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USDA Floods Industry with Complaints



The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) has developed a new strategy regarding violations they find at horse shows across the industry.  In the past four decades, very few of the alleged violations found at horse shows ever rose to the status of a formal complaint being filed by USDA.  However, with a change in leadership at USDA, the percentage of alleged violations found resulting in formal complaints has skyrocketed. 

At the 2016 Celebration, which is the basis for many of these alleged violations, the USDA allowed for two VMOs to inspect for compliance if the custodian of the horse wanted a second opinion.  Even though the second VMO knew the first VMO found a violation, 22% of the time the second VMO found the horse compliant and the entry was allowed to show.  In 52% of the cases where two VMOs inspected the same horse, those two VMOs disagreed with what violation they found.

The USDA proposed, finalized and had ready to publish on January 24, 2017 a rule that would have devastated the industry through the removal of all action devices and pads.  In addition, the rule would have eliminated the Horse Industry Organization (HIO) system and turned all enforcement of the Horse Protection Act over to the USDA.  

Under the rule, the USDA would continue to use the same subjective and arbitrary inspection process currently in place, one that has caused constant confusion and discrepancy amongst inspectors, both USDA and industry inspectors alike, veterinarians, trainers and exhibitors.  In its comments, the industry proposed an alternative inspection process that would include objective, science-based inspection protocols more stringent than those used in most every other breed of show horse competing under the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) banner.  

Due to the large number of complaints filed recently, trainers and owners have been offered settlement terms that in many cases include an admission of guilt.  The enticement to take these offers is that it alleviates the need for the accused to spend money on a defense and most industry participants feel that in the Administrative Law Proceeding, no matter how effective their defense, the Administrative Law Judge will rule in favor of the USDA.  There have even been recent cases challenging the validity of the Administrative Law Proceedings as official actions in other industries.

However, the industry has asked repeatedly for due process and the opportunity to defend itself.  It is imperative that trainers, owners and others charged by the USDA file answers to these complaints and retain attorneys to ensure they receive ample representation as they seek due process.  The industry and all of the attorneys being utilized have facts and data regarding the deficiencies in the inspection process that were not available to defenses utilized in the past.  In addition, most of those receiving alleged violations by the USDA had accredited veterinarians inspect the horse pre-show and post-show and found the horse compliant with the HPA.

For more information contact the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA), the Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse (FAST) or the Performance Show Horse Association (PSHA).

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