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Deputy Administrator Juarez Visits with Trainers

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – USDA-APHIS Deputy Administrator Bernadette Juarez addressed the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association at their annual March meeting held in conjunction with the National Trainers’ Show.  WHTA President Bill Young introduced Ms. Juarez, who prior to the general membership meeting, visited with the board of directors.

Juarez started her remarks by communicating her two goals, which she had previously released as part of APHIS’ strategic plan.  The first goal was reaching out and building relationships with the industry in an effort to learn more about the industry from the perspectives of those in the industry.  The second goal includes promoting the humane treatment of animals, which in the Walking Horse industry includes the elimination of soring and promoting fair competition.

“I am a guarded persona and like to work independently but I learned real quick that was not effective in this industry,” said Juarez.  “I realized I had a lot of learning to do and and I have been a willing listener over the past year.”

Juarez has not been shy in communicating one of her key objectives, which is promoting a greater consistency in inspection.  “This is something that I consistently heard when talking to participants in the industry,” said Juarez.  USDA has held joint training with the Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) to help to achieve this desired result and early returns have been very promising.

In addition, USDA-APHIS has issued training materials to the HIOs that address the consistency sought for enforcement of the scar rule.  Juarez communicated two types of tissue change that would be focused on in 2017 with regards to scar rule.  The first will be generalized hair loss with nodules of non-pliable tissue.  The second will include multiple areas of hair loss coupled with the same nodules of non-pliable tissue.

Juarez was clear to point out that other types of tissue change that have been called in past years were still non-compliant but would not be a focus in 2017.  “Our goal is for the Veterinary Medical Officers (VMOs) and Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) findings to be consistent with one another,” said Juarez.

Juarez also told the trainers that when one VMO is present they will be in an oversight role and helping to monitor the performance of the DQP and will conduct some inspections and take swabs but that only when two VMOs are present would those VMOs be taking information to give to show management to disqualify an entry.  All custodians will be afforded the opportunity for a second opinion if they disagree with the finding of the first VMO.

The floor was opened for questions and the first came from Dr. Jim Baum who asked, “Will hair loss alone be a violation of the scar rule.”  Juarez quickly pointed out, “Hair loss alone is not noncompliance with the scar rule?”  Juarez also responded when DQPs find violations that VMOs would not generally check behind that DQP.  She warned that VMOs may check behind when findings of “unacceptable” are found just to see why consensus can’t be reached given the training those DQPs have been through.  

Juarez also commented that the same diagnostic tools utilized by the VMOs in the past would again be used this year with a potential heightened use of swabbing for noncompliant substances.  When pressed about the use of thermography, Juarez was non-committal to its use in 2017.

“The trainers are the most critical element to success in achieving our goals as you are on the front lines.  I will be relying on you,” concluded Juarez.

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