By Christy Howard Parsons


Copyright WHR 2007


            A year of initiatives and programs designed to improve the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration comes to a close with drug and polygraph test results being released by the Celebration.

            A total of 28 random horses were selected to be drug tested during the Celebration. Seventeen individuals were given polygraph examinations, including Celebration judges, inspectors, and Celebration CEO Ron Thomas. The polygraph tests were conducted over a four-day period in September and the results of both testing procedures have been compiled during the past month.

            The testing procedures were a part of an overall plan announced prior to the 69th Celebration designed to ensure the health and safety of participating animals, compliance with the Horse Protection Act, and show integrity.

            The Celebration initiated a successful drug-screening program and eliminated the use of syringes on the grounds by anyone other than a licensed veterinarian. Within the inspection area, hoof testers were used to detect any evidence of improper shoeing and selected flat-shod entries were required to have their shoes removed, inspected and weighed following championship competition.

            The Celebration also implemented a more stringent overall security plan that included identification credentials for only those individuals allowed in the inspection area.

            The objective of having only clean, sound horses on the grounds and at the event was evidenced by a nearly 50% decrease in violations from 2006 and drew praise from the head of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Dr. Chester Gipson.

            “USDA supports the actions initiated by The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration to ensure compliance with the Horse Protection Act,” said Gipson. “Using a drug screening program to detect the use of prohibited substances, placing emphasis on detecting 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 say that the program set up by The Celebration should be looked at closely by other show managers from around the country.

            The 17 individuals who participated in the polygraph examinations all signed a release prior to the 2007 Celebration acknowledging their consent to be examined. During the polygraph examinations, some answers by one member of the judging panel were inconsistent with others, according to the examiner. Upon a second evaluation, it was learned that an implied threat was allegedly made toward the judge during the competition and it was the examiner’s opinion that this incident may have had an effect on his ability to complete the examination in a satisfactory manner.

            The judge reported to the examiner that he found a page from the August 29 edition of the Murfreesboro, Tennessee Daily News Journal newspaper rolled up and placed on his driveway. On the newspaper page (A6), an article titled, “Former Senator Ford Gets 5-1/2 Years for Bribery” was marked with a crayon and the judge’s name was written above the headline with an arrow pointing toward it.

            The judge reported to the examiner that he did not mention the incident earlier because he felt threatened and was fearful for his family.

            The Celebration would not release the name of the judge publicly, but will forward all the polygraph reports to the National Horse Show Commission, who licenses the judges and inspectors.

            Mr. Bob Campbell, a retired FBI polygraph examiner, conducted the tests.

            “Polygraph testing is an opinion-based process,” said Campbell. “It is best used by private companies and government agencies as an in-house tool to make better-informed decisions on personnel issues and processes. The Celebration should be able to take the information from these reports and make their event even better.”

            Each person examined was asked the following questions, along with generic questions to set a baseline, relevant to the Celebration: (a) During the 2007 Celebration competition, did anyone seriously offer you something of value for your decision? (b) During the 2007 Celebration competition, did you receive something of value for your decision? (c) Are you intentionally withholding information that concerns the fairness of the 2007 Celebration? All of these relevant questions were answered “no” by each of the persons examined.

            Other information was gained through the process that will, more than likely, result in policies being enacted by The Celebration and/or the governing bodies that administer horse shows. A few of the individuals that were examined said they had received unsolicited and unwanted gifts after working different events in years past and felt uncomfortable getting them. While the gifts ranged from a halter to football tickets to a country ham, everyone questioned on the subject felt it would enhance and event and walking horse industry if a policy were put in place that forbids gifts of any kind at any time given to judges or inspectors.

            In addition, all seventeen individuals examined reported that they knew of nothing concerned the 2007 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration that was unfair.

            Celebration officials said the testing procedures were put in place to bolster confidence in the inspection and judging processes at the 2007 Celebration.

            “Our board of directors felt these tests would be a positive statement regarding the integrity of our event and add another layer of confidence to our exhibitors, ticket holders, and the outside world,” said Celebration CEO Ron Thomas. “We have gained some very valuable information in this process that will help us in the future. This was an in-house, fact-finding exercise to be used to make our event better. We are satisfied with the process, results, and information gained.”

            The Celebration is sanctioned through the National Horse Show Commission and selects its judges from a pool of NHSC-approved judges. The industry stewards (inspectors) are also supplied by the NHSC. Any further investigation or action taken regarding judges or stewards would be taken by the NHSC. The Celebration will make the results of the examinations available to the NHSC.