Copyright 2006

By Christy Howard Parsons

When Celebration Chairman John T. Bobo announced at 8:45 p.m. Friday evening, that the remaining classes from the Friday evening performance were being postponed, the date August 26, 2006, went down in history as “the day the Celebration stopped.”

United States Department of Agriculture Veterinary Medical Officers, accompanied by Dr. Todd Behre, were aggressively inspecting horses after those horses had been inspected by the DQPs on Friday night prompting a strong reaction from trainers.

Initial discussions between Celebration Board members, WHTA Board members, NHSC's Lonnie Messick and the USDA's Dr. Todd Behre in the inspection arena yielded little result and the WHTA officials asked the Celebration to delay the horse show after class 47, in an attempt to continue to resolve the conflict.

The USDA VMOs left the show grounds while the conflicts were further reviewed. Discussions yielded a proposed solution for industry representatives to photograph each horse as they were inspected by the NHSC to be examined by the USDA VMOs later and USDA VMOs would remain absent for the remaining classes of Friday's evening performance to let tensions cool.

This proposed solution was rejected by the trainers as a whole despite encouragement by the WHTA Board to consider it. Arguments erupted between WHTA Board members and trainers. The WHTA Board reconvened the members of the audience with professional trainers licenses in the main show arena where a microphone was brought in to more clearly address the situation. Arguments continued between the trainers on either side of the issue as the show continued to be delayed.

As it became apparent that the matter was not going to be resolved in a timely manner, the decision was made to postpone the remainder of the performance and Celebration Chairman John T. Bobo announced that the remainder of Friday evening's classes were being rescheduled for a later time but that Saturday morning's session would continue at 9 a.m.

Before 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, trainers began gathering outside the warm up area. The informal gathering quickly swelled to hundreds of people who were incited by USDA VMOs inspecting horses behind the NHSC DQPs and the change in the interpretation of the Scar Rule from clinics held prior to the Spring Trainers Show to the last three weeks.

Members of the WHTA Board of Directors came to the gathering to communicate the facts regarding negotiations. Mack Motes first addressed the crowd and asked the pleasure horses (scheduled for Saturday morning classes) to show in front of NHSC inspectors only while negotiations with the USDA continued. This proposal was met with anger and many trainers in the crowd argued vehemently with Motes.

“We have two options,” said Motes. “We can negotiate and try to work this thing out, or we can shut it down. If we shut it down, it's not going to hurt the government. It's not going to hurt the owners - owners will find something else to do with their money. The only person getting hurt is the man working for a living by working horses.”

Many in the crowd expressed concerns that showing pleasure horses after padded horses did not show divided the industry between padded horses and pleasure horses. There was some concern that such a division would lead the USDA to say that there was no problem with pleasure horses, and thus argue to eliminate the pad and shoe from the padded horse.

Motes disagreed. “It is not against the padded horse for the pleasure horse to show.”

Many in the crowd however, were not convinced. Calls from the crowd to “sit down until we get answers” and to “physically block the gates so horses can't show” were evidence that the situation was getting out of control.

Eventually WHTA President David Landrum joined the crowd to inform them that at the request of the WHTA, the Celebration had made the decision to postpone the morning classes until the negotiations could be held. The announcement was met with applause. Landrum also announced that a formal WHTA membership meeting would be held at 1:00 p.m.

Negotiations between USDA officials and WHTA officials continued throughout the morning and eventually yielded a temporary reprieve in the tension over interpretations of the Horse Protection Act.

USDA VMOs agreed not to attend the Saturday night session in an effort to allow NHSC DQPs to implement their inspection program and to correct perceived inconsistencies within the inspection process. USDA VMOs typically observe DQP inspections and only intervene when they see cause for further investigation. At Friday night's Celebration, VMOs were checking virtually every horse that was presented for inspection, which is outside their normal procedure. The USDA agreed to allow the DQPs to inspect on their own on Saturday night and USDA officials met with Lonnie Messick and NHSC officials in the afternoon to come to a common understanding of the problems in inspections that led to the conflict.

Professional trainers convened at their new WHTA building in Shelbyville at 1:00 p.m. where they were each verified to be current WHTA members in order to meet to discuss the negotiations with the USDA. Although the matter did not come to a vote, it was decided that the trainers would show at tonight's Celebration.

“The Walking Horse Trainers Association and their Board agreed to show at tonight's Celebration,” explained WHTA President David Landrum. “We hope that the ongoing negotiations with the USDA will be fruitful and that we will continue the positive dialog to resolve this misunderstanding.”

Also at 1:00 in the afternoon, an impromptu meeting of various owners in the Walking Horse industry was held. The meeting was led by attorneys Frank Eichler and David Broderick. Broderick is the attorney from Kentucky who filed the recent lawsuit, Donald Hendricks v. USDA, in which members of the Kentucky Walking Horse Association are suing the United States Department of Agriculture.

Broderick explained the Kentucky lawsuit to the crowd of approximately 150 owners. He explained that the lawsuit was filed in late May/early June and that the Government's answers were due by September 13. Broderick anticipates a preliminary hearing in November and a trial in January or February.

When asked what the expected outcome of the lawsuit was, Broderick responded, “We hope to get a definitive set of rules. We need to find some answers. The sniffer is no more reliable than a lie detector, but we have to present the data that shows that. We may get answers we don't like, but we will get definitive answers.”

Broderick continued. “The Operating Plan could be a good plan if the government was bound by it, but they don't sign it. We're the only ones bound by the plan.”

“We are at a fork in the road,” said Broderick. “Tennessee and Kentucky are both in the Sixth Circuit, which historically has been very conservative in government applications.”

Broderick explained that one judge would hear this lawsuit and that the implications from the lawsuit would affect not only Kentucky, but likely Tennessee as well. He made an appeal for money to fight the Kentucky lawsuit.

“We need $50-60,000 to begin with and that doesn't include experts,” said Broderick.

As show time approached, news and television reporters arrived in Shelbyville to report on whether the show would go on. It did. NHSC inspections proceeded smoothly and the classes were filled with quality entries. If it were not for the t-shirts proclaiming August 26 as “the day the Celebration stopped,” one might not have even realized that this Saturday night of World Grand Championship qualifiers was different than any other.

It has been a tumultuous twenty-eight hours. For industry officials, tomorrow's continued discussions with the USDA hold the key to whether the show can continue to go on as scheduled.