By Jeffrey Howard 

The year 2019 has been an interesting one to say the least. For the past several years we have produced an issue dedicated to reviewing the news of the year that has shaped the industry or changed it in some significant way. As I reviewed this year there were some very big developments that I hope this issue can not only refresh your memory on but also summarize and bring you up to speed on where things stand today.

For each of the following sections, I have provided a summary of what is included and where things stand as of today. I am asked frequently at horse shows and around town how things are going and how things look moving forward. As we are all aware, nobody can predict the future, but this issue will help answer both of those questions.

Let me start by assuring you that the PACT Act that passed both the House of Representatives and Senate and was signed into law by President Trump should not be confused with the PAST Act. The PACT Act deals with criminalizing “animal crushing” and has nothing to do with the Horse Protection Act or its enforcement. There has been much confusion on this due to the similarities in the name but they are two completely different bills.

The PAST Act did pass the House of Representatives this year which is something that we should all take note of and we should all understand that our opponents will not stop in their quest to dramatically change our industry. Before the PAST Act can become law, it would have to pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Trump. There is no impending vote in the Senate on the PAST Act and nobody on either side of this issue is expecting it to come to a vote in the Senate; however, nothing is certain at this time. 

The calendar will move quickly in 2020 with it being a presidential election year and the gridlock in Congress does nothing but make it more likely that the PAST Act won’t be on the Senate’s radar in 2020. After the election in 2020 the calendar will reset and the PAST Act would have to be introduced again in both chambers.

Please don’t forget that the industry has proposed legislation as well and when you are talking with members of Congress or any of your elected officials, media or veterinarians you should focus as much if not more on the benefits of the legislation introduced by Rep. DesJarlais and Senators Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn as the opposition to the PAST Act. The Horse Protection Act is in severe need of modernization which would be accomplished under the industry bill and not in the PAST Act.

That leads to another major development, which is the study being done currently by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS). Although the outcome of this study isn’t known, it is an attempt to modernize the inspection protocols utilized in inspection with hopes of finding more objective and scientific methods to detect soreness in horses.

Why is this so significant? Besides the obvious, I think it is worth noting that the USDA and industry are in agreement that this study is needed and both are on record stating that the current methodologies are in need of improvement. I don’t know how to state the importance of that agreement between two groups that have historically not seen eye to eye. Also, true reform and restoration of our breed will not happen until there is a trusted, repeatable and reliable pre-show inspection.

The departure of Bernadette Juarez from Horse Protection caught many in the industry off guard and provided an ample amount of anxiety across the industry about what would change with her departure. Juarez was a true partner in enforcement to the industry and was extremely tough in her enforcement but also fair in that enforcement. It was her interest in Horse Protection, her availability to the industry and her honest approach that won over an industry that had previously been very skeptical of the department.

I have had the opportunity to meet her replacement Dr. Betty Goldentyer and found her to be professional and willing to continue to work with the industry moving forward. She has promised no change to the inspection process which was one of the items causing concern in the industry about Juarez’s departure. In addition, Dr. Bob Gibbens and Dr. Aaron Rhyner have worked with Juarez through the changes and continue to work in Horse Protection and are very open and honest as well. The industry is and will have to continue to be supportive of strong enforcement and continuing a partnership with the USDA to achieve the elimination of soring and promotion of fair competition. I remain confident this is the best path forward.

I continue to be concerned about the contraction in the industry and the reduction in the number of horse shows, Walking Horse trainers and new owners coming in the business. I think the expansion of our industry should be at the core of any decision that is made in the upcoming year. It is no secret that the Walking Horse has a negative perception, and each of us with the knowledge of the horse knows that it is unfair and in many respects untrue.

However, change is inevitable and we all know that change is coming. What is that exact change? Well, before you panic, think of the change in our horse over the past decade and then allow yourself to think back to the industry shutdown in 1988 at the Trainers’ Show. There has already been a lot of change and more of it is coming. That is just reality.

The perseverance and growth of our show horse is dependent on a pleasure horse and a performance horse. Go look at other breeds and that same distinction, no matter what it may be labeled, exists. It is imperative that we keep this goal in mind and understand that what is allowed in other breeds should not be forbidden in our own.

I do urge you to welcome change and keep an open mind as you look to enjoy your horses moving forward. The Walking Horse’s perception in the equine sector should be different and it can be different. I do get confused with people that approach me and want to fight to keep our current industry structure intact. Why? The following pages will show you statistics of a declining industry that is basically half of what it was 10 years ago. 

Those same people then tell me how great our horse is, like I need to be convinced. The reason we should welcome and seek change is that exact reason, our horse is great. I don’t meet anyone, no matter their preconceived ideas, that doesn’t think our breed and our horse isn’t one of the best in the world. I want to do whatever we can do to expand upon that and grow our horse and showcase it to the public that wants to participate in the equine sector. 

I truly believe good days lie ahead for our industry. You can’t say that the Walking Horse industry isn’t tough. We have dealt with some unbelievably tough times and tough critics. We have survived being the target of some extremely radical groups with deep pockets. I am tired of fighting and defending. I think our efforts and our dollars would be better invested in doing whatever we can do to shed our old, outdated image and begin to grow and promote this great horse in a way that leads to a greater industry for all, trainers, owners, breeders, passionate fans and casual observers.

It is one of the reasons why I am so supportive of improvement to our inspection protocols. Let’s develop an inspection process trusted by all so that when a horse passes inspection he is deemed sound by everyone and if he fails, the person responsible is held accountable and if need be, is removed from participation. We all want the best for our horses and there should be no compromise when it comes to their welfare.

I hope each of you has a great upcoming holiday and I look forward to the 2020 show season. Thank you again for your support of Walking Horse Report. Our family has been blessed by this industry for almost 50 years and we will do whatever we can to help you, our horse or this industry.