Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital's Dr. Scott Hopper: Voices from the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration

Video courtesy of NewsChannel 5;
Background: The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is going on this week in Shelbyville, Tennessee. US Department of Agriculture veterinarians are on hand to inspect horses for evidence of "soring", the illegal practice of artificially enhancing a horse's gait. Also on hand are representatives of local organizations who are conducting their own inspections to see if they agree with the USDA results.

Dr. Stephen Mullins, president of the local inspection group SHOW, says that USDA inspectors issued five times as many citations in the first six days of this year’s Celebration as in all 11 days of last year’s, according to the Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean.

This week, a press conference was held to publicly inspect two of the horses rejected by the USDA. This is shown in the video.
On August 30, the Walking Horse Report conducted an interview with Scott Hopper, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS from Rood + Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. The Walking Horse Report has kindly agreed to allow the interview to be printed on The Hoof Blog.

Dr. Hopper was at The Celebration on the first Thursday through Sunday nights of the Celebration and will be in attendance all three championship nights.

Dr Hopper of Rood and Riddle
Equine Hospital, Lexington, KY
Dr. Hopper is a graduate of the University Wisconsin – Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, holds a Masters degree from Washington State University, is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and currently works as a surgeon and partner at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, where he is 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.

Championship Night
The Walking Horse National Celebration attracts thousands of spectators. Photo by Stephanie Graves.

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.

Original article appeared on the Walking Horse Report web site.

The Hoof Blog hopes to also have an interview with Dr. Tracy Turner, who is at the Celebration acting as a consultant to the USDA.

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Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

While I respect Dr. Hopper's opinion, I wondered how he can say that he DID agree with 30% of the decisions but then say he "did not see a problem with soring." Were some of his statements taken out of context?

Lua Oas Southard said...

So glad that you were able to get this scoop. It's quite interesting. Sounds like something should be done to take the subjectivity out of the inspections.

spotz58 said...

There have been many complaints about the DQPs in the past and it seems there is something to those complaints. Not that there isn't abuse and rule-breaking going on, but USDA seems intent on painting all TWH participants with the same ugly brush.

Where will the USDA turn it's attention after they have destroyed the TWH industry? They are almost there - watch out! You may be next!