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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Best feet foward: Horses inspected thoroughly at Fun Show

Sunday, May 27, 2012

SHOW DQPs inspect horses at Thursday night's Fun Show.
(T-G Photo by Mitchell Petty)
It was only the first day of the Spring Fun Show, but the seats looked sparsely full. The Champions Arena adjacent to Calsonic Arena was a different story, however.

Trainers, owners, media members and inspectors from SHOW and the USDA congested the warm-up ring, all looking for different things.

Trainers and owners prepped their horses for the show ring, inspectors looked for signs of soring or numbing agents, and the media hoped to gain a clearer understanding of the inspection process and its aim to ensure a clean show.

How it works

Dr. Stephen Mullins, president of SHOW Horse Industry Organization (HIO), explained the inspection process employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture certified inspection service.

An HIO is an industry group charged with inspecting horses at shows. SHOW is the largest inspection group.

A horse stands at attention as inspectors look over one of its feet.
(T-G Photo by Mitchell Petty)
"The horses come in and walk a set of cones to watch their animation and see how freely they walk," Mullins said. "Then, SHOW Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) will inspect the back of the foot for pitting, granulation or scarring."

The DQPs used by SHOW are in no way affiliated with the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry, according to Mullins.

Step by step

"Next they digitally palpate them," Mullins continued. "If chemicals are present, the horse will react to the palpation. Then some of them go through the USDA inspection. If this were The Celebration, the USDA would have an X-ray machine."

Once the horse has been approved by SHOW and the USDA, they are confined to the Champions Arena warm-up area where another SHOW DQP will monitor them. Another DQP watches the show ring. Finally, the winning and other top placing horses will go through a post-show inspection.

Some of the things the warm-up DQP monitors will look for include screws and non-plastic action devices weighing more than six ounces.

Mullins also pointed out that each inspection is recorded on video. At Thursday's inspections, three cameras belonging to both SHOW and the USDA were blinking red. The videos are monitored and reviewed as SHOW continues to define the characteristics of a "bad image" horse.

Chemical tests

Of course, there's the question of numbing agents, such as lidocaine, that will allow a horse to undergo prodding without reaction.

"It'd be real hard to cheat," said Mullins. "Let's say they use numbing agents on the horses. We have a swab that tests for those."

A closer look at a horse's ankle as it undergoes inspection.
(T-G Photo by Mitchell Petty)
These swabs take 15 days or more to produce testing results, and cost around $75.

According to Walking Horse Trainers' Association President Jamie Hankins, the organization is setting up a firm that will work towards producing technology that will allow for a faster, cheaper swab to help eliminate the use of numbing agents.


One of the flaws of the inspection process has to do with subjectivity, Hankins said.

"Is that guy going to push the same as that guy?" Hankins asked. "Is that horse going to get tired of [the process] and decide it wants to leave?

"The more you can turn it over to science and technology, the less subjective the process will be."

"I'd like to see the technology, science and professionalism of SHOW spread to other HIOs," he added. "And I think the USDA can help us with this."

Cost concerns

State Rep. Pat Marsh, a member of the Celebration board of directors, thinks that the future stability of the industry is well within reach.

"Even if the horses pick up their feet six inches lower, but perform more naturally, the show can still go on and everyone will be satisfied," Marsh said.

However, he's worried about how much The Celebration is having to spend to ensure its compliance with the USDA and the Horse Protection Act.

The Celebration has spent about $500,000 since 2009 to fund SHOW, Marsh said.

Other shows

Many shows who have dropped out due to fear of USDA inspection now use other HIOs for the process -- some of which horse industry officials say are doing a pretty good job.

But, there are many other shows in more rural areas that aren't affiliated with anyone.

The USDA sometimes shies away from those shows due to fear of threats and rebellion, according to Mullins.

This is where the real problems are, Mullins said, and this is where the government needs to be.

"They focus on SHOW-affiliated events -- most of which are in middle Tennessee -- because they are in the hub, the spotlight," Marsh explained. "Yet these shows are not the ones with the problems.."

Back to fun

"We can't afford this much longer," Marsh added. "We've got to make the horse show fun again."

According to Marsh, The Celebration is debating requiring trainers who show on the Celebration grounds to stable their horses on the premises.

All trainers once followed this practice, he said, but some are now afraid to do this because they're afraid of barn inspections.

The bottom line is that SHOW, The Celebration, the Trainers' Association and the USDA hope to eradicate inhumane training practices and level the playing field for all involved.

"Some horses are gifted with their back end, and some are gifted with their front end," Hankins said. "A better horse on both ends makes for a super-talented animal. A lot of the first-place horses will come out the cleanest because they're naturally gifted."

T-G Editor Sadie Fowler also attended SHOW and USDA inspections on Thursday, and contributed to this report.

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