by David L. Howard
Posted February 11, 2002
One of the features of the 2001-2003 United States Department of Agriculture Operating Plan is the exemption from liability for a horse owner who has been assessed a Horse Protection Act violation. This provision was strongly supported by the industry and enables an owner to take steps to make sure that his horse is well cared for and that he will not be liable for violations of the HPA by a third party.

The key provisions of the Operating Plan addressing this issue are as follows:

D. Limited Exemption from Liability. Section 1824(2)(D) of the Act contains a limited exemption from liability for a horse owner who demonstrates that he or she did not allow the horse to be entered or exhibited in a show while sore. This exemption applies only to those owners who themselves did not participate in the entry, exhibition, sale or auction of a sore horse. An owner, to avoid liability for allowing his or her horse to be shown or exhibited, entered, sold, auctioned, or offered for sale while sore, must first present credible evidence that he or she did not participate in the entry, transportation, preparation for showing, exhibiting, sale or auction. Second, the owner must show that he or she took affirmative steps: (1) to select a trainer whom the owner would not reasonably expect would sore the horse; (2) to ensure that the trainer understands what soring is as defined in the HPA, understands that the owner does not want the trainer to sore the horse and understands the consequences of soring the horse; and (3) to periodically check the condition of the horse. Examples of such affirmative action by an owner include without limitation the following:

1. Written Instructions and Acknowledgement. The owner has previously given the trainer written instructions not to sore the horse or to engage in practices or use devices that could be expected to result in soring, i.e.., chains over the permitted weight, prohibited boots, collars, and rollers, caustic chemicals, overuse of permissible devices; and has informed the trainer in writing that failure to comply with the owner’s instructions will result in the trainer’s immediate termination. The owner has obtained the trainer’s written acknowledgement that he or she understands and agrees to comply with such terms, and has read, understands and agrees to comply with the HPA and Regulations.

2. Consideration of Trainer’s History. The owner determines whether or not the trainer has previously violated the HPA. For example, if an owner hires a trainer whom the USDA, in a litigated HPA enforcement proceeding, has found to have violated the Act on or after March 1, 1999, then the hiring of such trainer by an owner means that the owner is aware that the trainer has previously exhibited, shown, entered, sold or transported a sore horse in violation of the HPA, and has accepted the risk that such trainer may do so again. Such an owner would have to present evidence to show that he or she acted reasonably in knowingly hiring that trainer.

3. Unannounced visits. The owner or the owner’s agent makes unannounced visits to the trainer’s facility. The owner arranges for periodic unannounced inspections of the horse by a knowledgeable, independent licensed veterinarian ( a veterinarian who is not otherwise employed by the trainer and who is competent to determine whether a horse is sore under the HPA.

PLEASE REMEMBER THAT ANY APPEAL OF OWNER LIABILITY MUST BE FILED WITHIN TWENTY (20) DAYS OF THE DATE OF THE NOTICE OF THE VIOLATION/SUSPENSION OR YOU WILL HAVE FOREVER LOST THAT RIGHT. The appeal request must be in writing and accompanied by a check in the amount of two hundred dollars ($200.00) and a written statement as to why you are appealing.

We urge all owners to be aware of these provisions and to avail themselves of the opportunity to be proactive in protecting their horses and their rights under the Horse Protection Act.