The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) department of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a recap of the successes in horse protection in 2017 while also highlighting the challenges that still remain. The APHIS release focused on two areas that remain a challenge, the use of benzocaine and the fact that most HIOs find very little non-compliance when USDA inspectors are not present at the horse show.  Only three HIOs found any noncompliance when USDA was not present, SHOW, the Racking Horse HIO and American Horse Services (AHS).  SHOW found 1.4% of horses non-compliant when inspecting horses without the USDA present and 3.7% when the USDA was present.  The Racking Horse HIO found .3% of horses non-compliant with USDA not present and 2.3% non-compliant when the USDA was present.  

The Kentucky HIO found zero non-compliance when the USDA was not present but found 1.7% of the entries non-compliant when the USDA was in attendance.
The good news reported by USDA was an overall decline in the finding of prohibited substances from 78% in 2016 to 58% in 2017. In addition the USDA commented on the improved working relationship with the HIOs and pointed directly to the communication and joint training.
The following was the release posted by APHIS which includes links to the chart with the performance of each HIO when USDA was present and when they were not.

As 2017 comes to a close, it is a good time to take stock of USDA Animal Care’s administration of the Horse Protection Act so we can thoroughly evaluate the year’s successes and the challenges we still face in eliminating soring and ensuring fair competition in the walking horse industry. 

Our relationship with the walking horse industry has significantly improved over years past – especially in the areas of our two-way communication with horse industry organizations/associations, managers of horse shows, and horse exhibitors and owners. Whether participating in industry meetings, sharing program updates, or hosting joint training sessions and conference calls with industry representatives, this communication is vital as we move into 2018. 

In terms of regulatory compliance, although our overall detection of prohibited substances on horses decreased in 2017 (from 78 percent in 2016 to 58 percent in 2017), we continued to identify the presence of benzocaine (a known masking agent for pain) with relative frequency. This causes us great concern. 
A number of horse industry organizations used consistent inspection practices to detect sore horses and identify noncompliances – regardless of whether or not USDA inspectors were present at the event. This is no small thing, and we are grateful for their efforts. 

However, with respect to all but two horse industry organizations that affiliate with shows featuring padded classes of horses, there remains a large discrepancy between inspection results when USDA inspectors are present and when they are not. For example, some horse industry organizations did not detect any sore horses or noncompliance with the Horse Protection Act when USDA was not present at a show, and only identified such issues when USDA was present observing their performance and/or conducting inspections. Because of this discrepancy, and the detrimental impact it has on our goals of eliminating soring and ensuring fair competition, we will focus our efforts on closing this gap. 

“Our commitment to supporting our regulated community and ensuring accountability of all horse industry organizations is unwavering,” said Bernadette Juarez, USDA’s deputy administrator for Animal Care. “We will build on our shared successes and tackle our shared challenges to achieve the objectives of eliminating soring and ensuring fair competition so the American public can have confidence in the humane treatment of horses when attending events covered by the Horse Protection Act.”