The Walking Horse Report recently conducted an interview with Dr. Scott Hopper, a nationally-renowned veterinarian from Rood & Riddle.  Dr. Hopper was in at The Celebration on the first Thursday through Sunday nights and will be in attendance all three championship nights.

Dr. Hopper is a 1993 graduate of the University Wisconsin – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. Following veterinary school Dr. Hopper completed an internship at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. The internship was followed by an equine surgical residency at Washington State University where he also obtained his Masters degree in Veterinary Science. Dr. Hopper became a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1999. After a year of clinical instructorship Dr. Hopper returned to Rood & Riddle in June of 1998 where he is currently a surgeon, partner and head of the Rood & Riddle Stem Cell Lab.

Q - During your inspection of the horses after they were disqualified by USDA VMOs, did you find horses that should have been allowed to show?
A – I looked at approximately 30 horses the first four nights of the Celebration and yes many of these horses should have been allowed to show.  The biggest area of concern I had was with the palpation of horses and those deemed sore by USDA VMOs.  Approximately 70% of those cases, I disagreed with the VMOs and found nothing wrong with those horses.  My initial exam was similar to those performed by the DQPs and VMOs and I could not elicit any response.  I went one step further and performed a more aggressive deep palpation of the horse’s lower limb and again I could not elicit a response. These horses should have been allowed to show.

Q – In your opinion, is the scar rule being interpreted as the “Understanding the Scar Rule” pamphlet distributed as the training manual to VMOs and the industry HIOs?
A – No it is not.  The scar rule is a very subjective rule and is not being applied consistently. 

Q – On those horses disqualified for scar rule violations, would you in your professional opinion, deem those horses sore?
A – A scar rule violation could be called and the horse show zero signs of soring, nor would it necessarily mean this horse had been sored in the past.

Q – Given that to be a scar rule violation the horse must show bilateral (both feet) scarring, did you see horses called out that only had unilateral (one foot) tissue change?
A – Yes, many of the horses I looked at did not have any evidence of a scar rule violation in one foot and would be questionable on the second foot

Q – Of those horses that you inspected and those you saw enter inspection, in your opinion is soring required to participate?
A – I don’t believe that horses need to be sored to perform at a high level at the Celebration. Of the horses I examined I saw no signs of abuse. If any owner or trainer believes that this is still necessary then they should be banned from the profession, because there is no place for it anymore. 

Q – Would you be a proponent of more objective testing rather than the existing subjective inspections?
A – The industry needs to do everything it can to end soring.  Yes, technology should be used to implement science-based, objective testing.  The current inspections are very subjective, inconsistently applied and result in many unfair disqualifications.  Sound horses are the only horses that should be allowed to show; but more importantly sound training methods should be the methods used in both the barns and at the show.

Q – Would you be willing to work with reformers in the industry to help restore the proud tradition of the Tennessee Walking Horse?
A – I have worked on many walking horses at Rood & Riddle, performing surgeries and lameness exams and I know firsthand what a wonderful breed of horse the Tennessee Walking Horse is and can be.  I have volunteered to serve in a capacity to help and would be willing to help with industry reformers that have a goal of ending soring and maintaining the welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Q – Is there a problem with soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry?
A – There are cheaters in every sport that think they can beat the system but I have no doubt that the inspections at The Celebration are doing everything they can to catch these individuals and put an end to soring.  I did not see a problem with soring during my four nights inspecting horses at The Celebration.

Q – Who contacted you about inspecting horses at The Celebration?
A – Representatives from the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization contacted me through a mutual friend Dr. John Bennett.  They asked me to come and examine horses to get my objective opinion on what I saw in horses that were disqualified from participation.

Q – Is it possible with improper palpation of horses to have movement indicative of soring when in fact the improper palpation is the reason for the movement of the horses foot?
A – It is definitely possible to make any horse move if that is the goal.  Improper palpation techniques can be used to induce movement which does not mean that the horse is sore. 

Q – Are those techniques being used in inspection?
A – I cannot speak to that directly as I am not directly involved during those initial inspections, however I would say several horses disqualified for sensitivity to palpation immediately came to me and I could not get the horses to show any sign of sensitivity to palpation, even when I aggressively palpated those horses. Palpating the limbs of lame horses is what I do for a living, if a horse was sore I would know it.