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Court Verdict A Victory For Walking Horse Industry

by U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon 

Since coming to Congress, I have worked to sustain a healthy, viable walking horse industry. I was pleased, therefore, with the U.S. District Court's decision, handed down earlier this week, to uphold the legality of the industry-U.S. Department of Agriculture operating plan. 

Some of my fondest memories are from the walking horse shows I attended as a child in Middle Tennessee. These shows, while important to family and community, also provide an important outlet for charities and civic organizations.

   I have worked closely over the years with owners, trainers, and participants, as well as officials in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Horse Show Commission, to come up with a fair way to regulate the industry. Last year we were able to reach agreement on a balanced, uniform three-year operating plan for the walking horse show industry. 

Limited financial resources only allow inspectors from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service ' the division of the USDA that oversees federal enforcement of the Horse Protection Act ' to attend a limited number of horse shows each year. To compensate, the operating plan allows the walking horse industry to hire independent officials to help regulate horse shows, but requires these officials to report any violations to the USDA. 

The operating plan, which represented the first multi-year regulatory agreement between the USDA and the walking horse industry, establishes clear, fair, and long-term procedures for protecting the horse while ensuring equity for the owners, trainers and exhibitors. 

Questions regarding the authority of the USDA to allow the industry partial enforcement authority of the Horse Protection Act raised some concerns with animal rights groups. One group, the American Horse Protection Association, filed suit against the USDA challenging the authority of the government to delegate regulatory authority to industry sponsored inspectors. The court's decision invalidates this claim. 

The July 9 ruling by the U.S. District Court reflects the positive impact the operating plan has had on walking horse shows, and reaffirms the regulatory partnership between the walking horse industry and the USDA. I am confident that this decision will serve to strengthen the partnership between the industry and federal regulators as we enter into negotiations to extend and improve upon the industry-USDA operating plan. 

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