By Jeffrey Howard

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – The Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) hosted an Owners’ Liability Seminar at the Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville, Tenn. on August 24, 2009.  The seminar also included an update from SHOW, who was applauded several times by the many in attendance.

WHOA President Frank Neal welcomed the attendees and spoke to the successes of SHOW over the past several months.  “SHOW has done an outstanding job and the people they are working with are moving the industry forward,” said Neal.

Dr. Doyle Meadows, CEO of The Celebration and SHOW HIO gave a quick overview of the progress of SHOW and the future direction of the HIO.  “It is really good to be here and see this type of participation at such an event,” said Meadows.  “Who would’ve thought that in my 18 months as CEO of The Celebration that we would see the dissolution of the National Horse Show Commission and the activation of our HIO, SHOW.  However the true heroes of this are Dr. Bennett and Dr. Mullins,” said Meadows.

The two veterinarians took over the roles of Compliance Coordinators of SHOW in June and the industry has seen a substantial positive move since they took over.  The hundreds in attendance gave a rousing ovation in appreciation for the work of Dr. Bennett and Dr. Mullins.

“We also need to give credit to our Task Forces and their chairpersons.  They have been instrumental in giving some much needed help to SHOW,” said Meadows.  Meadows also pointed out that SHOW will focus on three initiatives after the completion of The Celebration.  SHOW will work on the new rule book, continuing the educational process and inspections as well as the judging program.

“Change is inevitable and I am looking forward to it,” concluded Meadows.

Dr. John Bennett then addressed the audience and went over the inspection process that has been used and will be used at The Celebration.  Bennett also spoke to his and Dr. Steve Mullins visit with Rachel Cezar and Chester Gipson on August 21, 2009.  “We spent around six hours in a closed room with Dr. Cezar and Dr. Gipson.  I think and they do as well that our meeting went very well,” said Bennett.

As for the SHOW inspections, Bennett commented, “We will treat everyone fair and consistent.  We are not trying to be heroes, we are just trying to follow the law.”  Bennett also said SHOW would ask the USDA to allow saddles to stay on for inspection post-show and that drug testing would be conducted as part of the process.  “A lot of people are watching us and we will be ready,” concluded Bennett.

Dr. Mullins walked everyone through how inspection would work and the flow of stations.  He pointed out that a major change would be to move inspection to the north end of the Calsonic Arena, which follows the SHOW protocol of no horse being in the warm-up ring that has not gone through inspection.  Mullins also let everyone know that thermography would be used by the USDA and that it would be the first station.

Mullins and SHOW are aware of the issue with the lengths of inspections with the USDA present and said that it would be a gameday call as to whether entries were allowed to come up four classes in advance, rather than the Horse Protection Act allotted three classes before.

If DQPs are not in agreement on a horse or are not sure on a horse, the entry will be asked to ride in a six-ounce roller.  That entry will be asked to come back through inspection after the class and if he doesn’t carry the six-ounce roller to the satisfaction of the DQP may be excused from the class.  All horses excused from the ring by the judges will be inspected upon their return to the warm-up area.  Horses that ask to be excused will not be forced to come back through inspection.  For other inspection reminders click here for the release on inspection by SHOW earlier this week.

Judy Martin spoke about judging and the image of the Walking Horse in the ring.  Martin is a past Director of Judges for the NHSC.  “This breed has been through so much…from the shut down in Decatur in 1988 to the 10 ounce chain to the 6 ounce chain to the amount of pad that is allowed,” said Martin.  She continued, “We are at another crossroads and the horse will survive this because of you here in this room.” 

Much has been made of the “new” image of the show horse.  Martin addressed this subject as well, “It is a new day and we are going to have to look for a different type of horse.  We have come a long way and we have a little further left to come,” continued Martin.

“We have to come up with a video this winter that defines what we want in our horse.  There has to be communication between the owner and trainer.  The day of the owner not knowing is over,” concluded Martin.

Frank Eichler gave a presentation on owner liability and what owners need to do in order to limit their liability with regards to USDA levied violations.  “The mantra of SHOW is to find and eliminate the sore horse,” said Eichler.   “The trainers are doing a phenomenal job and it is highly commendable (their efforts).  As owners we need to go to the next level,” continued Eichler.

Eichler pointed to a key phrase within the Horse Protection Act and emphasized “allowing any activity described” is where owners need to focus.  The activities referenced were showing or exhibiting, entering for the purpose of showing or exhibiting, and selling, auctioning or offering for sale.  Eichler pointed out, “allowing these activities makes you just as guilty.”

He also pointed to the Unites States District Courts of Appeals and what factors they have examined under owner liability.  These included whether the owners had knowledge that the horse was “sore,” the owners reliance upon examinations by qualified individuals to determine compliance, explicit, reliable, repeated instructions to the trainer not to violate the HPA and any affirmative steps taken by the owner to “prevent” violations of the HPA such as random inspections.

Eichler urged the audience, “document, document, document,” as the key to managing owner liability.  He also left them with examples of affirmative steps to take as owners.  These included written instructions to the trainer that all horses are to, at all times, be in compliance with the HPA, consideration of the trainer’s history, knowledge and experience, inspections by rotating veterinarians every 2-3 weeks, and attending owners’ clinics.

The seminar wrapped up with closing remarks from Neal.  He thanked everyone for their attendance and was extremely pleased with the turnout.  Neal wished everyone luck at the upcoming Celebration.