While the Celebration brings visitors, horses and cash flow to Bedford County, it often brings controversy as well. In recent years, relations between government inspectors, trainers and Horse Industry Organizations have been tense and entire organizations have had their boards of directors shuffled or even dissolved.
With the Celebration's HIO, SHOW (Sound horses, Honest judging, Objective inspections, Winning fairly) taking over for the National Horse Show Commission, CEO Dr. Doyle Meadows has been working closely with the USDA and trainers to ease some of those tensions.
SHOW Compliance Coordinators Dr. Steve Mullins and Dr. John Bennett met with USDA officials on Friday in Nashville to review inspection protocol for the upcoming show and after the meeting, Mullins and Bennett released the following reminders and notices for Celebration participants.
* The inspection station will be moved to the north end of Calsonic Arena allowing horses to enter inspection as soon as they enter the Calsonic Arena warm-up area.
* The USDA is expected to be in attendance for the entire show and will utilize thermography and have radiology available for use if needed.
* Designated Qualified Persons (DQP) will inspect trailers as they enter the show grounds.
* Veterinary Medical Officers (VMO) will be on the grounds monitoring the barns and stable areas.
* Escorts will be an addition this year to the show. Entries going back through inspection after the class will have escorts from the ring to the inspection station. Escorts will include VMOs, DQPs and SHOW Stewards. Some championship class entries will also have escorts from the pre-inspection station to the show ring.
* USDA VMOs may inspect class winners after their performance and first, second and third place entries will go through post-show inspection from either DQPs or VMOs. Also, all excused horses will be re-inspected.
* As a reminder, no action devices over six ounces or plastic will be allowed on the show grounds at any time. Also, no screwdrivers will be allowed in the warm-up area of Calsonic Arena or Champions Arena.
A delegation representing SHOW, Bedford County and Task Force members met in Washington with USDA officials Kevin Shea and Chester Gipson, DVM on Thursday, Aug. 13. The meeting was arranged by Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon who also attended.
The meeting was hosted at the USDA offices and lasted almost 2 1/2 hours. There was a candid and open discussion of past issues and a dialogue of open communication was established to assure a better working relationship between SHOW and the USDA. SHOW pledged to work with the USDA to achieve the goal of finding and eliminating the sore horse with the goal of 100 percent compliance.
As a first step, Gipson will be meeting with SHOW Compliance Coordinators Bennett and Mullins in Nashville prior to the Celebration to review details associated with the inspections at the Celebration as well as the future of SHOW's enforcement program. Gipson indicated that the inspection program at the Celebration will be substantially the same as in 2008 with increased emphasis on three areas: chain weight, policing of the warm-up area and increased inspections of horses tied in classes, specifically first place horses.
Representing SHOW at the meeting was Chairman Charles McDonald, board member David Howard, CEO Dr. Doyle Meadows, Bennett and Mullins. Task force members attending were Mike Davis, Mike McGartland and Lee McGartland. County Mayor Eugene Ray spoke on behalf of Bedford County.
The meeting with Gipson isn't the only one scheduled. Horse industry leaders from across the United States will meet at the Celebration Sept. 3 and 4 to develop an action plan from areas identified at the 2009 Fun Show, according to a press release from the Celebration.
At the Fun Show several areas were identified by the initial group as to their positive influence, negative perception and what can be done to impact each area as the industry moves forward. After action items are addressed, a full report will be presented to the SHOW/Celebration Board of Directors for their consideration and implementation.
"I am excited this group cares enough about the horse industry and specifically the walking horse industry to take time away from their schedule to assist our industry," said Meadows, CEO of SHOW/Celebration. Meadows hopes the report will be made public this fall.
The stewardship program, which includes monitoring of the warm-up ring and videoing of horses, was started on a trial basis this summer and will continue. The program, headed by Spencer Benedict, is being implemented to assure the positive image of the show horse, stated a press release from the Celebration.
"We are committed to the continued improvement of the Steward Program and making sure it accomplishes the goals of the SHOW HIO," said Benedict. "It is in the infant stage and we will continue to make changes and listen to suggestions as we shoot for a program to implement long term."
The videos will be monitored and reviewed as the SHOW HIO continues to define the characteristics of a "bad image" horse.
"As with any new program we learned some things that worked and some things that needed to be modified," said Benedict. "Our goal is to establish the guidelines for the positive image of our horse so that everyone has a clear understanding of what is acceptable and what is not. We want this to be a team effort so that we can continue to improve and be able to present a horse that all of us are proud of."
Several trainers and or owners have been ticketed in recent months as both SHOW and the USDA push for sound horses in the show ring, as well as humane treatment for the horses. Josh Walls, a Shelbyville walking horse trainer, withdrew his appeal to SHOW for a horse swapping incident at the 2009. In a separate incident, Laurie Toone was placed on one-year probation for an incident at the International Walking Horse Show. Additionally, Toone received a Letter of Warning for a conflict with horse show management at the TWHBEA World Versatility Show.
Recently, after one horse failed to pass inspection on several levels, Chris Zahnd, Dallas Proctor (the trainer of record on the entry form) and Wayne Dotson, the custodian of the entry, were handed lifetime suspensions from the industry.
"Dotson and Swingin' Gate Stables presented an entry for inspection and Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) Keith Davis and Tony Edwards found the entry to be in extreme discomfort," stated the press release.
Zahnd alone appealed the ruling, but then agreed to serve the lifetime suspension previously handed down by SHOW HIO and did not go forward with the hearing.
SHOW also levied additional penalties against Zahnd by prohibiting him from being present on the grounds of any SHOW HIO affiliated event during his suspension. As part of Zahnd's penalty, he will have no opportunity to apply for reinstatement for a minimum of five years from the start date of his suspension. After the expiration of five years, any re-application by Zahnd would be ruled on by the SHOW Board.
Zahnd's agreement to accept the lifetime suspension and additional penalties also included a full and final release of SHOW HIO and The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration from any potential liability associated with this matter. Consequently, Zahnd will have no ability to seek relief from the penalties imposed against him.
"The penalties administered to Zahnd, Proctor and Dotson are the strongest penalties ever given in the Walking Horse industry," stated the press release. "The lifetime suspensions were administered as a result of events at the Woodbury Lions Club Horse in Woodbury on July 4, 2009. SHOW issued violations for bad image, not leading, bilateral sensitivity and use of a cruel device to aid in checking."
Walls received a one-year suspension for swapping horses at the Bedford County FFA Horse Show on June 26.
"We are very concerned and disappointed about the events of last night," said Meadows at the time of the original incident. "However this is why we have the inspection process and we are committed to the showing of sound horses. It is important for all of us to remember this is an isolated incident and will be dealt with swiftly and seriously. Overall I am very proud of the horses being presented this weekend and the industry doesn't need to let isolated events undermine the great strides being made by SHOW and our inspector."