Friday, January 13, 2017

Hail Mary: USDA proceeds with last-ditch effort to end soring by imposing bans on Walking horse pads, action devices

USDA Soring Rule Change Bans Hoof Pads on Walking Horses

It's fourth down at the end of the fourth quarter. The clock is counting down. Do you punt or pass? The game's at stake. It's time to pull off a play they'll never forget. It's time to throw that Hail Mary pass. 
In the waning hours of President Obama’s administration’s days in Washington, his out-bound US Department of Agriculture says they are ready to drop a bombshell in the middle of the horse world.

The bombshell may well devastate a sector of the show horse industry, but there will be cheers, as well. It just depends which side you're on, and if you're willing to take the time to read the fine print.

Fran Jurga byline author of Hoof Blog
The USDA issued a news release today announcing its intention to file a rule changing the American Horse Protection Act via executive direct submission to the Federal Register. The out-of-the-ordinary rule will strip hoof equipment off show ring “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking and racking horses, once and for all. While pads, shoe bands, weighted shoes and action devices ("chains") may not directly “sore” the horse, they have been implicated as part-and-parcel of the decades-long soring debacle.

The rule also goes a step further and retains old sections for how all horses at all shows and sales may or may not be shod and/or trimmed, in spite of protests from numerous breeds that "all horse" language be removed from the Act. This section requires very careful wording and also deserves to be explained in much more detail by the USDA as to whether the prohibitions are relevant if the horse is considered to be a victim of intentional sorting or experiencing general foot pain. Also, no inspection criteria or penalties for the violations in the list are given.

Walking horses will be forbidden to wear their trademark wedge pad stacks ("pads" in the document) and pastern chains ("action devices" in the document), beginning 30 days from the filing, which may be today or early next week. Beginning January 1, 2018, a horse may wear a pad or pads only if it is prescribed by a veterinarian to treat a specific condition and removed upon the resolution of the problem that warranted adding it.

Other than that statement, there is little in the document to differentiate hoof pad use for protection and/or therapy from hoof pad use for mechanical enhancement of gait. A third use of hoof pads, to assist horses with pre-existing conformation faults to move with more ease, comfort and balance, is not mentioned at all.
The new rule does not impose a shoe weight limit or a toe length limit, but does limit use to a "keg or similar conventional horseshoe", without a clear definition of how bar shoes factor into that definition.

The USDA is changing the American Horse Protection Act under executive action. Legislation amending the American Horse Protection Act to do the same thing, more or less, was introduced to and widely supported by both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, but held at bay there by powerful political allies of the Walking horse industry. Less rigorous alternatives were proposed from lawmakers sympathetic to the Walking horse show community.

It was a standoff, and none of the bills ever made it out of committee on either side.

The USDA's unprecedented executive action will be an end run around the traditional law-amending trail through Congress. It is a hail-mary pass for horse welfare. Challenges to it may create some strange bedfellows in the horse industry.

This rule change was off to a rocky start in the summer of 2016 when vague wording in the proposed rule left its interpretation open to ban pads on all show horses in the United States, including Saddlebreds, Hackneys, Morgans, Arabians and other breeds. Breed organizations and the US Equestrian Federation vowed to fight the USDA in court. The new rule separates regulations for Walking and racking horses, accordingly, from regulations that apply to "all horses at all shows".

USDA rule change to end soring Walking horses bans pads action devices

The USDA hosted "listening sessions" to hear reactions and also received 130,975 electronic comments regarding the rule change; it will file the comments along with a 149-page explanation of its responses to those comments and what changes have been made to the wording of the law.

The rule also changes the requirement for farrier presence at shows; only shows with more than 150 horses will require a farrier.

It is interesting to note that while most of this rule applies to the skills and tasks of a professional farrier, most terms--including that of "farrier", itself and vague terms like "keg shoe"--are not defined in the rule.

The spirit of the new law was supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners. The USDA received letters of support for the rule action from 41 U.S. Senators and 182 Representatives, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which has been monitoring the effort and was a key driver behind the original Congressional legislation. In a press release today, HSUS credited President Barack Obama and USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for their bold action.

Keith Dane, HSUS senior advisor on equine protection, has worked tirelessly to bring an end to soring. Reached by phone today, he helped clarify some aspects of the rules within the massive document.

President-elect Trump has still not made any appointments for the Department of Agriculture, including the all-important position of Secretary. Technically, perhaps, President-elect Trump could find a way to prevent the new rule; he has promised to reverse many of President Obama’s executive actions. Will this be one of them? Or, might a judge issue an injunction against the implementation of the new rules, just as a judge in Texas did in 2015 when President Obama introduced immigration changes under executive action privilege?

While thousands will cheer the passage of the rule, the pragmatists know that there is sure to be collateral damage when this rule takes effect. Horses may still be hurst: Will trainers find other ways to manipulate their horses’ movement? How much pain will the horses be in if their pad stacks are removed all at once? People will be hurt: How many grooms, horse haulers, farriers and veterinarians who care for Tennessee Walking horses will lose their livelihood? What about the charities that benefited from Tennessee Walking horse shows, and the businesses who supplied the training and breeding farms? How easy will it be to modify or amend this rule in the future?

Tennessee Walking horses will go on. They are a fine breed of horse with a strong heritage. It is a versatile breed. To pass a rule this way is harsh, but all other attempts to prevent the abuse of Walking horses by soring failed. The system was tangled into knots.

While some tenets of the new law will technically go into effect sometime around mid-February, the next chapter will probably open as soon as the rule is filed with the Federal Register. That chapter likely will be written in a courtroom. You can count on that.

Thanks to USDA/APHIS and Keith Dane and Stephanie Twining of the Humane Society of the United States for their assistance with obtaining the new rule (and assistance in understanding the fine print).

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• • • • • 

Addenda:  Specific prohibitions for all horses. 

(a) General prohibitions. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (b) of this section, no device, method, practice, or substance shall be used with respect to any horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction if such use causes or can reasonably be expected to cause such horse to be sore.

(b) The use of the following devices, equipment, or practices on any horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction is prohibited:

(1) More than one action device on any one limb of a horse.

(2)(i) Boots, collars, or any other devices, with protrusions or swellings, or rigid, rough, or sharp edges, seams or any other abrasive or abusive surface that may contact a horse's leg; and

(ii) Boots, collars, or any other devices that weigh more than 6 ounces, except for soft rubber or soft leather bell boots and quarter boots that are used as protective devices.

(3) Pads or other devices on horses up to 2 years old that elevate or change the angle of such horses' hooves in excess of 1 inch at the heel.

(4) Any weight on horses up to 2 years old, except a keg or similar conventional horseshoe, and any horseshoe on horses up to 2 years old that weighs more than 16 ounces.

(5) Artificial extension of the toe length, whether accomplished with pads, acrylics or any other material or combinations thereof, that exceeds 50 percent of the natural hoof length, as measured from the coronet band, at the center of the front pastern along the front of the hoof wall, to the distal portion of the hoof wall at the tip of the toe. The artificial extension shall be measured from the distal portion of the hoof wall at the tip of the toe at a 90 degree angle to the proximal (foot/hoof) surface of the shoe.

(6) Toe length that does not exceed the height of the heel by 1 inch or more. The length of the toe shall be measured from the coronet band, at the center of the front pastern along the front of the hoof wall to the ground. The heel shall be measured from the coronet band, at the most lateral portion of the rear pastern, at a 90 degree angle to the ground, not including normal caulks at the rear of a horseshoe that do not exceed 3⁄4 inch in length. That portion of caulk at the rear of a horseshoe in excess of 3⁄4 of an inch shall be added to the height of the heel in determining the heel/toe ratio.

(7) Pads that are not made of leather, plastic, or a similar pliant material.

(8) Any object or material inserted between the pad and the hoof other than acceptable hoof packing, which includes pine tar, oakum, live rubber, sponge rubber, silicone, commercial hoof packing or other substances used to maintain adequate frog pressure or sole consistency. Acrylic and other hardening substances are prohibited as hoof packing.

(9) Single or double rocker-bars on the bottom surface of horseshoes which extend more than 11⁄2 inches back from the point of the toe, or which would cause, or could reasonably be expected to cause, an unsteadiness of stance in the horse with resulting muscle and tendon strain due to the horse’s weight and balance being focused upon a small fulcrum point.

(10) Metal hoof bands, such as used to anchor or strengthen pads and shoes, placed less than 1⁄2 inch below the coronet band.

(11) Metal hoof bands that can be easily and quickly loosened or tightened by hand, by means such as, but not limited to, a wing-nut or similar fastener.

(12) Any action device or any other device that strikes the coronet band of the foot of a horse except for soft rubber or soft leather bell boots that are used as protective devices.

(13) Shoeing a horse, trimming a horse's hoof, or paring the frog or sole in a manner that will cause such horse to suffer, or can reasonably be expected to cause such horse to suffer pain or distress, inflammation, or lameness when walking, trotting, or otherwise moving. Bruising of the hoof or any other method of pressuring shoeing is also prohibited.

(14) Lead or other weights attached to the outside of the hoof wall, the outside surface of the horseshoe, or any portion of the pad except the bottom surface within the horseshoe. Pads may not be hollowed out for the purpose of inserting or affixing weights, and weights may not extend below the bearing surface of the shoe. Hollow shoes or artificial extensions filled with mercury or similar substances are prohibited.

Note: There are no provisions in the Act or in this Rule Change, to provide inspection or penalties for the use of the 14 categories of prohibitions except at Walking horse shows and events. USDA commented in the document, "We continue to consider what additional requirements are necessary, if any, for other breeds of horses that present a concern of soring."

It's important to understand that the definition of soring itself includes both specific and broad language describing how humans can intentionally cause pain and suffering to the feet of horses. While the USDA may not be interested in what goes on at other breeds' horse shows at this time, the language and the list of prohibited equipment is in the Federal Register and can be retrieved by any attorney, prosecutor or horse show manager for any reason at any time for legal defense or prosecution purposes, if they are willing to sort through the fine print and read it to a judge.

Be careful out there.

For background:

AVMA backs USDA efforts to end soring of horses

Obama should put a ribbon on anti-soring rule before Inauguration Day

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