After online drama and official angst, the Kentucky After Christmas Sale of Tennessee walking horses opened quietly at the Kentucky Horse Park on Friday.
Jerrold Pedigo, president of the sale, said the crowd was a little lighter and the early prices were a little lower than had been anticipated.
Some sellers were unable to get their horses to the sale because of winter weather. Would-be buyers also said they had difficulty driving into Lexington. That might have affected prices, which seemed to mostly be under $1,000. About 220 horses were cataloged to be sold.
After a delay due to the weather, dozens of horses began to make their way into the Alltech Arena to go before a crowd of a few hundred potential buyers looking mostly for trail horses.
Tennessee walking horses are Kentuckys third-most-populous breed, behind Thoroughbreds and quarter horses.
Anti-soring advocates had expressed concerns before the sale that sore horses might be part of the sale, but that appeared not to be the case. USDA veterinary medical officers were on hand to inspect horses before the sale, alongside paid inspectors from the International Walking Horse Association.
The USDA is charged with enforcing the federal Horse Protection Act, implemented to combat illegal training practices known as soring. Either the USDA or a USDA-certified inspector must check every Tennessee walking horse at a show or a sale.
Im glad the USDAs here, said David Landrum, vice president of the sale. Thats good for everybody.
By late afternoon, all the horses going to auction had passed inspection.
There appeared to be no padded horses at the auction. Pads have become controversial; the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association have called for them to be banned because vets say they facilitate soring. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, has filed legislation to beef up the Horse Protection Act and ban pads.
Almost all of the horses offered for the sale appeared to be flat-shod, but performance or padded horse enthusiasts point out that they can be sored as well.
In the world of Tennessee walking horses, padded horses wear thick front horseshoes used to help create an exaggerated, high-stepping gait known as the big lick. The big lick is often associated with soring, the deliberate injuring of walking horses front legs. Painful treatments that trainers sometimes use to encourage the big lick include painting caustic chemicals on the horses front legs, piling on heavy chains that bounce on tender spots, applying huge padded shoes, or inserting objects (including nails, tacks or golf balls) under the pads to create sore feet, a practice known as pressure shoeing.
An analysis of the sale catalog by the Humane Society of the U.S. found that about half of the horses were entered by owners previously cited for Horse Protection Act violations; a third of the owners had multiple violations. Two horses in the sale were previously cited as being sore at horse shows, including one cited twice in 2012.
Pedigo said no one who is currently on a suspension for an HPA violation is allowed to participate.
We follow the law according to the Horse Protection Act, Pedigo said. And if someone had received a violation, say in 1992, then once that penalty has been served, then at that point in time they are free to participate again. We followed the law to the letter, and so does the International Walking Horse Association. ... Even if there were one or two horses who had failed a test at some point in time, if that problem has been corrected, they can participate.
Consignors, selling for the first time at the Kentucky Horse Park after 20 years at Tattersalls at The Red Mile, said they were happy with the arena, which has an indoor ring and stands and enclosed, heated barns.
We love it. The facilities are fantastic, said Chester Jessie of Lakewood Stables in Sandy Hook. The stalls are great. Seems like we have a lot of traffic today. Weve got one sold today. Thats always a plus.
Sale prices of only a few hundred dollars raised the possibility of horses being purchased by killer buyers for slaughter. At Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton in Lexington, a minimum reserve of $1,000 is placed on every horse to price slaughter buyers out of the market.
The Kentucky After Christmas Sale does not set reserves on any horses, Pedigo said.
He said he is unfamiliar with buyers who might be purchasing horses for slaughter in Canada or Mexico.
We are here to sell horses, he said. I dont know of a single horse thats ever went to the killers from this sale in 20 years.