Horse Protection Act. He awaits sentencing.
The USDA implemented a new rule this summer mandating stiffer penalties for soring and other related violations, and other walking horse groups, including the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association, have also started new testing and penalties this year.
Meadows says the group’s top priority is horse safety. He says the Celebration goes “above and beyond” to ensure all horses are trained safely and humanely and partners with a strict horse inspection organization.
The Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization also has a form for people to report suspected abuse on its website.
Also in recent action, the Walking Horse Trainers Association announced that results of swab tests to detect soring will be posted online within 24 hours. If the swabs detect chemicals, those horses and their trainers will be immediately suspended from the Celebration.