Monday, October 03, 2016

American Horse Council Statement on Nonspecific Language in USDA Horse Protection Act Amendment

For the past few months, the US Department of Agriculture has been hosting "listening sessions" around the country and gathering input about a proposed amendment to the American Horse Protection Act, which bans the "soring" abuse techniques used on some Tennessee Walking horses to gain an advantage in the show ring in some classes, particularly where the horse is asked to do the famous "big lick" walking gait. 

Among the features of this amendment is complete outlawing of pads, action devices such as pastern chains, and weighted shoes.

The amendment is an attempt to bypass the inability of Congress to pass the PAST Act, which would similarly attempt to stop soring. Congress has not held a vote on the PAST Act in spite of a large number of Senators and Congressional representatives sponsoring it. The amendment would use executive powers to enact the amendment through its cabinet powers.
Throughout the PAST Act's history and the recent introduction of the amendment, Hoofcare Publishing has sought clarification of the language it uses to describe the hoof equipment. Also disturbing is the unclarified intent of what breeds are affected by the ban; it simply specifies "related breeds" will fall under the amendment's bans.

Several breeds, including Morgans, Saddlebreds, Hackney ponies, National Show horses and Arabians are shown in weighted shoes and/or pads. No definition of what constitutes a "weighted" shoe is included in either the PAST Act or the USDA amendment. The two documents do not use the same language in describing hoof equipment. The amendment suggests that all horses be limited to a "keg" or conventional horseshoe, which would compromise the welfare of many show horses that benefit from urethane or composite shoes, bar shoes, and support materials designed for therapeutic application, not to specifically enhance movement.

While soring is universally abhorred, the passing of a law that would affect other breeds is not necessary, nor is there evidence that the welfare of any padded horses is affected by the practice of weighted shoes or pads. Although welfare or soundness may be impacted in some way, this has not been specifically documented nor have the individual components (weight of shoe, length of hoof, height of heels, effect of wedging, etc.) been individually tested. 

Further, it is not fair to Walking horses that they be held to a higher standard than other breeds, which are allowed to have pads and weighted shoes. However,  the other breeds are, for the most part, limited to specific toe lengths, shoe weights, shoe materials or designs, pad specifications or other limitations, and the argument for banning pad packages in the Walking horse are based in abuse of the pad stack for pressure shoeing or hidden manipulations within the stack. Most of the long-footed or padded breeds operate under the rules of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) for that breed; Tennessee Walking horses were once part of that organization, as well.

Last week, the American Horse Council (AHC) formally voiced its concerns over the unclear language in the Act. AHC has requested more information from the USDA.

On behalf of readers, Hoofcare Publishing has sought clarification from the USDA and has contacted the Humane Society of the United States, which lobbies to stop soring. HSUS was not able to comment on the vague shoeing language in the amendment since it did not author the amendment.

In the 1980s, a similar situation resulted in a panic among show horse breeders and exhibitors and required federal courts to clarify the language. Here we are again.

This amendment is a bold move on the part of USDA. It is a "Hail Mary" pass to once and for all end soring by putting a Walking horse's hoof back on the ground via executive action. But like all daring strategies, its execution begins in the huddle. The quarterback's signals must be clear and inarguable, or the Horse Protection Act enforcement plans could be delayed for years in the courts and other unrelated horse breeds and disciplines could become collateral damage. 

USDA will accept comments until October 26, 2016.  USDA will then review all comments and release a final rule.  The proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register and can be viewed here:

From the American Horse Council:

(Washington, DC)- Many individuals in the horse industry are aware the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has published proposed changes to the regulations governing enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The proposed rule would make several major changes to current HPA regulations with the goal of ending soring, including a new licensing program for HPA inspectors and a ban on action devices, pads, weighted shoes and foreign substances at walking horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.

The American Horse Council (AHC) strongly opposes soring and believes action must be taken to stop the soring of “big lick” Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses. However, the AHC is concerned that certain provisions of the proposed rule are too broadly written, not sufficiently defined, and could cause confusion for the horse show industry. Like all industries, the horse show industry requires clarity in any regulatory regime that impacts its operation. Soring is a problem that is well defined and limited to a very specific segment of the walking horse industry and any new regulations should reflect this fact.

The AHC’s formal comments to USDA will strongly urge USDA to explicitly limit all new provisions to Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses, mirroring the PAST Act. Making this change will address most concerns the horse industry has with the proposed rule and will fulfill the purpose and intent of the HPA.

The AHC wants to be clear, many of the proposed changes to the HPA regulations are needed such as replacing the ineffective Designated Qualified Person (DQP) program with a new independent inspection program. Additionally, because of a long history of utilizing action devices, stacks, weighted shoes, and foreign substances to sore horses, a ban of these items on Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses is justified and needed.

However, the AHC believes it is equally important that any new regulations be narrowly focused on the problem of soring and do not inadvertently impact or unnecessarily burden other segments of the horse show industry that have no history of soring horses.

The AHC will be submitting detailed written comments to USDA in the coming weeks.

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