Copyright WHR 2006

By Christy Howard Parsons

Editor’s Note:

            David Landrum, President of the Walking Horse Trainers Association, and David Pruett, President of the Walking Horse Owners Association and current Chairman of the National Horse Show Commission, were two of the speakers who addressed the United States Department of Agriculture’s Chester Gipson at the USDA listening session held today in Chattanooga, Tenn. The following are the texts of their comments.

David Landrum

At the 68th Annual National Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee, a group of five equine veterinarians and one small animal veterinarian were asked by the Walking Horse Trainers Association and Walking Horse Owners Association to recheck horses that were denied entry into classes. These horses were not able to show due to being deemed “noncompliant” per the inspection.

The participating veterinarians included: Grey Barker, DVM, John Bennett, DVM, John O’Brien, DVM, Tony Kimmons, DVM, Steve Mullins, DVM, and Richard Wilhelm, DVM.

It should be noted that, under section 117 of the Regulations, each of these veterinarians qualify as DQPs. Also, it should be noted that, with the exception of John O’Brien DVM, none of these veterinarians were compensated for their time or professional opinion. Their primary goal was to ensure the health and welfare of these horses.

The purpose of rechecking these horses was to provide a third-party review of the findings. The veterinarians present were requested to inspect the “turned down” entry and form a group opinion as to whether or not that entry was “compliant” or “noncompliant.” Proper inspection procedures were performed by these veterinarians and all cases were documented in writing. Of the entries denied access to show, approximately 75% or 3 out of 4 were considered “compliant” after review by the six independent veterinarians. The overall consensus of the group of veterinarians was that the horses present were in excellent physical condition and have received exceptional care.

David Pruett

I have been involved in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry for my entire life. I remember when the Horse Protection Act was enacted and when the first inspections took place. The first inspections required the exhibitors to remove their horses’ boots for inspection. There were a lot of changes during those years and eventually it was determined that the use of a chain, or action device, was in the horses’ best interest.

Through the years other problems have come to light and we’ve had to deal with them. I think we have made great advances in insuring the well-being of our horses. This progress is the result of a cooperative effort of many – including the USDA. As our inspection methods have improved, we’ve finally started to see a drop in the number of sore horses. Last year, when you combine the total violations from the USDA and all nine HIOs, less than one-half of one percent of those violations were for sensitivity. In the latest report I could find from the American Horse Protection Association, when you consider all violations in 2004, in comparison to the total number of entries show for all HIOs, only .41% of the horses shown had some type of violation, be it soring, scar rule, illegal shoeing, or just simply a high band. That number was .51% in 2003. According to the report, the National Horse Show Commission, which affiliates a large majority of the shows, had a .66% violation rate for horses in 2004 and a .67% rate in 2003. This number includes violations found by both the USDA and DQPs. To put it another way, over 99% of our horses are in compliance. But even one sore horse is one too many.

At the Listening Session in Shelbyville, Tenn., on February 8, 2006, Dr. Todd Behre made several statements comparing the Tennessee Walking Horse to other breeds. He compared Walking Horses at the Celebration to Saddlebreds at the Kentucky State Fair. In his presentation he stated that he observed that Walking Horses sweated more than other breeds; implying to me that our breed had a problem with exhaustion or metabolic stressing. This surprised me, and if this were the case, would certainly be a cause for concern. I think Tennessee Walking Horses are great athletes and feel the stamina and athleticism of our breed is the best it’s ever been. Our horses have been bred for endurance since the early days when they were primarily used on large plantations. Endurance is still important in today’s Walking Horse – for performance horses, sport horses and trail horses. Our breed is still primarily used in recreational venues and not necessarily to capture big winnings, compared to some of the venues where horses are used, like race tracks or rodeo arenas. While race horses, for example, are run very sparingly, our horses are constantly on the trail or in the show ring week after week.

In a report provided by the Walking Horse Owners Association, I found that the average number of times a padded horse was shown during the show season was 10 times. Looking at each age division, Two-Year-Olds were shown an average of 10 times, Three-Year-Olds an average of 14 times, Four-Year-Olds an average of 9 times, and Aged Horses an average of 7 times. Using the same methodology, I looked at the high point divisions for Three-Gaited and Five-Gaited American Saddlebred horses. I found that in 2005 Three-Gaited horses showed an average of 2.45 times, and Five-Gaited horses an average of 3.16 times. Furthermore, there were 56 Classic Horses shown at the 2005 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. These are horses 15 years old or older. I’m not sure how this compares with other breeds, but I know that our horses are shown well into maturity, which is a great testament to the care they receive.

I also compared the time horses were in the show ring at both the Celebration and the Kentucky State Fair World’s Championship Horse Show. At the 2005 Celebration, the average class length was 15.6 minutes and according to a US Equestrian steward at last year’s Kentucky State Fair, their average class length was slightly less. I should also point out that the horses that win at the Celebration and all other Walking Horse shows, are required to go directly to the inspection area without an opportunity to cool down. Also, keep in mind that the Celebration is outdoors, in Tennessee, in late August and the Kentucky State Fair is indoors, in an air-conditioned Freedom Hall.

Please don’t mistake these facts as me saying one breed is better or worse than the other; that is not at all the case. I have attended both shows and both are very exciting. All I’m saying is that it’s tough to compare the two, because as the saying goes, “you aren’t comparing apples to apples.” Looking specifically at the horses at last year’s Celebration, and I haven’t had the opportunity to check the 2006 show, I spoke with Dr. John Bennett, who as you know was one of the veterinarians at the show. Dr. Bennett told me that of the 3,449 horses shown, no horses were treated by him for heat exhaustion at the show. He even went on to say, concerning the metabolic stressing of our horses, that he thinks the recovery time of a Walking Horse from showing is among the best he sees.

I would like to read you a statement from Dr. Bennett: “I hereby state that as a practicing veterinarian in middle Tennessee, mainly Shelbyville, that at the 2005 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, I attended to several of the horses entered. I did not treat any horses for heat exhaustion, heat stress or myositis related to overwork. I am at the majority of the horse shows through the year and very seldom have to treat a horse for exhaustion.”

In his presentation in February, Dr. Behre insinuated that perhaps the padded Walking Horse would have problems with bowed tendons. Walking horses have a very unique and natural gait, and there is an animated gait that is on our show horses that is different from other breeds. Our breed not only breaks in the front but reaches. Pads help our show horses to achieve this gait. Just as some riders know exactly what to wear to look their best on their horses, some trainers know how to make the shoe package look a little more presentable. As long as the package is within our guidelines, these pads do absolutely nothing to hurt our horses.

I’ve spoken to two prominent veterinarians in middle Tennessee, Dr. John Bennett, who I mentioned earlier, and Dr. Jim Baum, of Shelbyville, Tennessee. Both men told me they treat very few Walking Horses for lameness or bowed tendons compared to other breeds they treat. Dr. Baum pointed out that the Walking Horses start out with a small shoe and gradually build up to a bigger shoe as the horse ages and their training progresses. Just like any athlete, any show horse or sport horse has the potential for physical ailments.

In the November 15, 2005 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association a study was published from Texas A&M University. They studied 118 Quarter Horses and Appendix Quarter Horses and, according to the report, found that horses used for barrel racing were more often lame in their fore-limbs than horses used for ther disciplines. I would like to quote a portion of that article for you.

“Barrel horses are subjected to sharp turns at high speeds. Researchers found these conditions placed heavy loading and torque on the horses’ forelimbs. The majority of horses exhibited forelimb lameness (48% right and 43% left), while 47% showed only hind limb lameness.

Foot pain was the most common and accounted for 33% of the problems, followed by osteoarthritis in the distal tarsal, or hock, joint (14%) and desmitis in the suspensory ligament (13%).”

Tennessee Walking Horses and other breeds targeted by the Horse Protection Act are the only breeds where 100% of the horses are inspected. Even in breeds that drug test and do other testing on their horses, only a small percentage are tested. In fact, I’m not aware of any competition in the sports world where 100% of the athletes are tested. Are our inspection methods perfect? No. Do we need to work hard to improve them? Yes. Are they better than they used to be? Definitely.

I remember in 1975 when Ruffian died at the Belmont Park race track. That incident led to many realizations, and eventually many changes in the racing world. I’ve watched as professional sports have dealt with drug use among their players. Are their detection methods perfect? Obviously not. But they are constantly trying to create a better system. Four years ago at the Olympics we saw scandal rock the figure skating world, and we have seen many changes put in place in response. Our breed is not immune to the scandals that go on in other competitions, but just like them we should be seeking to identify the problems and finding fair and proven ways to deal with them.

Your willingness to participate in joint training with our DQPs and your VMOs has been one of the greatest advances we’ve made in a long time. We have to get to the point where our inspections are fair and consistent, no matter who is inspecting the horse.

There is an obvious problem when horses that pass inspection on scar rule one night then fail inspection two nights later. There were three times more disagreements between the NHSC inspectors and the USDA inspectors at the 2006 Celebration compared to 2005. In 2005 seven cases went to conflict resolution and in 2006 21 cases will go into conflict resolution.  Prior to August 1, 2006, the USDA had attended eleven NHSC horse shows and only two cases were sent to conflict resolution. As a matter of fact, on a couple of occasions, VMOs told Lonnie Messick, the NHSC Executive Vice-President, that the trainers were doing a good job and the DQPs were also doing a good job. Since August 1, 2006, the USDA has attended five NHSC shows, including the Celebration and 25 cases have now been sent to conflict resolution. Obviously something has changed!

The NHSC and the USDA has worked hard since the joint training in February to set a standard that we all could enforce. After seven months and over 200 horse shows the USDA should not be able to change those standards. The USDA and all HIOs should continue our joint training and resolve those differences so trainers and exhibitors will know what to expect from show to show. We owe the Walking Horse people inspections that are both fair and consistent.

Dr. Gipson, thank you for this opportunity to speak and to reiterate, we want to be partners with you in securing the welfare of our horses, maintaining the excitement of our competitions and insuring the fairness of our inspections.