SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee walking horse groups continue to clash with U.S. Agriculture Department inspectors this week as the industry’s premier event takes place in Shelbyville.
The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/QOjuzf) that frequently during the Celebration, USDA inspectors have issued citations where independent inspectors and an independent veterinarian found no signs of soring. Soring is the illegal practice of causing injuries to a horse’s legs or hooves to exaggerate the high-stepping gait that wins prizes.
On Monday night, USDA inspectors cited Winky Groover, a trainer who recently appeared in newspaper and television reports explaining what’s being done to clean up walking horse shows.
Groover disputed the UDSA’s finding that I’m Jiminy Cricket had been sored.
“(I’m Jiminy Cricket) was perfectly sound,” Groover said. “When the inspector turned him down, I took him to the veterinarian, and he was perfectly sound.”
John Bennett of Shelbyville, an independent veterinarian invited to the show, told the paper he believes the disagreements with USDA inspectors stem from the way at least one of them is palpating the horses’ legs.
Under the Horse Protection Act, a horse is cited if it flinches after the inspector presses hard with the flat of his thumb. Bennett claims at least one USDA inspector is running a thumbnail along the length of the lower leg, which he said will cause any horse to flinch.
If a horse is cited, it is out of the competition, and the trainer could face federal charges.
Inspectors are under pressure to put an end to soring after a graphic undercover video released in May showed horses being beaten and sored with chemicals. The USDA recently announced new rules requiring mandatory punishment for anyone found soring a horse.
At least two congressmen have written to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack questioning whether the inspections are fair this year. Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais wrote on Aug. 16 and Kentucky Congressman Harold Rogers, appropriations committee chair, wrote a letter on Monday.
“I want to stress the serious nature of these concerns and allegations of one-sided rulemaking changes, biased inspection practices, and threats against the Walking Horse industry in general,” Rogers wrote.
USDA spokesman Dave Sacks has said the agency is committed to “ending the cruel and inhumane practice of soring.