All content of this website is copyright by Mid-South Horse Review and may not be copied or reprinted without express written consent of the publisher and editor

Call Us: (901) 867-1755

The Mid-South Horse Review is available at over 350 locations throughout Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky.
June issue is now available!


MSHR Investigates: TWH Celebration Veterinary Advisory Committee


By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

[Download: Initial VAC Report]
[Download: TWHNC VAC Announcement]
[Download: VAC prelim report presser draft]

Prior to the 76th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration (TWHNC), August 20-30, 2014 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, the TWHNC announced in press releases August 12 & 14, 2014 that it had made “landmark changes concerning the rules for the safety and well-being” of the horses competing at the show. “The TWHNC conducts the Celebration, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting shows, and at the same time enables charities to raise money through concessions and creates millions of dollars of economic impact to the local community…”according to the press release.

A Veterinarian Advisory Committee (VAC) was assembled to advise the TWHNC. “The purpose of the VAC is consistent and responsive to comments made and legislation introduced by Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee).” The Celebration would follow the recommendations of the VAC; and the VAC would be totally independent and separate from the TWHNC. Requirements for the veterinarians were: (1) “be world class veterinarians with extensive experience…and commitment to enhance the welfare of all horses; (2) be non-conflicted; (3) be unbiased; (4) make recommendations to enhance the welfare of the TWH to be implemented during the 2014 Celebration in a professional and objective standard,” according to the press release.

Two major recommendations by the VAC were (1) blood testing for a list of prohibited drugs and substances. (2) Digital X-rays. The TWHNC stipulated that the VAC would “not in any way participate or comment on the inspection or processes utilized by the USDA or the HIO…”

Jerry H. Johnson, DVM would serve as the VAC chairman; other committee members were to be Dallas O. Goble, D.V.M, and Phillip D. Hammock, D.V.M. John L. O’Brien, DVM, of Bowling Green, Kentucky, was appointed Show Veterinarian by the VAC, according to the press release.

TWHNC launched a website with information on this initiative:

Four VAC recommendations for the show were:

•Horses must be stabled on the grounds of the TWHNC for 48 hours before championships

•Horses must have a current (within 30 days) Health Certificate and negative Coggins test to gain admittance to the show grounds

•Digital x-rays and blood draws on-site conducted and supervised by licensed equine veterinarian specialists.
The Tennessee Dept. of Agriculture already requires a negative Coggins test and a Health Certificate: “Tennessee animal health regulations require annual [Coggins] testing of all horses that change ownership or are commingled with horses of multiple ownership. Horses, mules or other equidae transported into or through the State of Tennessee shall be accompanied by an official Health Certificate or Equine Interstate Event Permit (equine passport).” Section 0080-02-10-.03 covers the negative Coggins test requirements for horse shows.

After receiving the press releases, I attempted to contact the veterinarians on the VAC, first e-mailing Dr. Hammock at Countryside Veterinary Services. Dr. Hammock did not reply to the email, but instead, I received a reply on August 14, 2014 from Tom Blankenship, who introduced himself as the official spokesperson for the VAC. Mr. Blankenship is not a veterinarian, but is a lawyer with Blankenship and Haas Law Firm in Indianapolis, Indiana. Follow up e-mails to Blankenship asked for a specific list of drugs and substances the blood tests would screen for and who would be collecting the blood samples.

On 8/27/14 the All American Walking Horse Alliance (AAWHA) released an advisory “that Dallas O. Goble, DVM is not a member of the Veterinary Advisory Committee of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. Dr. Goble explained that he had originally been approached by Dr. Jerry H. Johnson about possibly being on the VAC, but as he had been retired for 11 years and he didn’t have the necessary malpractice insurance, he declined the invitation.

“In response to AAWHA questions, Dr. Goble said: I never signed any contract with the Celebration. I never received any payment or retainer with the Celebration. The last time I set foot on the Celebration grounds was 20 – 25 years ago. The last time I worked with the Clydesdale herd was three years ago.”

On August 28, 2014 The Tennessean published an article by Paul C. Barton about Goble: “For weeks, officials of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration have proclaimed that three independent and ‘world class’ veterinarians would be overseeing inspections to guard against horse soring at this year's show…What they didn't disclose is that one of the veterinarians never agreed to the deal and is at home in Knoxville this week — enjoying his retirement — rather than checking out horses as part of the Celebration’s new Veterinary Advisory Council (VAC).

“Critics call the misrepresentation a sign that the VAC’s real purpose has more to do with politics than protecting horses, as the political battle over the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act in Congress continues.”

I reached Dr. Dallas O. Goble at Strawberry Plains, TN by phone August 29, 2014, but he said he was “not interested in talking” with me and hung up.

I finally reached Dr. Phil Hammock by phone on August 29, 2014 at Countryside Veterinary Clinic, Louisville, TN. He said the veterinarians were “asked by the Celebration to provide recommendations on how to improve the show. Some of our recommendations were immediately followed, such as, a negative Coggins test and Health Certificate” requirements.

He said the VAC developed a drug testing procedure. After the data is collected, he said the veterinarians will review the data and make recommendations for future improvements. Hammock emphasized, “In no way are we there in a political means. We’re not there to interfere with USDA inspections. We are opposed to soring. We’ll be looking at the horses after they’ve been in the show ring and passed the USDA inspections.”

I asked about which drugs the labs will be screening the blood tests for. “There is a list of drugs published, based on the Kentucky Racing Commission’s list, modified slightly. The blood samples will be sent to a certified lab and all the testing will be done at once, like any group of race horses would be tested. We are trying to gain information on what is being used and what is being potentially abused,” Hammock said. A list of drugs was posted on the Celebration website:

The press releases gave the impression that the VAC members would be at the Celebration checking horses, but that was not the case. In a phone conversation on September 10, 2014 Tom Blankenship explained “the confusion created by the media and social media about how the VAC would work.” He said that the purpose of the VAC was to make and enact recommendations “to enhance the welfare of the horses showing at the Celebration.” He said that the VAC would not be on the grounds of the Celebration, but that Dr. Johnson was present the entire show, with Dr. John O’Brien overseeing the collection of data. He said veterinarians Bruce Howard, DVM was on the show grounds, alternating throughout the 11 days with Margaret Mitchell, DVM. He said, “Both specialize in drawing, handling, and shipping blood samples. All precautions were taken to preserve the chain of custody” of the samples.

Blankenship further explained: “Blood tests were taken on two horses from every performance class: the winner and a randomly selected competitor. Blood was drawn from 407 horses” after coming out of the show ring. He made it clear that the VAC was not involved in the pre-show inspections nor with any horse that failed to pass inspection. “This is a totally separate effort to get objective results, in addition to any state, federal requirements.”

Digital X-rays were performed “on 131 horses,” Blankenship said. “The winners and random placed horses were selected. In World Championship classes, the winner and second place horses were tested.” But digital X-rays were not taken every day. He said, “About ten World Grand Championship horses had their shoes removed and their hooves inspected.”

Blankenship said “a report on what was found and observed at the show will be issued” by the VAC to the Celebration, most likely to David Howard, Chairman of the Board of Directors and/or Michael Inman, CEO. Blankenship said he couldn’t divulge the number of substances the lab would be testing for and they’re not publicizing how the blood samples will be analyzed. “But all the prohibited substances [on the website] are subject to blood testing.” He said LGC Labs of Lexington, KY will process the samples, and it would take about 21 days to get the results.

According to information from the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, blood samples generally take a few days to a week to 10 days for screening results.

Analysis. The sampling techniques used for collecting this data will not give a representative sample of all the horses at the Celebration. Choosing only horses coming out of the show ring for the sample, and testing only after their performances, means that any horses who might have shown evidence of Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations (use of prohibited substances and/or pressure shoeing) would have already been eliminated from the sample by USDA inspections. The horses in this sample had to pass USDA inspection to compete in the show ring.

So it comes as no surprise that the initial report issued by the VAC, via press release from Rob Hoskins, on September 24, 2014 (but dated September 15) “found no violations of improper shoeing or the use of foreign objects…” Hoskins’ press release said: “The VAC performed 131 digital X-rays that were reviewed by at least three veterinarians, including chairman of the VAC Dr. Jerry H. Johnson and horse show veterinarian Dr. John O’Brien.

“During the championship weekend of the show, all first and second place finishers had digital X-rays performed after their performance. In addition, shoes were removed and horses examined in various divisions over the course of the championship weekend. This included the World Grand Champion I Am Jose, as well as the two-year-old, three-year-old, and four-year-old World Grand Champions.

“In addition to the digital X-rays, blood was drawn on 407 horses and 230 samples are being tested and will be made public when the VAC receives laboratory findings.” As of September 28, 2014, no report on the results of the blood screenings has been issued.

The USDA readily shared their daily show inspection data with the Mid-South Horse Review. USDA data show important points: (1) a high number of entries scratched prior to inspection; (2) a difference in the number of violations found by USDA and DQP inspectors; (3) at least 22.5% to 27% of the horses inspected at the Celebration had HPA violations.

USDA data show there were 469 horses scratched prior to inspection, ranging from a high of 78 on Wednesday, August 27 to a low of 14 on Thursday, August 28. The question raised is WHY these horses were scratched prior to inspection.

John I. Carney of the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, Shelbyville, TN reported August 23, 2014 on the high number of scratches at the show (56 on this date): “Only one horse, Mr. Heisman, showed in the ‘A’ division of Walking Stallions 5 Years and Over during Saturday night’s performance of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. Gen’s Black Maverick won the ‘B’ division from among five entries.

“The stallion class, split into two divisions, is the traditional preliminary to the World Grand Championship which will take place on Aug. 30. There were eight horses listed in the program for the ‘A’ division…But only one entered the ring.”

USDA and DQP Inspectors examined 974 horses from August 23-29, 2014 at the Celebration. There were 205 horses found to have Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations and 136 horses were disqualified. USDA data show HPA violations of the ranged from a high of 27% to a low of 13%, with the median frequency 22.5-27%. The percentage of horses disqualified ranged from 10.5% to 21.6%. None of the horses with HPA violations, nor disqualified horses, were included in the sample tested by the VAC, since they never made it to the show ring.

Following are USDA data reports for each day of the TWH National Celebration (percentages are my calculations):
Saturday evening– 8/23/14

107 Entries Inspected
56 Entries Scratched Prior To Inspection
27 Violations Found (25% of entries inspected)
- 25 violations Found by USDA
-  2 violations Found by DQPs
21 Horses Disqualified (19.6%)
Friday evening– 8/22/14
142 Entries Inspected
42 Entries Scratched Prior To Inspection
32 Violations Found (22.5% of entries inspected)
- 28 violations Found by USDA
- 4 violations Found by DQPs
23 Horses Disqualified (16%)
Thursday evening– 8/21/14
111 Entries Inspected
52 Entries Scratched Prior To Inspection
30 Violations Found Total (27% of entries inspected)
- 27 violations Found by USDA   
- 4 violations Found by DQPs
24 Horses Disqualified (21.6%)
Sunday evening– 8/24/14
114 Entries Inspected
52 Entries Scratched Prior To Inspection
15 Violations Found (13% of entries inspected)
- 15 violations Found by USDA
- 0 violations Found by DQPs
12 Horses Disqualified (10.5%)
Monday evening- 8/25/14
95 Entries Inspected
71 Entries Scratched Prior to Inspection
 26 Violations Found (27% of entries inspected)
 - 20 violations Found by USDA
 - 6 violations Found by DQPs
 20 Horses Disqualified (21%)
Tuesday evening- 8/26/14
111 Entries Inspected
68 Entries Scratched Prior to Inspection
18 Violations Found (16% of entries inspected)
- 16 violations Found by USDA
- 2 violations Found by DQPs
14 Horses Disqualified (12.6%)
Wednesday evening- 8/27/14
91 Entries Inspected
78 Entries Scratched Prior to Inspection
14 Violations Found (15% of entries inspected)
- 13 violations Found by USDA
- 3 violations Found by DQPs
*Two horses were both found in violation by the USDA and DQPs (USDA found them bilateral sore and DQPs found them unilateral sore)
12 Horses Disqualified (13%)
Thursday evening- 8/28/14
92 Entries Inspected
14 Entries Scratched Prior to Inspection
16 Violations Found (17% of entries inspected)
- 16 violations Found by USDA
- 0 violations Found by DQPs
11 Horses Disqualified (12%)
Friday evening- 8/29/14
111 Entries Inspected
36 Entries Scratched Prior to Inspection
27 Violations Found (24% of entries inspected)
- 26 violations Found by USDA
- 4 violations Found by DQPs
19 Horses Disqualified (17%)
Hoskins, Rob. “TWHNC VAC Announcement” (8-12-2014)
TWHNC Press Release (8-14-2014)
AAWHA Press Release (8-27-2014)
Barton, Paul C. Tennessean Washington Bureau, August 28, 2014. “Vet cited as monitoring horse inspections a no-show”
Barton, Paul C. The Jackson Sun, Aug. 16, 2014, “Banned substances on sored horses undercut compliance claims, some say”
Carney, John I. Shelbyville Times-Gazette, August 23, 2014,”Mr. Heisman only entry in ‘A’ division of stallion class; Gen's Black Maverick wins ‘B’ division
Carney, John I. Shelbyville Times-Gazette, August 27, 2014, “What scar? Industry responds to turndowns”
Farmer, Blake, Nashville Public Radio, Aug. 29, 2014 “Can Blood Tests And X-Rays Solve The Walking Horse Soring Problem?
Rules of the TN Dept. of Agriculture Division of Regulatory Services: Health Requirements for Admission and Transportation of Livestock and Poultry
The “Travel Documents: What You Need to Travel With Horses”

Go Back »

Photo Gallery

Additional photos from this month's events.


Upcoming events for the next three months.

Media Kit

Advertising rates, display ad dimensions & photo requirements, mission statement & who we are, demographics of readership, and yearly editorial calendar.

Scroll To Top