Copyright WHR 2012

By Jeffrey Howard

Editor's Note:  Part one of two from Dr. Chester Gipson’s meeting with the Walking Horse Owners’ Association general membership meeting.

The Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) hosted Dr. Chester Gipson, Deputy Administrator for Animal Care with USDA-APHIS at its general membership meeting on February 11, 2012 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.  Gipson was very informative in his session and used the meeting as an opportunity to clarify many of the statements and positions being attributed to him as part of the industry’s unification efforts.

Gipson began by stating that the 2012 show season should have no major differences from the 2011 show season with regards to HPA enforcement.  Gipson addressed the mandatory penalties, which he referred to as uniform penalties by stating, “The Uniform Penalty Protocol is hung up and I’m not quite sure when they will be completed.  This process can take a long time and it has taken a lot longer than we thought.”

With regards to clarifying his statements, Gipson stated, “I have been surprised by the feedback and comments I have received from my previous meetings with groups and individuals.  I do not have a hidden motive and I expect  a certain level of distrust because I work for the government.”  He continued, “Unification is an industry initiative and is a totally different issue from pads and action devices and they are totally separate.”  Gipson urged, as he has done in the past, for the industry to unite behind a common goal. 

“There is no credible voice within this industry and when someone doesn’t like something they spin off and create their own group.  You are dividing and surrendering and we don’t have to do anything to you, you are doing it to yourself,” said Gipson.  Gipson urged the industry to stop splintering saying, “There are more good resources in your industry than in any industry I know but they aren’t being used effectively.”

As a result of the industry’s efforts at unification recently, Gipson was optimistic that it was going better than what is commonly perceived in the industry.  “You have groups that talk about one another that are talking with one another and that is a good first step.  I am very optimistic that something good will come of it,” reiterated Gipson.

Gipson also spent time clarifying his position with his statements to prior groups regarding the pads and action devices.  “I have an ethical responsibility to let your industry know what is on the horizon especially when it may have an adverse effect on your industry.  In the regulations it states that if certain things didn’t change we would re-visit the action device and pad.”  Gipson reminded the industry that other credible groups were looking at the issue and he urged that our industry should do the same.

“The issue is open and we are going to re-visit but that doesn’t mean anything will change.  You need to provide alternatives based on fact and not emotion.  We are going to do what’s best for the horse based on the best science,” said Gipson.  Gipson reiterated multiple times that the USDA is not making a change to the pad and action device but warned other groups are studying the issue and he urges the industry to do the same so that science will be at the core of the argument made by the industry if that time comes.

Gipson at many times talked about the credibility of who the industry is up against and why it has become so popular.  “The HPA deals with the soring of horses which because of the harm to the horse has become an animal welfare issue which is the reason groups such as AAEP and AVMA  have stepped up and become more active,” said Gipson.

Gipson did compliment the industry and trainers with regards to the advancement made within the industry on the scar rule.  “When I took this job the Act wasn’t being enforced, it was being ignored.  You can’t change overnight so we have taken a measured approach.  I joke with some of the trainers I talk to that said, ‘We can’t do it’ and tell them they did do it,” said Gipson.  Gipson clearly stated that in the measured approach he has taken to scar rule enforcement, “It’s (scar rule adherence) where it needs to be.”

Watch for Part Two of the Dr. Gipson meeting with WHOA which deals with the OIG Audit, Points of Emphasis and his reaction to the threat of litigation against him.  The complete story will be in the February 20, 2012 issue of Walking Horse Report.