WASHINGTON, DC – Gannett Reporter Paul C. Barton has today exposed the mendacity of “VAC” Spokesperson Tom Blankenship, “VAC” Chairman Dr. Jerry Johnson and Celebration Board Chairman David L. Howard in an article today first appearing in the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Barton’s article is expected to be published later today in The Tennessean and other Gannett publications.
When reporter Paul C. Barton asked the questions Wednesday so the public would know the truth about “VAC”, the “VAC” officials took their phones off the hook, and went into hiding.
They simply refused to provide answers to Gannett Washington Bureau Chief Paul C. Barton’s questions.
Celebration’s oversight faces new questions
WASHINGTON ““ For weeks, officials of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration have proclaimed three independent and “world class” veterinarians would be overseeing inspections to guard against horse soring at this year’s show, which runs through Saturday night in Shelbyville.
What they didn’t disclose is 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.
Critics called the misrepresentation a sign 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. VAC officials Wednesday declined to respond to questions.
Celebration officials announced the creation of the VAC in late July to reassure the public it was going all out to protect horses from soring. The council is charged with carrying out X-rays and blood tests on horses to detect evidence of the practice.
In an interview Wednesday, veterinarian Dallas O. Goble of Knoxville said he was offered a spot on the council and thought about accepting but then decided against it for “professional reasons.” In particular, he said, it would have been hard to arrange malpractice insurance after being retired 11 years.
Goble said he notified Jerry H. Johnson, another veterinarian on the council, about his decision “a couple or three weeks ago.” He said he talked to no others related to the council or the Celebration.
But in a stream of press releases and interviews over the past month, including an interview Tuesday with the Gannett Washington Bureau, VAC spokesman Tom Blankenship continued to say the council has three members “” Goble; Johnson, from Lexington, Ky.; and Phillip D. Hammock of Louisville, Ky.
In responding late Wednesday to Goble’s comments, Blankenship said the Knoxville veterinarian was involved in developing protocols for identifying soring shortly after the advisory council was formed in late July. He said it was not necessary for the three men to be present at the Celebration, although Johnson has been there. Blood samples and X-rays can be gathered by others, he said.
“They do not have to oversee objective testing,” Blankenship said.
But Goble, when contacted for a second time Wednesday, still said he had not been involved in anyway and that he knew nothing about establishing testing protocols. “I am not involved. I haven’t been involved from the start,” he said.
Teresa Bippen, representing Friends of Sound Horses, a pro-PAST ACT group, said Goble’s absence from the group shows it’s more about politics more than horses.
“The VAC was not established to protect the horse but to provide cover for big lick trainers, owners and the Celebration as they block the PAST Act,” Bippen said.
The PAST Act, bitterly opposed by many in the walking horse industry, would significantly enhance the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ability to police soring.
The news about Goble comes as the ability of the VAC to impartially oversee horse inspections and guard against soring “” the infliction of pain on a horse’s lower legs and hooves to produce the higher “Big Lick” gait “” was already under fire.
The Humane Society of the United States this week released an article of Johnson’s, the Lexington veterinarian, published in 1992 that described the 1970 Horse Protection Act as hugely successful in eliminating soring.
Humane Society officials, who support the PAST Act, said it was a sign Johnson shares the perspective of Big Lick horse owners that soring is a minor problem and that the 1970 law needs only tinkering, not an overhaul. Blankenship, on Tuesday, disputed the Humane Society’s contention, saying Johnson’s reputation was “beyond reproach.”
Meanwhile, Mike Inman, chief executive officer of the Celebration, said in an interview that attendance at the event was off and that controversy over the PAST Act and soring “has contributed some.”
Rainy weather in recent days has also held down crowd sizes, he said.
Inman added, “I don’t have the percentages yet.”
Contact Paul C. Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @PaulCBarton