WHR Copyright 2006

by Sadie Fowler

For all walking horse enthusiasts interested in learning more about the USDA’s enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, the Blue Ribbon Circle on the Celebration Grounds was the place to be Wednesday morning, Feb. 8.

In a very straightforward, informative presentation, Dr. Todd Behre, horse protection coordinator for animal care, clearly pointed out the USDA’s future expectations for walking horse trainers and owners in front of a standing room only crowd where he spoke about soring walking horses as well as measures that will continue to take place to prevent the future soring of horses.

His message: there is no reason for soring to take place and the USDA will continue to work with HIOs and DQPs, owners and trainers to stop this inhumane act from occurring.

Dr. Behre’s approximately two-hour presentation was part of the first 2006 USDA APHIS listening session where the USDA’s goal included gathering public input regarding the next Operating Plan, gathering public input about the future direction of HPA enforcement and sharing information with the public about past, present and future activities of the Horse Protection Program. Four future listening sessions are scheduled to take place in 2006 in Springfield, Mo., Chattanooga, Tenn., Pomona, Calif., and Dallas, Texas.

Following a brief introduction from Mike Tuck of the USDA, Dr. Chester Gipson, deputy administrator for animal care of the USDA, welcomed the large audience. He was very pleased with the attendance and said that the primary purpose of the session was to listen to concerns of walking horse enthusiasts.

“We made a commitment to have an open forum as we develop the next Operating Plan,” said Gipson. “We are here to listen to you.” He said the primary purpose for the Operating Plan was to serve in the horse’s welfare and best interest.

Following Gipson’s opening comments, Dr. Behre began his presentation by stating how pleased he was to see so many people in attendance. The industry was well represented by various organizations and it was apparent that Shelbyville was a terrific location for a listening session.

In his presentation, Behre touched on topics such as what soring is, what devices and/or substances are used to sore horses, the scar rule, the gas chromatography machine (sniffer), thermography, the algometer, conflict resolution, the inspection process, and much more.

Dr. Behre first defined the legal definition of soring and in doing so, said that of all the horse shows he went to in 2005, he saw too many sore horses. “People talk at horse shows, assuming I know everything [that goes on], and this caused me a lot of discomfort,” he said.

Substances such as diesel fuel, camphor, lighter fluid, heavy chains, pressure shoeing and injections were all mentioned as current methods used for soring horses. Behre went over improper measures that are taken when shoeing horses and discussed the impact that tungsten shoes have on the anatomy of a horse. Some of these shoes now weigh between 10 and 14 pounds. Dr. Behre asked the audience, “Is it time for a weight limit regulation?”

Behre clearly stated what substances are legal such as petrolatum, mineral oil, glycerine and mixtures thereof, noting, “anything else is not ok.” Behre has visited numerous horse shows, including Friends Of Sound Horse (FOSH) shows and National Walking Horse Association shows and said when checking for substances such as those mentioned above, with the sniffer, found no evidence of illegal substances.

In presenting statistics from 2005 regarding samples taken by the “sniffer” at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Behre said 54% of the samples indicated the presence of an illegal substance, most commonly numbing agents. Samples from the 2005 Kentucky Celebration indicated 100% of the samples taken indicated the presence of diesel fuel or another similar fuels plus numbing agents.

“The incidence of prohibited substances was much higher than I thought it was,” said Behre. “He further explained that his promise to not to prosecute cases in 2004 and 2005 with evidence obtained from the sniffer had expired. “In 2006 the USDA will swab to take samples for the sniffer at all the horse shows they attend. Dr Behre later clarified to the Report that he will not begin using that evidence in prosecutions until he notifies people that the USDA plans to do so.”

Behre went on to discuss the anatomy of the horse, specifically from the knee down. Lameness happens from the knee down, he said. “Why are we talking about lameness? Because this is a very susceptible part of equine locomotive apparatus,” he said. “There is no protection on a horse below the knee and that is why we need to protect it…that is why we focus on legs.”

Dr. Behre’s presentation showed pictures of horses with normal pasterns and/or hoofs and then compared them to pictures of horses with injured pasterns and/or hoofs. Over the past 15 years, Dr. Behre has attended reining, racing, event, dressage, cutting, American Saddlebred shows, Morgan shows and more, and “has never seen the skin pathology in other breeds like that in the Tennessee Walking Horse.” He then asked, “why does a [walking horse] trainer tell me ‘we work real hard to keep these horses in compliance’? Why? This is not the case in other breeds. Why are we here with this breed?”

Other breeds’ pasterns are exposed to water, sweat, mud, friction and certain action devices and they have clean pasterns. He specifically mentioned his attendance at the Kentucky State Fair and World’s Championship Horse Show for American Saddlebreds and Hackney ponies. He noticed how long and hard these breeds are worked and how much more fit they appeared to be than the walking horse. “Why do these horses work so hard and not have sore pasterns,” he asked.

He next spoke about shoeing and its effect on the posterior pastern. He spoke about hoof balance and explained what an unbalanced hoof looks like. When looking at the hoof from the side, the hoof angle should be parallel from the pastern through the hoof. This is often not the case with walking horses. He also spoke about the “50% Rule” and the heel to toe ratio.

When it comes to shoeing violations, they are completely avoidable, Behre said, explaining there were 38 of these violations in 2005. “This breaks my heart,” he said. “Why were they not measured before? By a ruler…this [type of violation] is too easy to avoid,” he concluded, stating how upset he would be if he were an owner whose horse was turned down due to a shoeing violation.

Next, Dr. Behre discussed the inspection process. The examination for soring consists of three components: an evaluation of the horse’s movement, observation of the horse’s appearance during inspection and physical examination of the horse’s forelegs from the knee to the hoof.

More specifically, Dr. Behre touched on the scar rule, explaining that any inflamed tissue (something other than skin due to trauma) is not acceptable. He was also very quick to point out that scratches and exudative dermatitis are not a scar rule violation and encouraged trainers not to use those as an excuse. “VMOs know the difference,” he said. “We are all veterinarians.”

He also touched on post show violations of the scar rule, stating that masking agents may be used to cover up a scar prior to performing. After a class, this agent may have worn off, at which time a ticket would be issued. In 2005, violations of the scar rule were way up, primarily because VMOs and DQPs have reached a consensus about what’s not acceptable.

Dr. Behre encouraged all trainers and owners to read more about it. He also noted that the USDA offers scar rule clinics where the “stakes are zero.” During these clinics the HPA is not enforced, rather, the clinics offer guidance and clarification for those unsure of what the USDA considers a scarred horse. Clinics in 2004 at White Pine and in North Carolina were very successful.

Following a lengthy discussion of the scar rule, Dr. Behre talked about conflict resolution, noting that this can be easily avoided by ensuring DQPs and VMOs are on the same page. “This needs to be resolved at a show,” he said. There is no need to waste time when a horse is clearly out of compliance.

To better ensure DQPs and VMOs are consistent, the USDA will offer clinics to further educate DQPs and VMOs on normal horses vs. scarred horses (that showed up in 2005). Measures to ensure consistency in other aspects of inspection, such as how much pressure to apply when palpating a horse, are important to Dr. Behre. “We are trying to reach a common ground and learn how to do things together,” he said. To help in gaining more consistency, in 2006 training will be designed and delivered by DQPs and VMOs, not just the USDA VMOs.

Dr. Behre also made it very clear that when the government shows up at horse shows and everyone packs up and drives away, it is bad for the horse and the entire industry. “Lessened predictablility regarding the whereabouts of USDA inspectors caused more trainers to simply load up and go home upon the USDA’s arrival…that trend is suggestive of a presence of sored horses, he said.

Show management and the facilities where horse shows are held will not continue to hold horse shows if there is no turn out. They’ll end up finding another event that will be sure to attract people such as monster trucks, for example.

In conclusion, Dr. Behre spoke about funding available for the enforcement of the HPA. There is currently only $500,000 available for the enforcement of the HPA according to the statute. “We don’t have the money but we are going to be creative in how we do it,” Behre said. Dr. Behre said they will drive hundreds of miles to ensure proper enforcement of the HPA is taking place. The HPA limits the funding for this program to $500,000, but the act was enacted in 1976. In today’s buying power, this would be $1,737,380 in 2005. Behre closed with a brief explanation of the Operating Plan’s purpose and encouraged all walking horse enthusiasts to read it. He also encouraged trainers and owners to contact him with their questions. Dr. Behre has stressed their willingness to do scar rule clinics to further the education of trainers and owners so that everyone knows what to expect from the USDA.

The Listening Session then took place where half a dozen members of the audience made their points to the USDA. While the session was intended to be to hear comments and suggestions regarding the Horse Protection Act, two of the six comments that were made were in regard to the Slaughter Bill, which has been a recent hot topic for the USDA. Five more members of the audience asked questions fielded by Dr. Behre regarding information from his presentation before Dr. Gipson concluded the session with his comments, urging the industry to clean up its act.

“The industry has stepped up and realized that they need to deal with these issues,” he said. “You are at a crossroads. You need to decide which way you are going to go. You can step up and do your job, or you put us in the position where we are forced to do it for you…we will enforce the regulations, and more than that we will make sure that the animals are treated the way they are supposed to be treated,” he concluded.