Related Posts with Thumbnails

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Born-Again Walking Horse Celebration Begins This Week Under New Inspection, Attitude

by Fran Jurga | 23 August 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

Trainer Chad Williams trains The Lineman for the upcoming Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee. (Photo from The Tennessean newspaper)

Here we go. Every year about this time I wonder if should go to Tennessee. I have never been to the Walking Horse Celebration. In fact, I have never been to a walking horse show. As a result, I don't mouth off about soring and training techniques because other than a few horses I have seen while traveling in the South, I've still not seen these wonderful horses compete in an exclusive walking horse show.

Around here, walking horses are one of the most popular trail horses and far removed from the show culture in the south that gets the breed so much bad press...and yet maintains such a stalwart following. I imagine the atmosphere at a walking horse show is sort of like the lobster boat races in Maine or the oxen pulls in Vermont. If you're from there, you get it.

Except for the presence of inspectors. And the state police. Just a few years ago, the Celebration was stopped and public safety was an issue. That's how mad people were when USDA inspectors actually inspected the horses for soring evidence. The trainers said that the inspectors didn't use valid criteria and wanted their own inspectors back.

When USDA inspectors pulled up at a show, the trainers loaded up and pulled out, even when it was--as often was the case--a charity show to benefit a hospital or community organization's fundraising efforts.

In the past year, there has been massive restructuring and reorganization that might make this year's Celebration peaceful and profitable and a showcase for sound, safe horses. Let's hope.

The Tennessean newspaper published a lengthy article today that gives the background leading up to this year's new-rules show. It doesn't pull any punches or sugar-coat the issue.

Among the facts: abuse allegations by federal inspectors have sky-rocketed this year, even leading to the first lifetime bans. But pair that with this fact: 150,000 tickets have already been sold for this year's Celebration. How many people buy tickets to attend other breed horse shows, do you think? Or a dressage show? Even the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event attracts only about 20,000 people on its final day.

Walking horses remain the most publicized enigma of the American horse industry. The show horses and their culture are a lightning rod: Some shun them, some embrace them. Some say the trainers and owners are misunderstood, some say they are criminals.

And they've been saying that for more than 30 years now, since the Horse Protection Act was passed to prevent soring and abusive shoeing. And I'm still writing these articles. Still wondering how and why this continues to be a raw, open wound in horse showing's hide.

Read that article, but don't believe everything you hear. Like so many things these days, there's no easy solution to an old wound like this.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to


RhondaL said...

Thanks, Fran, for keeping an open mind on the walking horse situation.

I've been associated with that discipline off and on since the 1960s when I was a child in Kentucky.

Even though cheaters and abusers exist in all equestrian sports, no one is calling for an end to these other disciplines as many horse lovers seem to be doing for the walking horse shows.

After all, no one is calling for an end to the Olympic equestrian events despite the competitors and medalists charged with doping. And, as for horse racing, not even the hardcore animal rights activists are lumping Gretchen Jackson in with Ernest Paragallo.

Yet, many horse lovers do exactly that with Tennessee Walking Horse shows. And many even go as far as shunning anyone remotely associated with them.

A lot has to do with much of the TWH crowd closing ranks. Even ones who don't sore have been taking a "there but for the grace of God go I" view of anyone with a federal ticket or a suspension.

Or they don't trust the system. I've seen 20-minute videos of pastern palpation inspections of a single horse with different inspectors taking turns.

And many of the TWH crowd doesn't speak up well for themselves. You see farmers who speak rural English expected to give quotes to the national media while speaking off-the-cuff and from the heart. The more emotional they get, the less effective their communication becomes.

Adding to the misunderstanding is that much of the media cannot take the time to research the sport beyond what's available for free on the Internet.

But, also, you can see whatever you're looking for at a TWH show. If you're looking for bad, you'll find it. If you're expecting good, you'll find that, too. Just like at the track or at any the other equestrian event.

Yes, things were hideous in the mid-20th century. And the TWH show crowd likes to protect its own. But I see this new veterinarian-managed inspection system that the Celebration will use as big step in the right direction.

Anyway, apologies for the long comment. Thanks again for keeping an open mind.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Fran for this challenging subject. As a Tennesseean, I DON'T GET IT. To me, the 'big lick' horses are disgusting to look at at I can't imagine why anyone would do this to a horse. IMHO, the only way to end the corruption in this breed is to make it impossible to make money by showing, breeding or owning this type of horse. In the end everything comes down to money. This show is no more humane than a cock fight or a dog pit and should be shut down.