The Kentucky Horse Park Commission voted 8-2 Wednesday to allow a sale of Tennessee walking horses, possibly including those wearing pads and chains, at the park on Jan. 25 and 26.
Saying the issue had caused her a lot of angst during the past two months, commission chairwoman Alston Kerr pledged that the sale would do nothing to tarnish the park's outstanding international reputation.
"I have spent 30 years raising money to make this park a jewel," Kerr said after the vote. "On my watch, we'll do it right."
The commission mandated that the contract for the Kentucky After Christmas Sale include what it considers a stringent condition: that the highly regarded International Walking Horse Association be the horse industry organization selected to inspect all horses.
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Horse Park director John Nicholson outlined the steps he and his staff had taken to vet the sale before it could rent Alltech Arena at the park.
Nicholson said he had looked into the history of the sale and the walking horse industry.
He has invited the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the regulatory agency that enforces the federal Horse Protection Act governing walking horses, to the sale.
"I would be shocked if they are not here," Nicholson said. "I believe they will be here."
Jerrold Pedigo, majority partner in the sale, said afterward that he was pleased that the Horse Park commission took the step. He also promised that the sale would not embarrass the state-run park.
"Our largest number of consignors come from the state of Kentucky and the largest number of buyers will probably be from the state of Kentucky," Pedigo said. "They're good people who love their horses, and this is an opportunity for them to do business inside the state and here at the Horse Park."
He said this would be the first time many of them have been exposed to the Kentucky Horse Park, which has had little association with walking horse events.
"It will be good for the Horse Park. They have an opportunity to participate in setting the standards," Pedigo said.
Commission member Meg Jewett, who voted against allowing the sale, said she was disappointed that the conditions would not specify that no padded horses or those wearing chains or other "action devices" be allowed.
Kerr acknowledged the potential for public backlash over embracing an industry that has yet to eliminate "soring."
Soring involves illegal training techniques such as the use of corrosive substances or foreign objects under horseshoes to create an exaggerated gait. Pads and some chains are legal, but prominent veterinary groups and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, have called for banning them.
Kerr and Nicholson said the sale could be an opportunity for the Horse Park to be part of changing the walking horse industry.
Nicholson said the USDA had expressed interest in using the Kentucky Horse Park as a venue for training inspectors, something the park would welcome.
"We could be part of the solution," Kerr said.