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Congressional Hearing Provides Opportunity to Overcome Misinformation about Walking Horses

A meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade last week at the U.S. Capitol provided representatives of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle and Racking horse industry an opportunity to correct some misinformation related to the breeds and their shows. H.R. 1518 is a measure sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY1). It calls for inspections to be done on Walking Horses at shows by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—ostensibly to eliminate the practice of soring, which has already been banned by the Horse Protection Act. That would require USDA to increase its budget by up to $20 million to provide the necessary number of inspectors. 


The current inspection method, which uses USDA certified Horse Inspection Organizations (HIOs), is a self-monitoring and self-policing initiative by the industry. Coincidentally, the hearing occurred in the same week that USDA released the latest compliance numbers to its subjective testing, as seen below:

For the 2012 season, representing all shows inspected by the USDA the agency’s own compliance rate was 95 percent. This is comprised of the following:

Sore Violations – 502

Inspections – 9,962

Compliance rate – 95 percent

For the 2013 season, representing all shows inspected by the USDA through November 3, 2013 the USDA’s own compliance rate for the Industry is at 96.6 percent. This is comprised of the following:

Sore Violations – 318

Inspections – 9,510

Compliance rate – 96.6 percent

 “The current compliance rates reported by the USDA indicate the welfare of the horse is being protected and the industry is achieving the goal of eliminating soring,” said Dr. John Bennett, a Shelbyville, Tennessee veterinarian, whose practice is about 60 percent Tennessee Walking Horses. “According to the USDA, the HPA compliance rate for HIO-affiliated Tennessee Walking Horse shows was 98.5 percent over the period from 2009-2012.


“The HIO system currently in place allows for the immediate disqualification of a horse found to be noncompliant,” Bennett added. “Additionally, as private entities, HIOs are able to more quickly enforce penalties against alleged violators since they are not required to follow the due process requirements for public actors, such as the USDA.”


Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture, Julius Johnson, also testified before the Subcommittee. He spoke to the serious economic ramifications passage of H.R. 1518 would have on the state.

 “The total economic impact from the equine industry in Tennessee is $1.4 billion. The total value-added impact of equine in Tennessee is $746 million. The indirect business tax revenue received by state and local governments is $61.2 million,” Johnson said. “The total estimated economic impact from horse shows and events is $45 million. The importance of the industry to the many local and rural community charities and organizations is significant. The industry creates 20,309 jobs throughout our state, and again, especially in rural Tennessee where it is more and more difficult to attract jobs.”


Kentucky State Senator, Robin Webb was also at the hearing, although she didn’t get the opportunity to testify. An avid horsewoman and rider of walking and racking horses, Webb contends that the soring issue masks a much more serious problem contained within the bill—eliminating an entire breed by eliminating “weighted shoes,” which are worn by a number of other breeds as well.


“If the Humane Society of the United States wins the argument to eliminate weighted shoes, our walking horse industry is just the beginning,” Webb said. “Other breeds will clearly be impacted by this decision, which is why it is vitally important to make sure H.R. 1518 makes no progress in the legislative process.”


The future of H.R. 1518 is uncertain. The hearing last week was for informational purposes only. There was no vote taken. A companion bill has been filed in the Senate, but has shown no movement yet.

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