Christy Lantis, TWHBEA – Vice President, Enforcement Committee, TWHBEA

My name is Christy Lantis and I represent the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association.  I additionally serve as one of TWHBEA’s representatives to the Unity Committee, am a former director and member of the Tennessee Walking Horse Association of California, and am currently the Secretary/Treasurer for the West Coast Walking Horse Trainers Association.  I have traveled from California to appear and testify before the USDA today. 

My involvement with the Tennessee Walking Horse is lifelong. My Father was a professional dog trainer, specializing in Brittany and Pointer field trial dogs, which he handled off horseback.  Tennessee Walker’s are the predominant equine breed utilized by field trial enthusiasts because of their smooth surefooted gait and their endurance.  I began showing Tennessee Walking Horses around 1978, and have seen numerous positive changes in the show ring presentation of this wonderful breed.

Today, I would like to specifically address a few of the USDA’s questions:

1. Congress passed the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to eliminate the cruel and inhumane practice of soring.  How close are we to achieving the goal?  In my 34 years in the industry, I have witnessed tremendous improvement in the treatment of the Tennessee Walking Horse and a steep decline in the practice of ‘soring’. Many of the people that make allegations against the performance horse have not seen one up close and in person in thirty to forty years.  We would invite you to visit a horse show, or a barn, and see for yourself the vast improvements made.  Our equine breed in the most inspected breed in the United States for show ring purposes.  There are five HIO’s – SHOW, Pride, Kentucky, Heart of America, and WHOA – that inspect both performance and pleasure ‘competitive’ horses.  The average compliance rate of these five HIO’s was 98.56%.  There will never be 100% compliance, most especially in subjective inspection processes.  The competitive horse is inspected by manual palpation in varying degrees of unfamiliar environment.  When humans are involved, human error is inevitable, and I have personally experienced an inexperienced VMO requesting improper procedure in the inspection process.  Again, this makes the subjectivity of the inspection process a concern and problem.    The question really should be at what level of compliance will this industry have been able to satisfy the desires of the USDA?

5. What can the USDA do now and in the future to ensure compliance?  The USDA has helped the industry make great strides, and our horses are more compliant that ever before.  I believe that the next best step to ensure and help the industry facilitate compliance is education and communication.  I realize that the USDA’s role is to identify and correct problems and to ensure animal welfare.  Our industry is committed to the same.  The industry is putting on an educational conference, TTEC, which will be informative for owners, exhibitors, and trainers.  The Trainers Association will be considering this as a continuing education opportunity for their members.  It is important that we all continue to educate ourselves about animal welfare and horsemanship.  I also believe that some amount of positive feedback and communication from the USDA to the industry would help garner goodwill.  It is important to recognize the positives in this industry!

4.   How can the industry reconcile its inherent competition aspect with ensuring compliance?  All true competitors want a level playing field, and all true competition has ‘cheaters’.  Whether we are discussing Tennessee Walking Horses, or the NBA, NFL, etc., there will always be those that attempt to garner some ‘advantage’ through unscrupulous means.  The role of the HIO is to level that playing field and ensure the safety and welfare of our horses.  Now more than ever, our owners have demanded that level playing field and an objective, not subjective, inspection process.  We, as owners, are holding our trainers, and ourselves accountable.  We are also holding our inspectors accountable, and there should be no conflicts of interest for the DQP’s or the VMO’s that are responsible for inspecting our horses.

This breed has many diverse opportunities to enjoy its natural gait.  We should all respect each other’s right to enjoy this breed. 

I would like to thank the USDA for hosting these listening sessions for the stakeholders of this industry.  We appreciate the opportunity to be heard and to have our say.