USDA: Some Walking Horse Groups Deemed Noncompliant

Three Tennessee Walking Horse Horse Industry Organizations (HIO) have not yet responded to letters informing them of impending decertification for failing to comply with federal Horse Protection Act (HPA) enforcement rules.

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.

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.

But as of July 19, five HIOs--Sound Horse, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly; Professional Regulation and Inspection for Dedicated Equestrians; the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (SSHBEA); the Heart of America Walking Horse Association; and the Kentucky Walking Horse Association (KWHA)—--had not submitted amended rulebooks, according to a letter from Chester Gipson, DVM, APHIS deputy administrator for Animal Care.

In separate letters also dated July 19, Gipson informed the five HIOs that they were deemed noncompliant and informed the organizations' leadership that they had five business days after receipt of the letter to submit amended rulebooks or to explain their noncompliance to APHIS' satisfaction. HIOs that failed to comply risk revocation of their DQP certification programs, Gipson's letter said.

APHIS spokesman David Sacks said that since the letters were issued, SSHBEA and KWHA have submitted amended rulebooks and are now both considered compliant. Sacks said that the USDA has not decertified any of the three remaining HIOs.

No one from any of the other three HIOs was available for comment.

If decertified, HIOs have 30 days to appeal the USDA’''s decision and may request a hearing, Sacks said.

"Depending on how each of the three HIOs responds from this point forward, we will determine our next appropriate action," Sacks said. "We remain in communication with those three HIOs that have not submitted amended rulebooks."

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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