(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves) [Order this photo]
But the representatives of these three countries who shared a table at the Blue Ribbon Circle Thursday afternoon weren't horses -- they were experts on horses. They, and about 170 other national and international experts on horse nutrition and physiology visited Shelbyville on Thursday as part of the Equine Science Society's annual symposium, being held this year in Murfreesboro.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)
Sitting next to him was Darrell Ward, also with NutraCea but based in Kentucky, who knew a lot more about walking horses than his fellow scientists and researchers were about to learn.
"We have walking horses," he said. "Some are here in training right now."
He leaned over and shook the hand of another guest, David van Doorn, of Cavalor Equine Nutrition Research, Drongen, Belgium.
"Didn't we meet at the Alltech symposium last month?" he asked.
Next to Van Doorn was Andrea Ellis of the U.K., and that same Alltech symposium in Lexington, Ky. is why she made it to Shelbyville.
"I was a specialist at the Alltech conference last week and took the opportunity to stay for this one," she said. "This is a very well known conference."
The Equine Science Society promotes quality research on equine nutrition and physiology and strives to establish effective communication among researchers, teachers, extension, and production personnel regarding equine nutrition and physiology, according to the ESS web site.
The society also conducts periodic symposia and cooperates with other organizations having similar or related interests.
This year, those interests extended to the Tennessee walking horse. The experts visited as part of a tour organized by Dr. Patrick Kayser with the MTSU Horse Science program. Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows said he thought it was a good opportunity to educate others on the walking horse and the issues surrounding the industry.
He addressed the crowd as they ate, giving them a brief history and introduction to the Celebration and other walking horse agencies, such as the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association, Walking Horse Trainers' Association and Walking Horse Owners Association.
He then turned his attention to the issue affecting the walking horse industry the most -- soring (the act of deliberately injuring a horse to create a higher stride or otherwise "improve" its performance), the Horse Protection Act and all it has entailed.
Meadows explained the evolution of the Celebration's Horse Show Industry, S.H.O.W., and how it has come to improve the horse inspection process and relations with the USDA.
"Last month, the USDA went to a show in Kentucky and shut it down," he said. "Last week, they were here at the Spring Fun Show and never presented a ticket. They never inspected behind a DQP (designated qualified person).
Meadows said the organization has been working hard to bring trainers and horses into compliance.
"We've made some enemies along the way," he admitted. "Some people don't want to show compliant horses and they've gone their own way."
The improvement in how horses are trained and treated is noticeable, he said, adding that the Horse Protection Act was created -- and needed to be -- because of cruel training practices that left the animals sored and even openly bleeding.
"If they went and looked at the hooves on the horses in the barns these days, no one would have ever have thought to call for a horse protection act," he said. "They wouldn't have seen the need.
"We've come a long way since 1971," Meadows added. "I won't tell you that it's perfect because it's not. We've come a long way in the last 24 months -- and we still have a long way to go."
Dr. Dave Whitaker, director of public service for the MTSU Horse Program, further enlightened everyone as to how the Tennessee Walking Horse breed developed to meet the needs for the Middle Tennessee area at the time and then evolved into the show industry as it is today.
A display table showed visitors the different types of shoes, from simple keg shoes to the performance pads. After the luncheon, Tony Edwards of S.H.O.W. gave a DQP inspection demonstration and Dr. Steve Mullins, director of S.H.O.W., explained the process and answered questions.
The visitors then got to see some horses in action as different riders demonstrated the different styles, from flat shod to park pleasure to performance.
Hunter Morgan rode A Red Ruby, the 2010 World Grand Champion and recent 2011 Fun Show Champion Country Pleasure Horse, and MacKenzie Morgan then demonstrated her 2010 Trail Pleasure WGC, Good 'Til The Last Drop.
For the Lite Shod division, Lori Toone rode three-time WGC Red Sunday's Best and for the Park Horse division, Bobby Richards demonstrated on "Josés No Counting Me Out."
Justin Harris exhibited two performance horses, the 3-year-old stallion I'm Innocent and 2009 4-Year-Old WGC stallion Lined Walkin'. The demonstration ended with five of the horses being put on the rail at the same time for the group to observe the differences in their performance.
"The tour was a great opportunity for our industry to showcase the Tennessee Walking Horse to almost 200 equine professors and instructors from across the United States and five foreign countries," said Meadows. "I certainly want to thank Dr. Steve Mullins and Tony Edwards for playing a major role in the Equine Science Society Walking Horse Tour and our local trainers, Lori Toone, Bobby Richards and Justin Harris for providing a wonderful set of exhibition horses for this group."
After leaving the Celebration grounds, the three tour buses took the visitors for a tour of Waterfall Farms.