SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – In its continuing effort to open doors, initiate dialogue, and forge positive partnerships that will ensure the success of the Tennessee Walking Horse as an exciting show animal while protecting its health and well-being, The Celebration® recently hosted representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), American Horse Protection Association (AHPA), and American Humane Association (AHA).

"The importance of gathering this many leaders of the equine industry at one meeting can’t be overstated," said Celebration CEO Ron Thomas. "The thrust of the meeting was a general fact-finding mission for all of us. There was conversation regarding the general welfare of our horse as well as various aspects of training with an emphasis on how the horse is presented for inspection, shows, and exhibitions."

The Celebration® was represented by Chairman David Howard and CEO Ron Thomas. Outgoing AAEP President, Dr. Doug Corey was on hand to follow up on his first Celebration visit. Robin Lohnes of the AHPA was an attendee while Dr. Chester Gipson, Dr. Rachel Cezar, Dr. Lynn Bourgeois, and Michael Tuck from USDA reported their experiences at the 2007 Celebration and how new Celebration initiatives were seen as a positive in Washington. Marie Wheatley, President and CEO of the American Humane Association, joined the group to gather information on the new initiatives and the progress being made in the walking horse industry.

"This was a good group of people to talk with and move forward with," added Thomas. The tone of the meeting was very upbeat and extremely positive about the direction we are moving."

The other groups involved had similar comments.

Dr. Douglas G. Corey, DVM; President, American Association of Equine Practitioners

"We're encouraged by the willingness of the Celebration to include other industry groups in the evaluation of this year's Championship," said Corey, 2007 AAEP President. "It is vital that we all work together to protect the health and welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse."

Robin Lohnes; Executive Director, American Horse Protection Association

"This meeting represents an important first step in the right direction for the 2008 Celebration. I look forward to continued pro-active changes in show management practices which will ensure a successful show and the overall welfare of the horse."

Marie Belew Wheatley; CEO, American Humane Association

"American Humane applauds The Celebration® and its efforts to end the inhumane training practices by setting high standards for their annual world championship event."

The meeting was Wheatley’s introduction to The Celebration® and the walking horse industry. The American Humane Association was founded in 1877 that is dedicated to the welfare of animals and children. The AHA’s Film and Television Unit has monitored the welfare of animals during the filming of movies and television shows since 1940 and is the only organization sanctioned by the Screen Actor’s Guild. Their long history of working in a positive manner with groups that feature performance animals was a factor in their attendance at this meeting.

Thomas went on to say that information gathered from these industry professionals was geared toward making the Tennessee Walking Horse universally accepted, including the inspections performed and the way the horse is presented to the public.

Numbers from the 2007 Celebration show total entries were down 237 from 2006, but the number of entries that actually came in the ring was up by 147 over the previous year.

"This was one of the most significant statistics that came out of our 2007 show," said Thomas. "It speaks loudly to the type of horses the trainers are presenting for inspection. All credit for this should go to the owners, trainers, and exhibitors in the walking horse industry."

The group was supportive of the new initiatives put forth at the 2007 Celebration and said the entire industry should continue to seek publicity for the many positive steps that have been taken to protect the horse.

"This was the soundest group of horses I have ever seen go into the Celebration ring and I could not be more proud of the owners and trainers for their efforts in setting a new standard for the Tennessee Walking Horse," remarked Celebration Chairman David L. Howard. We should be proud of our horses and use this year as a stepping stone to continue to enhance our public image and further improve the care and training of these magnificent animals."

The Celebration® instituted additional measures prior to the 2007 event designed to protect the animals on site, the integrity of the event, and the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the 2007-09 Operating Plan. They included:

· Institute an equine drug-screening program

· Use hoof testers on flat-shod entries

· Remove, inspect, and weigh shoes on random flat-shod entries after championship classes

· Prohibit use of syringes, except by licensed veterinarians

· Select judges with no HPA violations

· Sanction with an HIO that has signed the 2007-09 Operating Plan

· Judges to submit to polygraph test after the show

· DQP’s to submit to polygraph test after the show

· Show management to submit to polygraph test after the show

· Maintain a secure inspection area

· Allow eligible horses only in the inspection area

· DQP’s and VMO’s may perform random inspections in the barn area

· Enforce the Tennessee Anti-Soring ordinance

· Prohibit veterinarians from giving third-party opinions in the inspection area

Dr. Chester Gipson of USDA said he continued to be impressed with the direction of the industry and voiced his approval of these initiatives in August.

"USDA supports the actions initiated by The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration to ensure compliance with the Horse Protection Act," Gibson said in an earlier Celebration news release. "Using a drug screening program to detect the use of prohibited substances, placing emphasis on improper shoeing, conducting random inspections of the barn area and ensuring enforcement of the Tennessee Anti-Soring ordinance, are all measures that will protect the horses, as well as the integrity of the show."

Gipson went on to explain that the initiatives put forth by The Celebration® this year could be the model other shows work from in the future.

"We commend the Celebration’s show management for their consultative and collaborative approach and commitment to having sound, clean horses in the show ring. We hope that the standard set at this year’s Celebration will be adopted by other show managers."

The group discussed each of these initiatives and provided ideas on how each could be improved before the 2008 Celebration. Most of the suggestions regarded how these initiatives could be carried out to better serve all parties involved.

Security in the inspection area was a high priority. New initiatives in that area seemed to keep things moving and unnecessary traffic to a minimum. Further development of the credential process was discussed and what steps can be taken to make that program even more successful.

The drug testing program at the 2007 Celebration will be used as a baseline to find out where the breed is in regards to the use of any performance-enhancing drugs. The Celebration® and the AAEP will work together to set the standards for the 2008 program which will include a list of banned substances, tolerable levels on others, and putting together the "chain of custody" on all test materials.

Hoof-testing of flat shod entries drew praise from many exhibitors at The Celebration® and earlier this year at The International Grand Championships. While no decision was made, the possibility of expanding that program to include padded horses was put on the table.

Dr. Corey of AAEP mentioned a few areas that his group was interested in seeing developed further. They included defining the role of private veterinarians on the Grounds, doing a thorough review of inspection protocol, seek out ways to detect a pressure-shod horse, have rules regarding the use of medication on the Grounds, and for the industry and USDA to work together to have a clearer understanding a definition of the scar rule.

USDA officials at the meeting said while much pressure has been placed on the industry to make dramatic changes, the industry should get the credit it deserves for doing a good job and continuing to move forward and accepting the changes that are designed to make the horse stronger. They said getting good, solid information from Washington down to the owners, trainers, and exhibitors is something they will be working on.

They also said The Celebration® must be part of and support an HIO that stands firmly behind its own regulations and guidelines and those of the Horse Protection Act of 1970. They felt the industry is on the road to improvement and The Celebration® has been and should continue to be a catalyst in that improvement.

While the long-term future of this group has yet to be determined, The Celebration® will continue to seek input and counsel from these and all interested groups within the industry to further enhance the stature and reputation of this wonderful animal and the ways it is presented.