As exciting as Saturday night's Celebration was for many - it was a disappointment as well. Out of the 33 stallions scheduled to show in the split Aged Stallions 15.2 and over classes, only 12 made it to the ring. Those conspicuously missing were crowd favorites Weekend Warrior, Ironworks Tin Man, It's Billy the Kid and many others.
It's common for some of the horses that are registered for a class to not appear, said Mike Hilley, trainer for Rising Star Ranch.
"Could be their horse isn't performing as well as they think it should that morning," he said. "It could be sick."
And sometimes, the stallion is entered and shown, not with the sole purpose of winning the big prize, but to also showcase his abilities. In an interview last year with A Strong Dollar owner Curtice McCloy, she said she liked putting him in the World Grand Championship as a way of promoting his standing at stud. At other times, a trainer may have more than one entry, and then select the one with the best prospects to show.
Nine turned away
According to Penny Isaacs, penalties coordinator for SHOW, 21 of the 33 horses signed up for the classes were presented, meaning nine were turned away. The total number of tickets issued so far isn't known yet.
"We won't know the total until the Celebration ends," said David Sacks, spokesperson for the USDA. "We don't provide running totals while the event is still ongoing."
Hilley was working Ted Williams, a Rising Star stud and an entrant in the Aged Stallions Class, but he had no intention of pulling him from the competition.
He also had no choice.
"We were turned away," said Hilley. "They said it was the scar rule."
According to the Horse Protection Act, the scar rule states:
"(a) The anterior and anterior-lateral surfaces of the fore pasterns (extensor surface) must be free of bilateral granulomas, other bilateral pathological evidence of inflammation, and, other bilateral evidence of abuse indicative of soring including, but not limited to, excessive loss of hair.
(b) The posterior surfaces of the pasterns (flexor surface), including the sulcus or "pocket" may show bilateral areas of uniformly thickened epithelial tissue if such areas are free of proliferating granuloma tissue, irritation, moisture, edema, or other evidence of inflammation."
In other words, scarring on the foot above the hoof indicates the horse has been sored.
The scar rule has come under fire from walking horse trainers who claim it is too subjective.
"We showed Ted three times this summer, he passed inspection all three times," said Hilley. "The USDA was at one of those shows and he passed there, too."
Hilley said before bringing the stallion to the Celebration, they had a veterinarian look over him and approve his condition, then at the vets at the show do it.
"The DQPs passed him, then the government went over him again and again and said it was a scar rule," he said.
Several other contenders who failed the Saturday night inspection have passed inspection at other shows, including USDA inspected shows, but the trainers were not willing to go on record.
"They go after you," said one.
Dr. Doyle Meadows, CEO of the organization and head of SHOW, said the inspections have been strict.
"Our people have written a lot of tickets," he said. " We're trying to enforce the laws and the rules. We knew how this was going to be, but we're really working hard to have a partnership and alliance with the government so we can work together.
"We've got to do that," Meadows continued. "We can't go on being so antagonistic. We all want to put a good, sound horse in the ring."
The Coach, owned by the Barnes-Holland-Kilgore partnership and shown by John Allan Callaway, won the Section A of the Aged Stallions class, with Watch it Now and Jimmy McConnell taking reserve. Third place went to Cadillac's Bum, ridden by Edgar Abernathy. The remaining horses were Armed and Dangerous Premier, ridden by Brock Tillman, fourth; Flash of Silver, with Stephen Daniel, fifth; Pusher's Astro with Joe Cotten, sixth; and High Dollar Silver with Billy Joe Hayes, seventh.
In the Section B Class, not only were 13 horses missing from the line-up, but for the first few minutes of the workout, so was the crowd's enthusiasm. Usually, as the horses circle the ring, waves of cheers follow them, especially crowd favorites. As the crowd realized that some of those favorites weren't going to show, it fell quiet.
But as the five horses began to walk on, the cheering resumed. Bill Bobo and Rowdy Rev took the win for the second year running, and David Landrum on The Golden Sovereign were reserve champs. Third place went to Puttin' Cash on the Line with Ray Gilmer up; fourth went to Missed the Boat with Jason Day; and seventh went to I'm Reagan with Barney Davis.
The horses who showed in the Aged Stallions class last Saturday night will meet again this Saturday night for the World Grand Championship.
At the Celebration Plaza, The Coach fidgeted nervously as Callaway, the owners and other friends and family waited for the photography session. The high-strung 5-year-old tossed his head as Callaway tried to hold him still for the photo.
"Don't get hurt now, John Allan," someone called from the crowd. "You've still got one more night to ride!"
Barbara and Bill Harlin were on hand to celebrate their horse's win, petting Rowdy Rev as he tried to see what was in his silver loving cup. Because Rowdy and Bill Bobo won the same class last year, they were able to retire many of the class's trophies.
These classes, 81 A and 81 B, are not the only qualifiers for the World Grand Championships. Horses can qualify in eight other classes, but most of them are for mares, geldings and 4-year-olds, although one class is for the Aged Stallions 15.2 and under. Mares and geldings are eligible to compete in the World Grand Championship, but the last mare to win was White Star in 1954, and the last gelding to win was Talk of the Town - but he did it three times in a row in 1951, 1952 and 1953.