Thursday, June 09, 2016

Pennsylvania Court Petitioned to Require State to Resume Racetrack Farrier License Tests

On Tuesday, June 7, the International Chapter of Horseshoers and Equine Trades, Local 947, ("the Union") filed a writ of mandamus in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania naming the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, a board administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, as defendant.

The document petitions the Pennsylvania judicial system to direct the Racing Commission to follow its own law regarding the requirements to obtain a license to shoe horses on the grounds of Penn National and other Thoroughbred racetracks in the state.

Note: A “writ” is a court order issued on behalf of citizens or groups who feel that a law is not being followed or enforced. According to the Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute, filing a writ of mandamus requests an order from a court to an inferior government official directing the government official to properly fulfill his/her official duties or correct an abuse of discretion. 

In this case, the Union is requesting the court to direct the Racing Commission to uphold the state law that already exists. At Pennsylvania Thoroughbred racetracks, the state issues Owner, Trainer, Jockey, Apprentice Jockey, Assistant Trainer, Jockey Agent, Authorized Agent, Official, Veterinarian, Farrier, Pari-mutuel Employee and Stable Employee licenses.

In addition to proving competency and knowledge of laws related to racing in a given state, a license test also shows the public that the track is diligent in controlling who has access to horses that race for the betting public. A license can be revoked.

In recent years, competency of racetrack employees and professional service providers like farriers also is allied with racing’s “shop window” of efforts to assure that the welfare of the horse is protected through competent handling and care of racehorses.

Pennsylvania's current racetrack farrier license law has been in effect since 1982. (Please see boxed text for wording of the law.) Under this law, farriers who want a license are required to travel to Penn Vet's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square to take a licensing test. The test has been administered by Patrick Reilly, Penn Vet's Chief of Farrier Services, since 2007 and had been administered by his predecessor, Rob Sigafoos, before his retirement.

The law lists several requirements for farrier licenses; in particular, it states that all new farriers applying for a Pennsylvania license must be examined, and that any farrier who allows his or her license to expire will need to take the test again. Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania’s law does not recognize a license from another state as sufficient for bypassing the shoeing test in Pennsylvania; even if a farrier has a license in several states, he or she must take and pass the Pennsylvania test.

Pennsylvania’s law is similar to most states that require farrier testing. The court document does not indicate whether other professionals, such as trainers, are being tested for their licenses as directed under the law, or if only farriers have been allowed to obtain licenses without testing.

Text of the Pennsylvania state law covering farrier practice at racetracks.

In nearby New York, state law requires a three-year apprenticeship and testing, but New York does waive those requirements if a farrier presents a valid license from another state and can prove that 1) he or she worked in that state for at least two years and 2) he or she provides letters from at least two trainers. 

According to information posted online, California, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia do not allow evidence of being licensed in another state as an exemption from testing. Those states require testing within their jurisdictions, although who gives the test is not the same from state to state. Also, it is possible that the information posted online is outdated.

George Geist, Acting National Director
of the International Union of Journeyman
Pennsylvania farrier George Geist is the current Acting National Director of the International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers and Allied Equine Trades. He is a former president of his local chapter of the JHU and is also certified by the American Farrier’s Association. In a previous statement dated March 7, Geist expressed his concern that an open-door policy existed for farriers to apply for and be granted Pennsylvania racetrack licenses without taking any test.

After several rounds of correspondence and speaking at a February 2015 meeting of the Racing Commission, Geist noted no change in the way licenses were handled. He maintains that farriers have only been asked to show proof of liability insurance to receive a track license in Pennsylvania.

“I brought to their attention that this law wasn't being enforced as written--or at all, for that matter,” Geist said. “I was assured that they would immediately correct the problem.”

On May 26, 2015, Geist attended a Racing Commission meeting with Patrick Reilly of New Bolton Center to discuss racetrack farrier licensing and testing in the state.

The union's current legal action, if successful would direct the Commission to follow its own law. Geist also said he hopes that other states will stop honoring current Pennsylvania shoeing licenses for reciprocity in their states, since the law as stated misrepresents the reality.

Geist maintains that his union’s action is meant to re-establish the value of a farrier license in Pennsylvania. Membership in the Union is not a requirement to shoe at any racetrack in Pennsylvania; the Union does, however, require that its own test be passed to become a member.

Geist told the Hoof Blog that he obtained a transcript of the licenses that had been granted in Pennsylvania in recent years through the Freedom of Information Act, . While it is difficult to know which licenses were granted for the first time and which were re-issued after an expiration, records showed that approximately  59 farriers received new licenses in Pennsylvania without taking a state-mandated test. Once licensed, farriers simply renew existing documents from year to year.

As a humorous illustration to this, Reilly said that Dave Duckett, FWCF traveled to New Bolton Center and took the test several years ago. He is a former world champion farrier and holds the highest level of farrier accomplishment in the world, the Fellowship of the Worshipful Company of Farriers in England. He has also been an instructor and lecturer in farriery at national government training schools in Great Britain and Ireland. After reading the requirements for a track license, he simply went and took the test. Apparently, according to the Union's document, dozens of other farriers were granted licenses without taking any test.

Reilly, of New Bolton Center, reports administering only “an average of about two tests a year” at the vet school in the past ten years.

What is the Union suggesting that the court demand the Racing Commission do in order to comply with the existing law? The court document lists four steps:
  • Appointing a testing entity pursuant to Section 163.52;
  • Requiring the testing of new licensees;
  • Requiring testing of those existing farriers who have never been tested or who cannot produce a letter verifying successful completion of the test; and
  • Enforce a regimen for license applicants to be fingerprinted and background checks.

What's in this for the Union? Geist insists that this action is being taken for the good of the horseshoeing profession and the welfare of horses. He has been an outspoken critic of the deteriorating quality of horseshoeing at US racetracks, and attributes this to the lack of testing in many states, and the practice of honoring licenses from states that grant licenses without requiring testing.

Can a test insure that good quality horseshoeing will be provided to horses? Pat Reilly stressed that the test he currently administers is a low-level evaluation.

Pat Reilly, Chief of Farrier Services at
Penn Vet's New Bolton Center.
“(It) involves a written portion that tests the basic problem-solving and tasks of the farrier job,” Reilly said. “The farriers have to trim a hoof, make a couple of shoes, and apply one of those shoes in a safe manner. The purpose is to demonstrate that the farrier knows how to safely apply a shoe. The test is for very basic competencies.”

“I think licensing is important for the welfare, health, and safety of horses and the riders. I also think it is important to the trust in the farrier profession, to assure that there are qualified farriers working at Pennsylvania racetracks.”

About horse racing in Pennsylvania

The legal action comes just as the landscape of horse racing in Pennsylvania is changing. In October 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture faced the difficult prospect of suspending racing in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf subsequently overhauled the organization of both Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing in the state. In February, he signed “Act 7” into law, which combined the two types of pari-mutuel horseracing into one racing commission.

A new nine-member commission is composed of five members appointed by the governor (one veterinarian, one representative of a Thoroughbred horsemen's organization, one representative of a Thoroughbred breeder organization, one representative of a Standardbred horsemen's association and one representative of a Standardbred breeder organization) and four members appointed by each of the four legislative caucuses.

Act 7 also makes the industry, rather than taxpayers, responsible for bearing the cost of drug-testing horses, and it institutes new license fees for racetrack operators and for businesses that offer electronic wagering.

Pennsylvania's six racetracks contribute $1.6 billion to the state's economy and employ 23,000 people.

About the Union

The JHU was formed in 1873. At that point in history, urban horses were becoming a big business, and city shoeing shops were owned by members of the National Master Horseshoers Association. While some of the “masters” were highly accomplished horseshoers, others were savvy business owners who owned or had inherited the shops, which were often affiliated with large stables or held contracts to shoe for railroads, dairies or freight companies.

The Masters’ employee farriers were known as “journeymen”. They formed their union to protect their own interests, which often included mandatory uniform pay across entire cities, so that journeymen had little incentive to change jobs in hopes of better pay. The Masters displayed the classic priorities of the rising capitalist class in 19th century America: they wanted stability in their workforce to get the most horses shod at the lowest possible cost and to earn the highest possible profit.

By contrast, the journeymen horseshoers exhibited all the classic priorities of organized labor. The late 1800s and early 1900s were times of crippling and sometimes violent strikes by journeymen farriers. They struck for causes like limiting work to 9 hours a day, and having Saturday afternoons off. At other times, they struck in sympathy with other unions, especially the teamsters who drove the wagons.

Cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia came to a standstill when the JHU went on strike, since the horses were unable to work without farrier care. The JHU’s 1903 strike in New York lasted a year. When the Masters brought in “scab” horseshoers, the result was often bloodshed.

An old cartoon from The Horseshoers Journal offers some subtle insights into the political history of the JHU. The magazine, owned by the National Master Horseshoers Association (representing shoeing business owners), appears to portray a farrier holding up car traffic as he crosses the street. But look again: he's holding a sign.  Is he crossing the street or is he picketing? Labor actions often snarled city traffic. Employee shoers, many of whom were openly Marxist, participated in crippling boycotts and strikes in US cities and at racetracks for 100 years, from 1864 to the 1960s. The symbolic journeyman is portrayed in the capitalist Masters' journal cartoon not as a symbolic hero of Labor idealism, but in miniature, with features and cap suggesting an Eastern European immigrant of diminished stature and obvious political leanings.

In the year 1922, the JHU listed 322 “locals”, or chapters, from coast to coast in the United States and Canada. It had 19 chapters in New York state alone, and 18 in Illinois.

As the urban horse business dwindled in the early 1900s, the establishment of racetrack training centers began to rise. Huge new racetracks were built that included dirt tracks, so the horses could train on site, without damaging the turf racing surface, and long shedrow stables were built to accommodate trainers’ strings throughout an entire race meet. Horseshoers, like trainers, were under contract to owners; they often moved from track to track with the horses. The JHU helped organize the farriers and represented their interests in negotiating with track management. Union tests were required and, in some areas, only union shoers were allowed on a track. The track shoers kept the JHU’s formal apprenticeship system.

About farrier licensing

Farriers do not need licenses to work in the United States until or unless they want to work on a racetrack. Pari-mutuel betting integrity codes require strict regulation of all workers at a racetrack. Most track professionals and service providers are required to apply for and maintain licenses in most states.

In the past, non-racetrack farrier licensing statutes were unsuccessful and led to Supreme Court decisions denying their legality in New York, Illinois, and other states.

At the track, on the other hand, licensing and/or union membership have been required. Union membership required passing a difficult test at the end of a long apprenticeship. Many tracks were closed to non-Union shoers so there was no need for state track licenses. States began administering their own tests to fill the gap when the Union became optional for track work.

Editor's note

Here are the Union and licensing, back in the news again. History is enlightening, although few people want to know (or care) how we came to the place we are today, both on and off the track. Will we ever get it right? Maybe  we will, when both farriers and the people who own, train and ride horses finally value having access to farriers who are both dedicated to and highly proficient at both the technical and horsemanship aspects of their jobs, and when farriers approach their careers accordingly. Any system that doesn't build mutual respect while advancing an appreciation for sound, healthy horses at the same time is doomed to simply repeat the frustrations of the past.


Links to learn more:

International Union of Journeyman Horseshoers

Pennsylvania horseracing laws on licensing

History: Happy Birthday to the Journeyman Horseshoers Union

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