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WASHINGTON — The website of the new Veterinary Advisory Committee associated with the walking horse celebration in Shelbyville promises the committee provides "direct supervision" of lower-level staff who help test horses for signs of soring.

Critics now question how that squares with statements by a Veterinary Advisory Committee spokesman that the committee's "world class" vets didn't have to be on the grounds of the Shelbyville event to do their jobs.

The Tennessee National Walking Horse Celebration ended Saturday.

In comments last week, committee spokesman Tom Blankenship repeatedly said the high-profile vets didn't have to attend the show to help protect horses from soring.

And the committee released a statement Friday saying, "The public is reminded that it was never a requirement or expectation that all the committee members would be on site to carry out the VAC recommendations."

"You cannot provide 'direct supervision' from your couch at home. You must be on site," Teresa Bippen of St. Louis-based Friends of Sound Horses said Monday.

Donna Benefield, vice president of the International Walking Horse Association, said the Veterinary Advisory Committee "bragged about these vets' reputations."

"What difference does it make what their reputations are if it isn't these vets that are present doing the tests and (providing) direct supervision?" she said.

Blankenship and other walking horse industry officials did not respond Monday to phone calls and emails requesting comments.

The "frequently asked questions" section of the Veterinary Advisory Committee's web site says the committee employ monitors, farriers (specialists in hoof care) and a variety of other personnel to implement its "protocols and recommendations."

"These personnel shall perform their responsibilities under the direct supervision and auspices of the VAC," the site says.

Keith Dane, who represents the Humane Society of the United States on equine issues, called the discrepancy another sign that walking horse celebration officials don't deal honestly with the public.

"Direct supervision certainly suggests to me that the supervisors would be on site," he said in a statement. "But these people twist and massage their words to leave the impression they desire, without actually living up to the letter of what their words say. They have mastered that tactic, and it's the only way they have managed to keep on deceiving the public all these years."

Such criticisms come amid controversy over what role veterinarian Dallas Goble of Knoxville may have played on the new committee, which walking horse celebration officials established to reassure the public it was taking allegations of soring seriously.

Soring is the intentional infliction of pain on a walking horse's lower legs and hooves — using caustic chemicals, chains and other devices — to make it have a more high-stepping gait known as "the Big Lick."

Blankenship and celebration officials insisted last week that Goble was playing a role, even though the veterinarian told the Gannett Washington Bureau he decided weeks ago he would not be a committee member and would remain at his home in Knoxville instead of going to Shelbyville.

Goble told the Gannett Washington Bureau his only conversation with the committee had been a phone call with lead vet Jerry H. Johnson several weeks before the walking horse celebration began. Goble said he told Johnson he didn't want to participate because he would have had trouble getting malpractice insurance. Goble has been retired 11 years.

In a follow-up interview Friday, Goble said he and Johnson had a phone call discussing issues related to testing horses for soring "sometime in July." He wasn't certain whether that was the same conversation with Johnson he had mentioned before.

But Goble reaffirmed he had never agreed to join the committee and had made that clear to Johnson weeks ago, despite a steady stream of statements from Blankenship and celebration officials saying he was part of the group.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, and Republican Sen. Bob Corker remain the only two members of the state's 11-member congressional delegation who haven't taken a position on the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act now before Congress. Only Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is cosponsoring it. The others support alternative legislation favored by the industry.

Contact Paul C. Barton at pbarton@gannett.com and on Twitter @PaulCBarton

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