MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The Horse Protection Technology meeting was held in Murfreesboro, Tenn., August 4, 2004 on the Middle Tennessee State University campus in the James Union building. The meeting was attended by approximately 55 people from different areas of the walking horse industry.

The primary purpose of this meeting was to inform the walking horse industry of new technologies being developed to be used in the inspection process. Namely, Thermography Technology and Gas Chromatography Technology (commonly called the “sniffer”), and to answer any questions the audience might have about these issues.

Mike Tuck, Senior Program Analyst for the USDA, started off the meeting welcoming those in attendance and introduced the feature speakers Dr.Todd Behre, Vaughan Langman, Ph.D., Dr. Clem Dussault, and Dr. Lynn Bourgeois.

Dr.Todd Behre, USDA APHIS Horse Protection Coordinator, was the first speaker. Dr. Behre was quick to explain that his goals for this meeting as well as future forums was to create a consistent and fair inspection environment where all competitors and their entries are inspected by the same standard. The USDA’s goal is to take out the guess work and to have a consistent method by which all horses are inspected. Behre said “DQPs and VMOs should have the same training on inspection methods and should agree and see each horse basically the same”. He also stated “There should be no difference in the inspection regardless who is doing it, whether it is a DQP or a VMO”.

“There has to be an open and transparent flow of information”, said Behre who is very interested in keeping an open dialog between anyone who has a question or problem. He expressed that the only way this meeting could be a success was to have audience participation. He also encouraged anyone to contact him when they have a question or concern.

Vaughan Langman, a Biophysicist, has been doing research using Thermography Technology. He explained the direct correlation between leg and hoof temperatures in horses’ extremities. Long wave radiation is omitted by the horse and is measured by the thermograph machine. This data shows profusion patterns and can be analyzed to show abnormalities in body temperatures and how that data can relate to a horse being sound or to show suspicious activities.

He explained the technical differences in the new technology and the machines they used in the “old days”. This new machine is much smaller, very portable, and less sensitive to environmental factors. He also explained how the military is using this same technology in F16 and F14 air force fighters in the guidance of bombs and missiles. He also stressed that the research and its findings are based on “norms”. Basically this means that these tests have all been conducted on horses that have been determined as sound and healthy. At this time, no research has been (knowingly) done on horses that may have a disorder (such as founder, ring bone, etc.) or on horses that are known to be “sore”. The age of a horse does not seem to be a factor in changing healthy temperature patterns.

Next on the agenda was the discussion about Gas Chromatography Technology or the “Sniffer”. Every element has a vapor signature and can be analyzed by this vapor. This type of machine is used by all types of industries for a multiple of reasons. Some examples of this would be detecting chemical or bacterial terrorism, detecting explosives, identifying types of fuel, testing water supplies for contamination, the list goes on and on. All substances are registered and the vapor signature for identifying those substances is held in a data base to be used as a cross reference.

Research has been done on what are “normal” horse smells. There are major concerns by the walking horse industry how this technology is going to used in enforcement. One thing that the USDA indicated is that this technology is only going to be used in detecting foreign substances. Cross contamination was the biggest issue.

Based on previous testing questions were asked about the reliability of this testing. How long will a substance be present when held in the vapor tubes? How long can samples be held and get a valid reading? Will the elements break down or evaporate? Once the breakdown of the substance begins, will it change its composition? What type of time frame issues are we talking about? None of these questions had answers at this time. Needless to say, this is certainly a fascinating technology, but it appears as though there are still a lot of issues that need addressing before it will be implemented in the enforcement arena.

Other issues addressed about the “Sniffer” were chemicals that are fat soluble chemicals and are metabolized in the body for long periods of time. Even the therapeutic use of DMSO when administered by a veterinarian can linger in the horse’s body for months. In the same realm of issues there were concerns about substances that are inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin. None of these chemicals having anything to do with the horse protection act, yet the odors of many substances can be emitted through the pores of the skin.

The presents of harmless substances like fly sprays, show sheen, hoof black, topical medications, and the like were also of concern. There were so many “what if” situations that were addressed that the response that basically said it all was “this is all a learning curve”. There is still much research to be done and it will be many years before this technology is implemented in the field for enforcement.

One thing that is apparent. All parties involved want what is in the best interest of the horse and want to make competing fair for all exhibitors. The USDA has a job to do and their interest is to see that the walking horse industry stays in compliance with the rules and regulations that govern this industry. This is not “us against them” this is “lets work together to meet the highest standard that our breed deserves” environment.

Dr. Behre asks that no one operate on “hear say”. Get the proper information and address any questions you might have about this issue to Behre or his office. Dr. Behre’s email address is [email protected] and his phone number is 301-734-5784.