The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine hosted its third meeting looking at the inspection process under the Horse Protection Act for Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses. The scope of the project is as follows:

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will convene an ad hoc committee of equine veterinarians and experts with relevant experience and appropriate professional certifications or academic degrees to review the scientific and veterinary medical literature on hoof and pastern pain and skin/tissue changes on the pastern of horses, and evaluate methods used to identify soreness in horses (as defined in the Horse Protection Act* and the implementing regulations) for their scientific validity and reliability.

In attendance at the meeting included industry lobbyist Jeff Terhune who provided a summary of the day’s proceedings. During the first session of the meeting on February 18th, Colin Roberts from University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom presented on limb sensitivity and the use of palpation and thermography when determining sensitivity in competition horses. His experience focused mainly on jumping horses regulated under the Federation Equestre Internationale. ( Roberts spoke to the process of inspection utilized which includes two veterinarians palpating a horse while using thermography. During this process both veterinarians have to agree that the horse is hypersensitive after a reasonable number of times palpating. If both veterinarians agree then the rider is given the option to withdraw the horse from competition.

If the competitor chooses to move forward a third veterinarian performs an inspection utilizing only palpation.  If they are found in violation by this third veterinarian the horse is disqualified and there is opportunity for that owner/rider to be charged with animal cruelty. Other points Roberts made included there was no way to determine if the reason for hypersensitivity is caused by natural environmental factors or artificial ones and he admitted they don’t try to find out. He also stated that thermography is not an exact science and he would never base findings solely on thermography.  Roberts also stated that skin lesions can’t be a reason for disqualification.

During the second session of the meeting, Dr. Scott Stanley from the University of Kentucky presented on the use of drug testing and more specifically on drug testing he helped conduct at the 2014-2016 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. Stanley spoke to the conditions around his testing at The Celebration and the drugs, such as masking agents, that were tested. Stanley also talked about standard drug withdrawal times and mentioned that tranquilizers were the most commonly found drug during his testing at the Celebration.

Stanley did also comment depending on how and when the drugs are used can make it difficult to accurately test. Another key point Stanley made was that Tennessee Walking Horses are in line with other horse shows policies that not all shows are tested because of financial reasons and that at a competition a horse may be subject to multiple testing if competing multiple times, just as is the case with the United States Equestrian Federation.

The NAS committee will continue to host additional meetings as they attempt to complete their project. The next meeting time has not been set at this point in time. For additional information regarding the study, how to register to attend open sessions or to view previous presentations visit the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine here.