Veterinary advisory committee to oversee horse safety and welfare at The Celebration
The premiere show for the Tennessee walking horse, under a continued storm of scrutiny concerning soring—the act of deliberately causing pain to artificially exaggerate the leg motion of a horse's gait—appointed a three-member veterinary advisory committee (VAC) to oversee rules and regulations regarding the safety and well-being of the Tennessee Walking Horse for the 2014 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration Aug. 20-30 in Shelbyville, Tenn. "There will be an increased focus on the welfare of the equine athlete with the hiring of the Independent Veterinary Advisory Committee," Phil Osborne, of the Kentucky-based public relations firm Preston-Osborne, says, "a first in the history of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry."
The committee includes equine veterinarians Jerry H. Johnson, DVM, chairman of the VAC, who entered private practice in Lexington, Ky., in 1979; Dallas O. Goble, DVM, a University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine faculty member since 1976; and Phillip D. Hammock, DVM, a graduated of the University of Tennessee and equine surgeon based in Louisville, Tenn. Prior to the start of The Celebration, the VAC enacted new rules and a zero tolerance policy for several items or actions that could reasonably cause a horse "to suffer pain, distress, inflammation or lameness." New rules included:
> Horses must be stabled on the grounds of the TWHNC for 48 hours before championships
> Registration papers, as well as a current (within 30 days) health certificate and negative Coggins test for each horse to gain admittance into the show grounds
> Digital x-rays and blood draws on-site conducted and supervised by VAC appointed licensed equine veterinarian specialists
"These new rules are for the benefit of the breed and for those who love Tennessee Walking Horses," Johnson said. "With these rule changes we are also sending notice to those who mistreat these beautiful animals that they have no place in the horse industry and will be exposed. Working together, we can ensure that the Tennessee Walking Horse breed gets the respect its power and grace deserve."
In addition to the VAC, Tanya Espinosa, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) says USDA-APHIS inspectors will, as usual, be on site to ensure the Horse Protection Act is enforced and that no sore horses are shown. "APHIS has many tools to ensure that inspections are completed accurately and consistently," Espinosa says. "The creation and presence of the VAC will not change USDA's role in The Celebration, however, we look forward to working alongside this committee to ensure that no sore horses are able to compete.
Although Espinosa says the USDA applauds the creation and efforts of the VAC, AVMA Governmental Relations Division spokesperson Victoria Broehm says the AVMA still believes the horse show industry needs an external third-party review put into place. "The AVMA still believes that the horse show industry’s system of self-regulation has no “teeth” and is not sufficient to ensure that soring does not occur," Broehm says. "This is why we continue to support the provisions within the PAST Act which call on the USDA to appoint federal inspectors who can identify and punish bad actors without inherent conflicts of interest." The PAST Act would outlaw soring and enact significant regulations on the walking horse industry.
Osborne and others associated with The Celebration say the PAST Act is unnecessary and point to the voluntary creation of the VAC to show dedication to horse welfare. "This will come at a tremendous cost to The Celebration with very little of the cost recuperated," Osborne says. "Also, [VAC] inspection is in addition to the normal inspection process that every single Tennessee Walking Horse goes through prior to showing and that every single winner and random entries go through post-show by the horse inspection organization (HIO) and USDA. Now they will also be subject to blood testing, digital radiography and visual exam by independent experts. No other horse event in the country will have this type focus and attention on welfare of their participants."