APHIS: TWH Celebration Soring Violations Rise

Officials at the 2014 Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) National Celebration identified 219 soring violations, an increase from the number found last year, according to a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) report. This year's event took place Aug. 20-30 in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

The Horse Protection Act (HPA) forbids soring, the deliberate injury to a horse's feet or legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait. The USDA-APHIS enforces the act, and certifies horse industry organizations (HIOs) and trains designated qualified persons (DQPs) that carry out HPA compliance inspections on horses presented for exhibition at the shows. Violation penalties can be set by either HIOs or APHIS.

The USDA report indicates that APHIS and DQPs inspected 1,075 horses at this year's event. Of those, inspectors found 219 violations, including scar rule violations, the presence of foreign substances, unilateral and bilateral soring, high banding, and illegal shoeing. Of the violations, 218 were found in padded or so-called performance horses, while one violation was identified in a flat-shod horse, the report said. Further, of the 1,560 horses entered in the event, 485 horses were scratched and 166 were disqualified (165 performance horses and one flat-shod horse), the report said.

The 2014 figures are roughly double the 2013 Celebration figures, said Tanya Espinosa, APHIS legislative public affairs specialist.

“In 2013 the USDA and DQPs inspected 1,952 horses and 110 violations were found, an approximate 6% violation rate,” Espinosa said.

She said that in addition to traditional visual and physical examinations, inspectors use technology, including thermography, to examine horses participating in the event whenever possible. Espinosa said thermography allows inspectors to 'see' soring that is not visible to the naked eye by detecting abnormal body surface temperature.

“Thermography, along with blood testing, iris scanning, and other technology are all tools that help us enforce the HPA and our regulations to the fullest extent of our ability,” Espinoza said.

Espinosa declined to say whether the use of more advanced technology was responsible for the increase in violations: “Technology was utilized as much as possible when we were in attendance at horse protection inspections this year, but (to say that technology was responsible for the increase) requires us to speculate and we are unable to do that,” she said. “What I can tell you is that APHIS not changed our inspection procedures; however, we are using more advanced technological tools to make sure we identify horses that are sore and bring appropriate enforcement action against their trainers and owners.”

Celebration Chief Operating Officer Mike Inman credits the USDA's subjective application of HPA inspections with the increase in violations.

“The increase of information taking illustrates very clearly the need for objective rather than subjective inspections,” Inman said. “Of the 100 horses the USDA took information on for 'alleged' violations those same horses passed USDA inspections nearly 300 times prior to the celebration in 2014, (and) many passed (veterinary medical officers') inspections the week of the celebration prior to scar rule information being taken.”

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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