(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
Inspectors representing SHOW (Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections and Winning Fairly), the Celebration-sanctioned horse industry organization that ensures horses are in compliance with the Horse Protection Act, passed all but two horses of the 15 that showed up for the aged stallion competition classes.
But USDA officials denied six more horses from competing, including two which had already passed pre-class inspection by those same USDA veterinary medical officers (VMOs).
At least one trainer and the veterinarian who oversees the SHOW inspectors say one VMO is too inexperienced to judge the Celebration.
"I think the VMOs were not experienced at all," said Dr. Steve Mullins, adding that he had expressed his concerns about the alleged inexperienced inspector. "The answer I got was, 'He's learning on the job.' Learning on the job? At the world championship horse show?"
Dr. Doyle Meadows, Celebration chief executive officer, also agreed some of the USDA inspectors are not experienced enough.
"All our trainers want is for people who are fair and consistent," Meadows said. "You can't have VMOs check horses two times a year and be consistent."
SHOW inspectors, known as designated qualified persons (DQPs), are charged with inspecting horses for the Celebration and many other shows throughout the year, but the USDA's VMOs are allowed to inspect as well -- and they have the final say in who shows.
"I stand behind my guys," said Mullins, referring to the SHOW inspectors. "They are committed -- committed -- to keeping sore horses out ... The government (USDA inspectors) have bragged on us all year long, and they wanted to make a statement. And they did," said Mullins, wondering why USDA inspectors suddenly differed with SHOW inspectors' calls.
Of the six horses turned down by the USDA VMOs, five of those were inspected both pre- and post-show by multiple American Association of Equine Practitioners veterinarians, all of whom said the horses were in compliance, Mullins said.
Mullins said industry DQPs inspected 20,000 horses last year and 12,000 horses this year to the approval of the USDA. He said the USDA chose to inspect about 2,000 horses alongside the industry inspectors this year and the two organizations only disagreed on whether or not about three horses were fit to show, Mullins said.
At press time, the USDA had not yet answered the T-G's request for more information about the experience level of USDA inspectors at Saturday night's show.
In an article published in Sunday's Tennessean, well-known and respected trainer Jimmy McConnell shared his comments after his two contenders were turned down.
Dark & Shady was turned down prior to the B section and his second contender, Up For Parole, was cited for a violation of the scar rule -- a rule that's been said by industry leaders to involve too much subjectivity -- after he showed in the A section.
"They were unreasonable," McConnell told the Tennessean. "The one that checked my horse didn't know what he was doing. His first show was Jackson, Miss., (March 31-April 2, 2011) and here he is checking the world championship show. That doesn't make any sense."
McConnell, who has earned the World Grand Championship honors three times since 2004, declined to comment further when contacted by the T-G.
In 1974, the Horse Protection Act was passed to protect horses from being "sored" to achieve a higher, more extreme gait.
In 2006, the industry came under fire by the USDA when only a handful of horses passed inspection before the Celebration's World Grand Championship class. One of the horses which did pass that year, Rowdy Rev, a four-time world champion and a favorite going into this year's show, did not pass inspection Saturday.
"My understanding is that he bumped himself getting off the trailer and they were hoping he'd make it through and show, but he didn't," Mullins said.
Bill Bobo, trainer of Rowdy Rev, owned by Bill Harlin of College Grove, expressed his disappointment in not getting to show but said the show must go on.
"I hate it for the horse and the owner," Bobo said. "But he (the owner) knows this is the horse business and it's all part of it ... Once a horse is turned down they can't show back so (this year's show) is over ... (Harlin) wants to continue to show him. There's a show in Sparta next week and he wants to show him there. We'll try him again next year."
Saturday night, nine horses competed in the aged stallions splits, classes 80A and 80B. Folsom Prison Blues, ridden by Rodney Dick of Unionville won the A division. Gary Edwards of Dawson, Ga., won the B division with Game World.
Puttin' Cash On The Line with Justin Harris up took reserve in the A division. The Golden Sovereign with Tim Smith finished reserve in the B division but that was taken away when he was cited for a scar rule violation following the class.
Meadows said walking horses are the only breed he knows that is inspected to the degree of the walking horse.
"I'm not a fan of post-show inspections," he said. "If you've ever shown a horse then you understand that there are so many things that can happen (during the show), just like with a human athlete."
In addition to Dark & Shady, Rowdy Rev, and The Golden Sovereign, Moody Star is another well-known contender which will not be eligible for the World Grand Championship Saturday night. He is last year's reserve world champion.
The Celebration activated SHOW two years ago to oversee the inspection process. "We activated SHOW and made a commitment to enforce the Horse Protection Act because it's the law," Meadows said.
"We established a comprehensive and consistent inspection program that would assure us that only compliant horses would be allowed to show. Dr. Steve Mullins and Tony Edwards, DQP coordinator, have done the industry a tremendous service with the organization of SHOW," he said
"These DQPs, who do not have conflicts of interest, check horses every week and I have more confidence in them than anyone else that is hired to enforce the Horse Protection Act."
Meadows said overall, he feels like the inspections this week have gone well. He is hopeful the World Grand Championship class will be strong. Nine preliminary classes qualify for the big stake so more entries could make it to Saturday's championship.