'What A Horse' seeks city funding

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A supporter of the Celebration told Shelbyville City Council that the recent controversy surrounding soring and inspections of walking horses is having an enormous negative impact on the region's economy.

And unless something is done, he said, this situation could get much worse for the county.

Jerry Harris appeared before the city council Tuesday night to request sponsorship for the cable TV show "What A Horse."

He proposed a sponsorship split with the city and county of $6,000 per year each for the show, which is shown on Charter Cable Channel 6, as well as on stations in Kentucky, Alabama and on the Internet.

Harris said that sponsoring the show would help promote Bedford County and the walking horse industry. He said they want to boost attendance at horse shows, get more people interested in the industry and "bring business back to Shelbyville."

He said that the walking horse industry not only brings in millions of dollars to Shelbyville during the Celebration, but also supports smaller shows, horse sales and the purchase of real estate in the area.

The show would promote both the city and the county, Harris said.

Funds "way off"

Harris said the controversy over walking horses has created a negative impact on the economy of both the city and the county.

"Barns, horses are selling, people getting out of the industry," Harris said. "A lot of charities are 40 percent off (of their fundraising) and business are 30 to 71 percent off of their business from last year and the year before."

A large amount of money from the Celebration goes to organizations like 4-H, girls soccer, the Lions Club, Rotary, Kiwanis, the VFW, the Tony Rice Center, Relay for Life, and others, Harris said, and their funds are "way off."

"Used to be, when you went to the Celebration, the seats were full. That's not true anymore."

Harris spoke of a field on U.S. 41, where a breeder operates, that used to be full of horses, and "now there are only one or two."

Many businesses are dependent on the horse industry, and their sales are way down as well, which also impacts property taxes, Harris said.

"What I'm hearing," said councilman Al Stephenson, "is until they stop soring these horses, we ain't going to have a horse show."

Stephenson pointed out that at the recent Trainers' Show, there were only two to three horses in each class.

Harris said the industry had a problem in the past with soring that had been "ongoing for years."

"There's a new sheriff out there," Harris said, referring to new Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows. "(Meadows) is not going to put up with it. Dr. Mullins is not going to put up with it. Dr. Bennett is not going to put up with it."

The cause?

Harris said that it isn't the professional trainers, but amateur trainers who are causing the problems.

"Out of the tickets we got this past weekend, 75 percent of them [are] not the trainers, it's the individuals who bring horses," Harris said.

Harris also said there is a problem with horses that come from Kentucky. He said he recently went to a Kentucky HIO (sanctioned) show "and I'll never go back to another one.

"If you go to shows now, you're going to see good compliant horses," Harris said.

Because of the soring controversy, Harris said his show has lost a lot of sponsorships and he and his business partners are financing the production themselves because they have contacts for airtime on channels all over Tennessee.

Harris also said he "doesn't put a whole lot of stock in government inspectors," adding that he has been shooting video of the horses and the inspections.

"They will turn down a horse that is compliant," Harris claimed. "We've proven it."

Harris claimed that there was no one horse turned down at the Trainers' Show where two VMO's (veterinary medical officers) agreed there was a violation. "Every ticket they gave, as far as I'm concerned, they're illegal. They would not have a second opinion," Harris said.

He said one horse was turned down Thursday night, which returned to win on Friday, but was given another ticket Saturday night.

Problems with inspectors?

Harris blames the problem with the inspections on "overzealousness ... or people just plain trying to ruin something's that good."

He said one horse that was given a "scar" ticket in Shelbyville was later inspected in Kentucky at a facility that he described as "the Vanderbilt Medical Center for horses" and nothing was found to be wrong with the animal.

Harris said, "I don't know whether it's some of them (the inspectors) just wanting to find something or..."

"Maybe they just want to ruin the industry," Stephenson said. "That's what I believe. They're bringing all these machines down here and they've got to find something wrong."

"It's ridiculous some of the stuff they will do," Harris said, adding that he has video proof of all of his accusations. He said a DQP (designated qualified person) would find a problem with a horse that a VMO can not detect.

"The VMO will say 'there's nothing wrong with your horse but the DQP is writing you up,'" Harris said.

Stephenson said people are becoming afraid to bring their horses to the shows because of the issues with the inspections.

Others are currently working to make the inspectors more accountable, Harris said.

Harris said that things are looking better for the industry, "but it's going to take some time."