WHITE PINE, Tenn. – Bill Hawks was invited to speak Friday night, June 20, 2008, following the show at the East Tennessee Classic. It was announced throughout the evening that all owners and trainers were encouraged to attend.

Bill Hawks is contracted by the WHTA to work with the USDA in Horse Protection and inspection areas. Hawks stated that the purpose of the meeting was to inform everyone of what they had done so far this year and last year.

Hawks introduced Link Webb, president of the WHTA, and stated that Webb had done a great job in working with the USDA. He said that they had been able to keep dialogue open in all areas of the industry and that advances had been made in working collectively with the AAEP. Hawks stated that the general atmosphere this year was much better than in the past.

“The industry is doing a good job,” Hawks said. “We’re in Washington working for you. You, the owners and trainers, have made the difference. You have been putting your horses in the ring in compliance. We’re not getting everything done that we would like but we are making progress. The phrase, ‘Working together works’, is true. We must work collectively to achieve what we want. The scar rule is a big problem. We are working on a study for this. We are following up on the industry meeting that we had in Washington.

“Webb gets a lot of credit for the progress being made. He spends lots of time on these issues for you,” Hawks concluded.

The floor was then opened for questions or comments. John Weihl commented, “In Florence, S.C., there was a problem with the government. We’ve come a long way and we are putting horses in the ring. We try to adapt and improve our horses. The problem seems to be there is not a lot of change out there.”

Weihl pointed toward the inspection area. “They’re overaggressive. What are we going to do to control that? It scares us to death; we’re trying to comply. It’s the trainers’ livelihood. What are we doing to help that?”

Hawks replied, “We’re trying to build relationships with them. One really bad horse attracts attention to us all. There is the ‘fear factor’ involved here. We’re not doing anything wrong but it’s the fear of the unknown.

"We’ve made the suggestion in meeting with them that the new VMOs work with the trainers to develop better understanding from both sides. David Finger deserves a lot of credit. He has improved the inspection process to be more alike with the VMOs and DQPs,” said Hawks.

A member of the audience asked, “How will we ever get consistency when the inspection process is subjective?”

Hawks answered, “More training and more interaction to help work together. Joint training will improve the process.” Hawks then asked David Finger to give his input.

Finger commented, “Joint training for new people will help, especially on the scar rule. Subjectivity is a problem here also. We realize how much better the horse is but the bar changes. We get here and the bar raises. Horses that are questioned now would have been in last year or the year before. There is an upheaval in the department. There are new changes coming and there are questions on swabbing. We want to prove to the industry that we are improving. With the sniffer in place, the results are on line and available to everyone. The main concern here is caustic and numbing agents. There is very little soring found. The first two violations for a foreign substance found by the sniffer are letters of warning. The third violation has a monetary fine.”

One trainer pointed out that the VMOs that checked at the show were not using the protocol that was given in the training sessions. He stated that the VMOs were palpating from in front of the horse instead of holding the leg on their knee and then palpating from behind as they had been taught. Many horses will not hold their feet out in front without trying to jerk it back. After several inspections done this way, the horses are acting silly. “We have no recourse and they can check anyway they want and we suffer the consequences.”

Finger spoke up and said that he had filmed the inspections on Friday evening at the show and that he had talked to Dr. Rachel Cesar that the protocol was not being followed. The crowd applauded at this time. Finger also commented, “The government wants to use technology to take the subjectivity out. This is the intent of the sniffer. They are only looking for the masking and numbing agents at this time.”

An owner then asked about sulfur being included as a masking agent even though it was used in work grease to aid healing. Hawks remarked that sulfur had been addressed with the department and that veterinarians are being asked to come up with some solid reasons that it should allowed to be used. Someone in the audience also explained that sulfur is also a fungicide.

Duane Rector spoke next and said that in some of the HIOs the leadership in the past hadn’t told the truth about what was going on in these meetings. “Dr. Gipson said that the breed is better but it is not there yet. We created our problem.” Rector then asked Hawks, “If the horse is compliant, will the government recognize it?”

Hawks commented that they raised the same kind of questions in the session. “We’ll never have 100 percet and they understand that. We closer to 100 percent than we’ve ever been. The VMOs say the horses are much better.”

John Weihl stated, “We have compliant horses but until they are ready to recognize compliance, we’ve still got problems.”

A trainer commented that in the field there is no way to police the government. Claude Koszuta spoke next. “At the beginning of the year we made progress. Many of these same horses showed and went through the government inspections at the Fun Show and the Trainers’ Show, but the only difference here is those people inspecting and they shut the show down here.”

Webb spoke and said that the more horses that show the fewer that get in trouble. “We must help ourselves. Just as in an audit, we must comply. If we had these DQPs and VMOs at the Fun Show, it would have been like this.”

During the meeting, Finger commented that he had talked to Rachel Cezar and explained to her that people were fearful of the unknown and that if they had sent their best VMOs then more horses would have shown. People are fearful of those they feel are not as competent as some of the more familiar VMOs. They know exactly what will pass or not pass when it is the most competent group. The problem here is that they feel the bar has changed and they are not sure where it is.

“When I talked to Cezar, I told her that when her A team was present, it has been proven that 500 to 600 horses could and would show. Send the best team you’ve got and the trainers will show. There’s trouble in your camp. The trainers are not willing to put their livelihood on the line when you send out your B team. The trainers are not willing to show until you send your best,” said Finger.

“I called her today and said that there are 12-15 trainers that showed at the Fun Show that won’t show now and that the only change is your VMOs. We need you to help us with this. We must stand up for what’s right. We cannot accept less than your best. She said that more changes are taking place.”

John Weihl said that everyone should thank Hawks, Webb and Finger for doing a fabulous job. “I’m confident there is a future for our industry. We’re making a big change for the future. It’s great to have Bill Hawks on our side. I think we should end this meeting by thanking and applauding these gentlemen’s hard work.”