Previously the Walking Horse Report looked into the troubling information from the 2014 Celebration regarding the high numbers of violations cited by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Veterinary Medical Officers (VMOs).  We found that the violation rate at this year’s show was exponentially higher than at any time in history, and over three times more than the prior year.

What was especially concerning approximately 100 horses received alleged scar rule violations from the USDA after passing SHOW HIO inspections.  Those same 100 horses had passed over 300 inspections previously during the 2014 show season with USDA Veterinary Medical Officers present.  A subset of 30 of the 100 horses were looked at in more detail and those 30 horses had shown 152 times in 2014 and 80% of the time the USDA was present for inspections.

However after two fall shows that were held within five weeks of The Celebration, the story gets more disturbing.  At the 2014 North Carolina Championships held in Asheville, N.C. over 40 horses that received violations at the 2014 Celebration showed.  Of those horses, 34 of them received scar rule violations at The Celebration held five weeks prior.  Those 34 horses showed 50 times at Asheville and went through inspection pre-show and passed HIO and/or USDA inspection.  Many of those horses were also inspected post-show and passed.

Of those 34 horses, only two were given a scar rule violation in Asheville.  The USDA was in Asheville, represented by Veterinary Medical Officer Bart Southerland.  The violation rate at Asheville was approximately 1.5%, yet just five weeks prior the USDA VMOs wrote violations on 51% of the horses they inspected and the total violation rate was 20%.  What changed in five weeks?  Did the scars go away?

USDA-APHIS Horse Protection Coordinator Rachel Cezar has repeatedly stated that scars won’t go away.  In fact, Dr. Cezar warned SHOW HIO that if DQPs didn’t turn down Honors, who had received a scar rule by Dr. Jeff Baker at the 2013 Celebration, at the Southern Championships, held a month after the Celebration, they would “catch heck.”  The reason, she stated, “His scars won’t go away.”

The scar rule is simply too subjective to call on a consistent basis and bias within the USDA and APHIS has led to the harmful disqualification of innocent people and horses.  One such case occurred at this year’s Celebration when an 11-year-old was prevented an opportunity to win a World Grand Championship when a VMO disqualified the entry for an alleged scar rule violation.  The 11-year-old and family left devastated and asking, “how did this happen?”

Was the Celebration targeted by USDA-APHIS or was the juvenile?  Clearly one of the two was targeted.  The 11-year-old and horse showed three weeks after the show at the Southern Championships and was inspected pre-show by the USDA VMO.  He passed and the scar found just three weeks prior was somehow gone.  Even more disturbing, the horse was 16 years old and had shown over 85 times in his career including 26 times at The Celebration and had never received a violation.

Proof of subjectivity or proof of targeting?  

There is more.  The entry in question showed at horse shows in June, July and August this year with USDA VMOs present and was never given a violation.  The entry was even shown the first weekend of the Celebration and passed both pre-show and post-show inspection with VMOs.  How can a horse that was compliant in May, July and just a week prior to the World Grand Championship class be scarred on the championship night?  Furthermore, how did the scars disappear just three weeks later?  No one at USDA or in the veterinarian field can answer that question.

The questions are many. The answers are few.  The Walking Horse industry is battered, beaten and targeted by animal rights groups.  Is it too much to ask for a fair inspection?  Is it too much to ask for objective, science-based testing that removes bias?  Remember, the removal of subjectivity and bias would allow facts to determine just what the Tennessee Walking Horse can do.