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Sore Stigma: the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration


Compiled by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

The 81st annual Walking Horse National Celebration ran August 21–31, 2019 at the National Celebration grounds in Shelbyville, Tenn. The culmination of the show was crowning of the 2019 World Grand Champion (WGC) in the last class on Saturday night. This year’s World Grand Champion: I’m Mayhem, ridden by Rodney Dick for Jo Ann Dowell of Powell, Ohio.

But the kicker is that the winning exhibitor/trainer begins a USDA suspension on October 1, 2019 for Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations. A Consent Order, filed December 20, 2018, states that in August 2016, Rodney Dick entered two horses at the TWH National Celebration in Shelbyville, The Dixie Lineman and Gus Malzahn, who were sore. As a result, “Rodney Dick is disqualified for eighteen months, beginning October 1, 2019 and ending March 31, 2021, from showing, exhibiting, or entering any horse…and from judging, managing, or otherwise participating in any horse show, horse exhibition, or horse sale or auction…” In addition, Rodney Dick is assessed a civil penalty of $2,200.  

It was déjà vu to 2017, when the 2017 WGC exhibitor/trainer Bill Callaway began a suspension for multiple HPA violations on September 4, 2017, just two days after winning the championship with Gen’s Black Maverick. His brother, John Allan Callaway, was also suspended for these same eight months and fined $1,100 (as was Bill) under a Consent Decision and Order.

(see Mid-South Horse Review reports on this:

Other HPA Violators at 2019 Celebration

This year’s Celebration proved to be yet another example of HPA repeat violators being rewarded with the highest honors in this equestrian discipline. Dick is not the only HPA violator who won honors at the Celebration this year. In fact, many of this year’s winners have been previously disqualified for HPA violations and/or are waiting to serve a disqualification.

The Stallions five and over/WHTA Riders Cup, Secs. A & B on Saturday evening August 24th are important to watch since they are qualifying classes for the World Grand Championship class on Saturday August 31st.

At the 2019 Celebration, Gus Malzahn (see above) placed sixth in the Stallions five and over/WHTA Riders Cup sec. B, ridden by Rodney Dick for Jo Ann Dowell. John Callaway (see above) placed first in Sec. B with Border Run, riding for Gayle Holcomb.

Herbert Derickson, whose horse was second in the WGC class, Masters Razzel and Jazz owned by the Alan Riddley family, will begin a five-year federal disqualification beginning in September 2020, stemming from 26 violations. Both Derickson and Terry Alan Riddley are named in the USDA Consent Order. Riddley was disqualified for eight months, from November 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, and assessed a $1,100 civil penalty.

Gary Edwards, who rode the WGC third place horse, I’m Lombardi, owned by Henry and Peggy Metcalf, has a history of violations. By Consent Order he is disqualified for three-years beginning October 1, 2022 until September 30, 2025 for violations on six different horses: Victoria’s Secret (2010); Generating the Command (2012); The World Cup (2016); Honors (twice in 2016); and I’m Judge Roy Bean (2016).

John Allen Callaway rode Border Run for Holcomb and Master, and placed fifth in the WGC class. John Allan and his brother Bill, served an eight-month federal disqualification in 2018 for violations involving the 2017 World Grand Champion Gen’s Black Maverick (see above).

Jamie Lawrence, whose horse Hey Tomcat, ridden for Roy/Joan Wester/Tomcat LLC, placed seventh in the WGC class, was found guilty of assault in 2016 for his attempt to run over a protester at the Spring Jubilee Walking Horse show at Maury County Park on May 30. Lawrence had been facing charges of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Chad Williams rode He’s Unleashed, for Evergreen Walking Horse Farm, to eighth place in the WGC class. Williams was a trainer at ThorSport Farm, where an undercover investigation in 2015 found evidence that the legs of every horse in the training barn had been “treated” with foreign substances prohibited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to an article by the Horse Authority, owner Duke Thorson knew about the chemicals. Wife Rhonda Thorson had been cited once for an HPA violation and daughter Allison had four HPA violations. Trainers working for the Thorsons also had HPA violations: Robert Cortner (3); Joseph Aaron Self (6); and Chad Williams (4).

Trainer of the Year

The Walking Horse Trainers Association awarded their “Trainer of the Year” award at the Celebration to Phillip Trimble, another serial violator of the HPA who’s set to serve a two-year USDA suspension beginning September 15, 2020 and ending September 1, 2022. The Consent Order was entered April 10, 2019, but his violations occurred in 2013 on the horse Main Sweetie.

Official USDA HPA Violations Report

HPA violations numbered at this year’s Celebration. According to the APHIS/USDA Horse Protection activity report on this show, of 361 padded horse entries, 301 were inspected and 49 noncompliances were detected by DQPs. There were 44 horses disqualified after receiving DQPs inspection results for HPA noncompliances. HPA violations were all among the padded horses in the pre-show inspections by DQPs: 5 bilateral (sore), 11 unilateral (sore), 2 for scar rule, and 4 for prohibited substances. Twenty-five horses tested positive for prohibited substances. None of the horses inspected had a digital radiography exam.

USDA Veterinary Medical Officers (VMOs) inspected 71 padded horse entries, 14 flat shod, and 4 park performance entries; total 89 inspected. Of those, 22 (21 padded and 1 park performance) entries were in HPA noncompliance. The total number of horses disqualified by Show Management was 46 (41 padded and 5 park performance). In addition, VMO post show examinations found 9 padded horses with inflammation.

The Mid-South Horse Review filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on September 5, 2019 with APHIS requesting any information regarding HPA violations on WGC I’m Mayhem. The response we received targeted October 3 as the date we would receive information from our FOIA request.

Protests of Big Lick Shows

The Celebration continues to be the subject of protests by community groups against the “big lick” show horses, particularly for their “training” (soring) practices. Protestors stood on the show grounds every day/night of the Celebration, holding posters to “End Big Lick Animal Cruelty.”

The Chattanooga Times Free Press posted a cartoon by Clay Benett on August 20, 2019 just before the start of the show, showing blood dripping from the TWH National Celebration logo.

One of the protest groups has posted a video, with over 625,000 views so far, showing walking horses in the Owner/Amateur (canter) class on Saturday August 31, 2019 – in slow motion. (credit: BillyGoBoy.Com)

The slow motion distinctly reveals how the pads and chains (and other devices) drastically modify the horse’s gaits.

Soring Stigma Keeps Attendance Down

Plenty of empty seats in the stands indicated attendance at the show is down, too. According to the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, the 10-day paid attendance for the show was 128,812, but “it has been years since the days of standing-room-only Saturday night crowds,” John I. Carney reported in his article. Other sources estimate attendance at around 23,000 for the ten-day show.

Find complete information about the TWH National Celebration at:
Sources: (Photo credit: T-G Photo by Gary Johnson)
Bloody logo cartoon by Clay Bennett:

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