Discrepancies inside the inspection area at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration on Saturday resulted in eight horses being turned away from a chance to compete for the walking horse World Grand Championship.
Inspectors representing SHOW (Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections and Winning Fairly), the Celebration-sanctioned horse industry organization that ensures horses are in compliance with the Horse Protection Act, passed all but two horses of the 15 that showed up for the aged stallion competition classes.
But U.S. Department of Agriculture officials denied six more horses from competing, including two which had already passed pre-class inspection by those same USDA veterinary medical officers (VMOs).
At least one trainer and the veterinarian who oversees the SHOW inspectors say one VMO is too inexperienced to judge the Celebration.
Dr. Steve Mullins expressed concerns about an alleged inexperienced inspector.
"The answer I got was, 'He's learning on the job.' Learning on the job? At the world championship horse show?" Mullins said.
Dr. Doyle Meadows, Celebration chief executive officer, also agreed some USDA inspectors are not experienced enough.
"All our trainers want is for people who are fair and consistent," Meadows said. "You can't have VMOs check horses two times a year and be consistent."
SHOW inspectors, known as designated qualified persons (DQPs), are charged with inspecting horses for the Celebration and many other shows throughout the year, but the USDA's VMOs have the authority to inspect as well. And they have the final say in who shows.
"I stand behind my guys," said Mullins, referring to the SHOW inspectors. "They are committed -- committed -- to keeping sore horses out ... The government (USDA inspectors) have bragged on us all year long, and they wanted to make a statement. And they did," said Mullins, wondering why USDA inspectors suddenly differed with SHOW inspectors' calls.
Of the six horses turned down by the USDA VMOs, five of those were inspected both pre- and post-show by multiple American Association of Equine Practitioners veterinarians, all of whom said the horses were in compliance, Mullins said.
Mullins said industry DQPs inspected 20,000 horses last year and 12,000 horses this year to the approval of the USDA.
He said the USDA chose to inspect about 2,000 horses alongside the industry inspectors this year and the two organizations only disagreed on whether or not about three horses were fit to show, Mullins said.
At press time, the USDA had not yet answered calls from the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, an affiliate of the Tribune, asking for more information about the experience level of USDA inspectors at Saturday night's show.
In 1974, the Horse Protection Act was passed to protect horses from being "sored" to achieve a higher, more extreme gait.
In 2006, the industry came under fire by the USDA when only a handful of horses passed inspection before the Celebration's World Grand Championship class. One of the horses that did pass that year, Rowdy Rev, a four-time world champion and a favorite going into this year's show, did not pass inspection Saturday.
"My understanding is that he bumped himself getting off the trailer and they were hoping he'd make it through and show, but he didn't," Mullins said.
Bill Bobo is the trainer of Rowdy Rev. It's owned by Bill Harlin of College Grove.
Saturday night, nine horses competed in the aged stallions splits, classes 80A and 80B. Folsom Prison Blues, ridden by Rodney Dick of Unionville won the A division. The Golden Sovereign with Tim Smith finished reserve in the B division but that was taken away when he was cited for a scar rule violation following the class.
In addition to Dark & Shady, Rowdy Rev, and The Golden Sovereign, Moody Star is another well-known contender that will not be eligible for the World Grand Championship Saturday night. He is last year's reserve world champion.