Walking Horse Report Publisher Jeffrey Howard recently sat down with Donna Benefield to discuss her thoughts on the SHOW HIO and its progress since its inception just over a year ago.  Benefield recently suspended her HPC HIO and turned operations over to IWHA. 

Q – Can you give us an update on the status of your HIO, HPC?
A – HPC is still certified with the USDA but has suspended field operations.  I temporarily resigned in January when my husband became terminally ill and had to move it somewhere.  The IWHA didn’t have DQPs or shows and allowed us to move it under their banner and let us know we could take it back whenever and they would step aside.

Q – What is your current role in the HIO, or the HIO that you turned operations over to?
A – I am still licensed as a DQP and at least temporarily am serving as a representative and spokesperson.  Dr. Moore, a former Horse Protection Coordinator with the USDA and AAEP veterinarian and myself are advisors to IWHA.

Q – Are you still working with Mark Mattson?  Is he a licensed DQP?
A – Mark is the administrator of the IWHA HIO.  He is not a licensed DQP

Q – Will you serve as a DQP at the show in Franklin, Kentucky on June 3 that is affiliated with IWHA?
A – Yes.

Q – Did you sit in the inspection area during the recently completed Fun Show?
A – Yes I did on Saturday night.  I was invited by Dr. Mullins and Mr. Edwards of SHOW to observe and critique their operation.

Q – What were your impressions of the inspections performed?
A – I was very impressed.  I have been more than happy to be critical of any HIO that is deficient or non-compliant.  However it is equally as important to give credit when you see an HIO making changes and improvements.  There are significant differences between the NHSC and SHOW.  I watched the DQPs carefully throughout the entire show and found them to be extremely professional, courteous and very consistent in their exams from horse to horse and consistent in exams from DQP to DQP.  They all seem to work well with USDA.  There was a veterinarian and DQP walking the warm-up area and observing and I saw them get horses that I would have gone and gotten and have them re-examined.

They seemed to try and control lubricant application and have the bucket adjacent to the DQP stand and had to have a DQP notified and get approval to use the lubricant.  I also noticed that when a shoe was thrown in the arena a DQP was called and rushed to the ring to examine the shoe.  I noticed that DQPs were paying attention during the locomotion phase of the exam and other HIOs don’t pay attention until the palpation part of the exam begins.  There was a DQP intermittently observing the show ring throughout the night.  Also, unlike another HIO I have observed that did not have numbered tickets, SHOW tickets were numbered and the ticket numbers are sequential.

Q – What were some of the deficiencies you observed with the NHSC?
A – I observed them checking the number off for the horse and no exam performed.  I observed cursory exams at best if any at all and know that many tickets have disappeared and suspensions not served based upon audit reports.
Q – Did you examine any horses?
A – Yes I did at the request of Dr. Mullins

Q – Do you see an improvement with the trainers and the condition of the horses?
A  -Absolutely yes I have seen an improvement.  We are demanding reform in our industry and if we expect to be successful it is imperative we extend a helping hand to our trainers to achieve that reform.  For example, some of our trainers have been handed down techniques from generation to generation and only know one way and if you expect them to change it is important to work with the WHTA in helping them to learn to do it differently.  This can be achieved through sponsoring training seminars, clinics on the HPA and its laws as it pertains to them and communicate with them on what they need to do to achieve reform.

Many would like to change but they also understand if they are the only ones to change they will be the first out of business.  This must be an industry change and not individual change

Q – What did you think of the inspections performed by the USDA VMOs during the Fun Show?
A – I don’t want to comment on horses I didn’t inspect as that wouldn’t be fair to the trainers, USDA or SHOW.

Q – As you are aware, the USDA and SHOW don’t always agree with their findings during inspection.  Do you have any thoughts as to why this is?
A – If there is a disconnect between SHOW and USDA that is something that needs to be addressed and resolved outside of the show and the inspection area and done in private with the USDA.

Q – In the future, would you consider working with SHOW?
A – My first reaction would be the devil is in the details.  I would be willing to work with anyone that is goal oriented and is willing to bring correction and reform to our industry that is currently plummeting and rapidly approaching the cliff.

Q – In your opinion should the KY Race Horse Commission affiliate the SHOW HIO into their program?
A – Right now it is a little premature for me to give them a recommendation because I have not seen that much of SHOW’s program in the field.  It needs to be based on more than just one show but I will say that based on what I saw, if they remain consistent in what they are doing, I see no reason that they shouldn’t be inspecting in KY.

Q – Have you discussed the SHOW HIO and its performance with Keith Dane of the Humane Society of the United States?
A – Yes I have.  He has asked me about what I have observed and I shared with him the same detail given here in this interview.

Q – What were his thoughts?
A – I don’t know what all his thoughts are and I suggest you ask him for his thoughts.  It is important to understand that whether they like Keith or not, a large humane organization such as HSUS is very powerful and has the ability to make changes in our industry that maybe we like but more importantly maybe we don’t like.  So with that said, it is my recommendation for the industry to come to the table with Keith Dane and HSUS and find out their demands and expectations and try to find any common ground and where you can work together.  Find out where you can agree and where you disagree and agree to disagree and let the chips fall where they may.  You can’t circumvent any problems without communication.

Q – Didn’t the HPC send pre-show violations back to the trailer with no suspension?
A – Prior to signing the 2007-2009 Operating Plan our penalty was back to the barn and a fine.

Q – Why do you think that works?
A – Our feeling was that if the DQPs are doing their job and you are a chronic violator, you could put yourself on a lifetime suspension by bringing the same horse to the same DQP.  As we are all aware many of the trainers put on suspension today are what we refer to as “ticket takers.”

Q – Do you think the SHOW Penalty Structure is too tough?
A – I am hesitant to give an opinion until I review those penalties further.  I wasn’t aware of them fully today and would like to give them some thought before giving an opinion.

The Walking Horse Report appreciates Donna Benefield giving us the time to perform this interview.