Editor's Note:  The following is the response to the US News & World Report article and the media outlets that choose to pick this story up and reprint it in its entirety or excerpts from it.  The response was generated by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association, Walking Horse Owners’ Association and Walking Horse Trainers’ Association.

To the Editor:

The Tennessee Walking Horse industry has recently come under fire by outside groups and has been assailed in a recent story printed in this newspaper that was written by political reporter Bonnie Erbe.

The Tennessee Walking Horse is the most highly-regulated and scrutinized equine breed in the entire country. EVERY Tennessee Walking Horse is put through a rigorous inspection process EVERY time it goes into, and many times coming out of, a show ring. That’s right…EVERY horse, EVERY class.  Even under such intense scrutiny, the professional trainers of the industry are presenting horses for inspection that are compliant over 99% of the time.  No other breed in the United States can make that claim. How many other government-inspected agencies can attest to such high compliance?

Ms. Erbe’s story gives an opinion based on untruths, innuendos, and outright lies.  Her story painted the entire industry with a broad brush by proclaiming the treatment of Tennessee Walking Horses as “sadistic.”  She made these assumptions without ever contacting owners, trainers, or the breed registry to find out their side of the story, or even if there was another side of the story.  This points to a total lack of credibility in her reporting and is a classic example of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Since many of the facts were omitted, may we take this opportunity to give you the correct information.

Statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture are evidence of improved compliance with the Horse Protection Act (HPA). According to the USDA's 2007 Annual Show Report, there were a total of 506 sanctioned Walking Horse shows across the United States. In those shows, 109,008 inspections were made with 629 total violations found (including technical violations) for a 99.4% compliance rate.  In 2008, USDA Veterinary Medical Officers have inspected 2,275 horses while finding only 66 violations (of any type).  The industry is constantly striving for 100% compliance, and recognizes even one violation is unacceptable.

As an industry, we need to continue our inspections at every show to ensure that those who violate the HPA are caught.  These numbers do not point to any widespread problems like those incorrectly stated. According to industry statistics, there has never been a horse collapse as a result of improper shoeing.  The practices referred to in Ms. Erbe’s article are completely unacceptable in our industry today.  Those found to have used these practices are prevented from showing horses, and are subject to severe penalties imposed by the industry and by the federal government.

To confirm its opposition to unsound training practices, in 2007 the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association adopted a new Code of Ethics.  This Code of Ethics states in part that licensed trainers must “Treat all horses in their care humanely, and with dignity and respect.  Trainers shall use proper care in training, handling, and showing them, and shall not utilize techniques known to inflict pain for the purposes of performance enhancement.”

Every major breed organization has stepped up to the plate to make sure that only healthy, sound horses are in the show ring.  The world championship show of the breed, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration®, successfully implemented stringent new requirements designed to ensure the health and safety of the animals competing there.

The bottom line is that the Tennessee Walking Horse industry is working hand-in-hand with the USDA and all industry organizations to continue the astounding success it has shown in recent years in putting sound, healthy horses in show rings or on the trail that anyone can be proud of.

Frank E. Neal, President  - Walking Horse Owners’ Association

David Pruett, President – Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association

Link Webb, President – Walking Horse Trainers’ Association