By Jeffrey Howard

As we approach the heart of the horse show season, I wanted to provide an update on the legal and regulatory issues facing the industry.  If you have been reading over the past couple of months you know that this is an extremely serious time for our industry.  Should you be concerned, yes; should you be panicked, absolutely not.

I think it is extremely important that everyone realize nothing has happened that we haven’t known was going to happen for the better part of a year.  We have been preparing for this, including raising money to pay for the industry’s challenges, for more than a year.  The industry has done a very nice job raising money, thanks to our associations, shows and organizations involved in the breed as well as the many of you that have been so generous with your donations to protect this industry.  In saying that, our challenges are many and there still remains a substantial amount of fundraising needed.

We are extremely well represented by the attorneys at The Torridon Group and we have a very strong set of data and facts to push back on many of the challenges being brought against us.  It is clear that we don’t see eye-to-eye with the USDA on several issues but this process will provide us clarity as to whose position is correct and how we move forward.  I have worked with many of the leadership of APHIS over the years and respect many of them.  This isn’t a personal fight, this is a challenge on what should and what should not be allowed under the Horse Protection Act and corresponding regulations.

Despite the radical views and statements of many in the animal rights movement, the industry has been and will continue to be strong advocates for the welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse and will continue to stand strong against any form or type of soring.  The ability to show and promote a sound Tennessee Walking Show horse should not be regulated away from our industry.  Have we achieved 100% compliance with the Horse Protection Act?  We have to be honest and acknowledge that we have not, however our compliance rates are strong and the super majority of our horses are compliant with the HPA.

How do we make those better?  I think that answer is twofold, first we must have an inspection that is objective, fair and more reliable in its findings that is conducted by qualified inspectors.  Second, we have to continue as an industry to place the welfare of the horse at the forefront of every decision that we make.  Both of those are doable which has led to frustration that both sides haven’t been able to work together to get closer to achieving.  

The rumors are many and the fear rhetoric machine is out in full force.  If you have read my stuff previously or talked to me, you know I am an optimist, however I will always deal in fact and never mislead.  As you will see below, I will try to bring you up to speed and provide you the resources to educate yourself with those facts.

The USDA Rule
The USDA Rule, which can be viewed in its entirety here, was printed in the Federal Register on May 8, 2024.  The effective date of the rule is February 1, 2025 except for Sec. 11.19 which is effective June 7, 2024.  Sec. 11.19 will allow the USDA to begin the process of authorizing and training Horse Protection Inspectors that will be used under this rule beginning in February of 2025.  This does not mean that the HIOs are decertified or replaced prior to February of next year.

The lawyers at The Torridon Group are the same lawyers that prepared the industry comments on the proposed rule.  They will also be the lawyers that prepare the industry’s challenge to be filed in a district court this summer.  More information about what that challenge will include as well as the timing, options and full process will be coming soon and included in all industry communication.

If you would like to read an executive summary of the contents of the rule you can do so by clicking here.

Wrights vs. USDA
The lawsuit filed March 11, 2024, challenges the enforcement of the existing HPA and regulations focused on three areas, due process, the Scar Rule and post-show inflammation.  If you would like to read the executive summary of this lawsuit or the full complaint click here.

The USDA sought and was granted a 60-day extension to file their answer to the amended complaint from The Torridon Group.  That means the answer from USDA will be due by July 15, 2024.  At this point, it is to some degree a waiting game but this lawsuit remains extremely important to the Wright’s and the industry at large.  The lack of due process and ambiguity of the scar rule were both addressed by the USDA in the new rule, however each will be challenged in the industry’s challenge to the rulemaking.  In essence, this lawsuit will challenge the existing regulations with regards to due process and the scar rule and the rule lawsuit will challenge the new regulations on due process and scar, among other items.

In closing I would like to commend everyone for all of the hard work that has been done in these two areas.  The financial support is as widespread as any that I can previously remember and The Celebration, Walking Horse Trainers Association and Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association are as aligned as ever and have been extremely transparent with their associations and memberships.

There is more work to do, a lot more work to do.  But the industry is ready, prepared and as well represented as it can possibly be.  Remain confident in the Tennessee Walking Horse, stay as informed as you possibly can and be willing to help in any way, big or small, that your situation allows.