Inspections at this year's 11-day Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration found that 9 percent of the 1,849 horses presented for competition were cited for soring violations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The 9 percent rate -- 166 violations -- seems to contradict a Celebration claim that its lay inspector group, called SHOW, has a 98 percent compliance rate with the Horse Protection Act, which aims to stop the abuse of horses to achieve an exaggerated high step.
But SHOW -- which stands for Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly -- and other industry groups dispute USDA's numbers.
SHOW, which is licensed by USDA, did 2,293 inspections during the Celebration, said Jennifer Baker, a crisis management and public relations consultant hired by the industry.
"SHOW inspects all the horses. USDA does not," Baker said.
But she couldn't say how many horses SHOW cited and disqualified.
"I don't have numbers," she said Friday. "We're doing an in-depth analysis ... and we'll release detailed numbers next week."
USDA's preliminary numbers announcement noted that the 9 percent violation rate was lower than the 9.5 percent rate last year. In the 2011 Celebration, 2,143 horses were inspected and 203 violations were found.
Both the industry and its regulators say they want the same thing -- safety for the horses.
But in recent weeks the two sides played semantics regarding soring definitions and claims of who is regulating and reforming the most.
SHOW officials charged that in the first week of the Celebration, USDA wrote five times as many tickets as it had written in the full 11 days the year before.
USDA this summer put in place tougher, mandatory and consistent penalties, but SHOW refused to adopt them, claiming they cannot be implemented fairly. SHOW has sued USDA. And USDA has begun the administrative process of decertifying SHOW.
Last week, a proposed amendment to the Horse Protection Act raised the stakes higher still for the industry.
The proposal would do away with industry self-policing, outlaw chains and most hoof pads and make soring a federal felony.
Industry spokesman Jeffrey Howard said losing lay inspectors "would do more harm than good by allowing for abusive trainers to go undetected and unpunished."
The author of the 40-year-old Horse Protection Act, former U.S. Sen. Joe Tydings of Maryland, said self-policing has been tried before and failed each time.
But his favorite part of the proposed amendment to the law he crafted is a simple one.
He said making soring a felony rather than a misdemeanor "will make it far easier to get U.S attorneys to take on these cases."
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...