Editor's Note:  The following is from John Teague, Bedford County Extension Director with The University Of Tennessee.  Teague also wrote a column in support of the efforts of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry and the importance of The Celebration prior to the show.


A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I would be at the 2012 Celebration.  This is the big economic and entertainment event booster to our immediate area, and it’s more important than many appreciate. I told you then what I thought, and I meant it.  
It has been controversial, to say the least.  Animal welfare and competitive integrity have both been questioned for some time.  There have been great efforts to improve both for some time now, and even that has been controversial.  If you ask ten different people or groups you’ll get ten different opinions, all of them adamant that they are the one with the right way of doing the tasks.  Like Lincoln’s divided house. 
Now, here’s what I saw and what I think.  I saw an industry that showed signs of much improvement and a lot of goodness and a promise of a great future.  The trainers and owners brought a big number of horses to participate with.  It was one of the bigger groups ever.  Not the biggest, but one of the biggest.
I saw the strongest and most comprehensive, in-depth inspection process ever undertaken.  There was more surveillance here than for any other breed of livestock ever exhibited anywhere at any time, and I’ve seen some of those.  These horses were observed constantly for soundness of movement and any lameness or enhancement whatsoever.  Nothing was left unchecked or without scrutiny.   

I know every horse was handled by trained veterinarians and/or their trained qualified proxies to determine any sign of lameness, pain or tissue damage.  There were also highly competent, nationally known independent veterinarians on the grounds for advisory inspections and expert observations.  Every horse was swabbed for non-compliant chemical substances by an independent group and these tests, measured in parts per billion, were completed within hours, not days, of collection of the samples.  Testing failures were a small fraction of one percent. 

I know that there were heat-sensitive photo images taken to detect any irritation of any tissue that might indicate any sensitivity.  And all of the equipment used by the horse and rider was checked to make sure everything was in compliance with the rules.  I know there were even some shoes removed for inspection to detect any illegality.  When nothing was found, then those horses were reshod as they originally were, demonstrating compliance.  Heel and toe ratios were checked.  I know that there were horses routinely tested with equipment to detect soreness within the hoof.  And when a horse cast a shoe in the ring, the horse and the shoe was examined by the trainer, the exhibitor, the farrier, the show officials, and the inspectors to determine soundness and the ability to proceed.  I saw that, and it’s good.  And the judges excused some horses during the classes for whatever reason, so they did not receive any awards that were not earned while compliant.   

Now, there were controversies, to be sure.  There were some violations.  Those violations that were unequivocal and obvious, supported by science and proper inspection, resulted in bans of the horse and the trainer from the show.  There may have been a couple of bad apples in the barrel.  But these were the distinct minority.  And then there were some violations that may not have been warranted.  The ones based on purely subjective opinion maybe were not good ones, and maybe they will be reviewed in conjunction with any science to back them up.  I’ll bet that we will always have violations as long as the determinations are based on opinion.

Then there was one USDA official we read about who was reprimanded for comments he had made, resulting in his removal by his superiors from the inspection process.  His comments as reported may have revealed a bias.  But that’s for his superiors to determine and correct, if correctible.  But everybody has to have credibility in this, everybody.  Trainers, owners, show officials, and inspectors, all of them.   
We need more science-based work, such as the swabs.  But still, the inspections were the most comprehensive in the history of the Tennessee Walking Horse.  They were done by groups of trained professionals, somewhat in cooperation if not completely.  But none of them compromised the well-being of the horse.  That was the true goal.  Any reasonable thinker must accept that fact!

What were the results?  The numbers of compliant horses that passed all of these inspections were huge.  There were mostly big classes, many with fifteen to twenty horses in them and some over that!  There had to be split classes and workouts to sort some of them!  Great! 

I think the horses were better, and just knowing that they performed as well as they did with a clean bill of health from the comprehensive examinations was gratifying!  The various champions were great, and some say we may have seen the horse of the century.  I think so.  And to know he passed in and out without incident through the inspections is even greater.   I bet we see him next year, too, and most all of the other winners, too.  I’ll let you decide who I’m talking about!

Compliance is the goal.  It is for most things.  I don’t know of anything that boasts 100% compliance.  Other livestock events, horse racing, car racing, tractor pulls, human participant sports, bicycle racing, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, you name it.  But the walking horse industry comes really close to that 100% mark!
The barrel was full of good apples, and we all enjoyed them!  All of them!