Walking Horse Groups Could Face USDA Sanctions

The USDA might decertify five Tennessee Walking Horse Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) for failing to comply with provisions contained in a new Horse Protection Act (HPA) enforcement rule.

The HPA prohibits soring--the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait. The USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) enforces the Act, certifies HIOs that manage horse shows, and trains Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) who inspect horses presented for exhibition at the horse shows for HPA compliance.

Last year the USDA proposed a minimum HPA penalty protocol that would require HIOs to enforce uniform minimum penalties for the HPA. In June APHIS announced a final HPA penalty rule requiring all APHIS-certified HIOs to assess penalties that equal or exceed minimum levels for HPA violations. The rule also stiffens penalties for repeat HPA violators and took effect July 9.

On July 8 APHIS notified HIOs that they must adopt minimum penalty protocols and appeals processes as prescribed in the new enforcement rule. As evidence of their compliance, the HIOs were required to submit amended rulebooks containing the minimum penalty and appeals protocols.

In a July 19 letter to HIOs, Chester Gipson, DVM, APHIS deputy administrator for Animal Care announced that seven associations had submitted amended rulebooks containing the penalty and appeals protocols.

Five other HIOs--Sound Horse, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW); Professional Regulation and Inspection for Dedicated Equestrians; the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association; the Heart of America Walking Horse Association; and the Kentucky Walking Horse Association--had not submitted amended rulebooks to APHIS, Gipson's letter said.

In a written statement SHOW President Stephen Mullins, DVM, said the HIO, which is challenging the minimum penalty in federal court, has "serious concerns" about the USDA rule because it allows trainers who sore horses to exhibit their animals at "other HIO events." He said SHOW remains willing to work with USDA on other HPA enforcement strategies.

"We have reached out to the USDA to discuss how to partner in imposing stringent penalties, something that we currently do and support for the entire industry, and we look forward to working with them to reach our common goal of ridding the industry of soring trainers," Mullins statement said.

No one from the other four HIOs was available for comment.

APHIS spokesman David Sacks said the HIOs that have not submitted the amended rulebooks are noncompliant with HPA regulations.

"Those HIOs may face decertification of their DQP inspection program," Sacks said.

If decertified, the HIOs have 30 days to request an appeal APHIS' decision, Sacks said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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