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Gulf Coast Inspections Point to Training Issues

As has been the case in many of the horse shows to begin the 2016 season, the USDA has put new Veterinary Medical Officers in the field to inspect.  These new VMOs in many cases have not been properly trained on the protocols of inspection found in the Horse Protection Act.  SHOW head Designated Qualified Person, Mitchell Butler has repeatedly pointed these inconsistencies out during the inspection process to head VMO Dr. Jeff Baker, however Baker will only reply, “they have been through the training.”

Butler has also asked Baker to allow the more seasoned VMO to check behind the new VMO just to confirm the findings since the new VMOs are not using proper technique yet the USDA will not allow a second VMO to confirm the findings of the first VMO.

In Panama City Beach, Fl. at the Gulf Coast Charity Horse Show, SHOW HIO inspected 205 entries pre-show.  Of those inspections, SHOW had horse show management disqualify 11 horses for violations of the SHOW rulebook.  Another three horses were not allowed to show at that performance for unacceptable, a determination that the DQP makes when the horse is not in violation of a specific rule but it unacceptable to show that night for another reason.  These horses are allowed to show back in another performance at the same horse show.

The 95% compliance rate was achieved with 11 horses being disqualified for eight unilateral rulebook violations, one foreign substance violation, one scar rule, and one horse was cited for both a bilateral rulebook violation and scar rule.

The USDA took information on 10 of those 11 horses as well as an additional 25 horses.  The USDA took information on 40 total violations on those 35 horses.  The USDA cited 13 bilateral, 13 unilateral, 12 scar rule, one foreign substance and one heavy chain.

A relatively new VMO in the rotation, Dr. McHenry, who according to multiple sources was not following inspection protocols, disqualified 11 of the 15 horses she inspected, or 73% of those horses.  The other two VMOs, who have also had complaints sent to the USDA regarding their techniques, Dr. Dominique Engel and Dr. Bart Sutherland had much lower percentages, 42% and 36% respectively.

Data collected by SHOW HIO and industry representatives continues to show the inconsistencies of inspection by USDA VMOs as well as the highly subjective inspection protocols that produce highly variable results.  SHOW HIO DQPs are certified and trained by the USDA each year.

One horse exhibited at the Gulf Coast Charity show, who did not want their name released due to fear of retaliation by USDA, has shown at five different shows this year with the USDA present and been inspected by VMOs at four of those shows.  At the Gulf Coast Charity show, the horse was shown and inspected pre and post-show the first time it showed and then inspected pre-show and passed the second time.  After its second performance, the same USDA VMO took information on a scar rule violation.

The easy fix for most all of the issues in inspection lies in one simple change, move from the current subjective inspections methods to science-based, objective inspection methods.  Veterinarians agree with industry testing of those science-based methods however the USDA, at the urging of the Humane Society of the United States refuses to meet to discuss implementing a more objective approach.

There is hope that new Deputy Administrator Bernadette Juarez might be open to exploring ways to strengthen the inspection process and remove the wild inconsistencies that exist today given her legal background but only time will tell.  

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