USDA Opts for Transparency, Begins Publicity on Animal Welfare and Horse Protection Act Violations

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What did the best of a breed look like 50 years ago? What do they look like now? These Tennessee walking horses from 1965 were stunning. There was a reason Hollywood preferred walking horses.

Some horse trainers will be getting some publicity that may test the old adage, "It doesn't matter what they say about you, as long as they spell your name correctly."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced last week its intention to not only move more swiftly and consistently to take enforcement action in response to animal welfare violations, but also to make its actions transparent and accessible to the public.

That means that, for the first time, information about enforcement will be made posted online. As part of this effort, APHIS will be issuing monthly press releases that highlight enforcement actions taken in response to violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA).

Copies of documents related to these actions, as well as copies of official warnings, are available in the APHIS FOIA Reading Room at

The HPA is the federal law that prohibits horses subjected to a practice called soring from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions and auctions. The APHIS website reads: "Soring is a cruel and abusive practice used to accentuate a horse's gait. APHIS works actively with the horse industry to protect against such abuse, ensuring that only sound and healthy horses participate in shows, sales, exhibitions and auctions. APHIS' ultimate goal is to end the inhumane practice of soring completely."

The HPA authorizes APHIS to issue civil penalties and to disqualify violators from participating in horse shows, exhibitions and sales. Both the AWA and HPA contain criminal penalties as well.

From perusing the website, it looks like APHIS will be publishing the list of currently disqualified violators for soring practices.

Maybe that list will be a little shorter this year. At the Walking Horse Celebration's Spring Fun Show in Tennessee earlier this month, Tony Edwards, the Designated Qualified Person (DQP) coordinator for SHOW, the Celebration's HIO in charge of inspections was quoted in the Shelbyville Telegram-Gazette:

"Last year, the USDA prevented 69 horses from showing (at the Fun Show)," he said. "This year, only 13 were turned back. The trainers are trying. The trainers need to be commended for their job -- they're doing an excellent job."

Of the 26 violations on the turned-back horses at this year's Spring Fun Show, Edwards said that there were 10 scar rule violations, five unilateral sensitivity and two bilateral sensitivity violations. Another nine violations included illegal shoeing, foreign substance, illegal chains and other lesser infractions. Many of those nine were easily preventable or correctable, according to the newspaper interview.

For anyone interested in the complexity of the soring issue and the world of Walking horse shows, I recommend reading this article, which includes a list of judging criteria for excusing a horse from a class. Crowd favorite Golden Sovereign was excused by judges at this show.

Soring is determined completely by an inspection before the horse is shown and inspectors are not concerned with performance. Once the horse is in the ring, judges take over. Horses are expected to be able to perform to the class standards, just like at any other horse show. No reason was given in the newspaper for Golden Sovereign's dismissal; it did say that the crowd booed the judges' decision.

by Fran Jurga | 19 June 2010 | The Jurga Report at 
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