MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Approximately 100 members of the Walking Horse community attended the eighth in a series of nine listening sessions held by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Animal Care Program at the Doubletree Hotel in Murfreesboro.

 The purpose of the listening sessions which have been held across the country is to get feedback on the following questions set forth by APHIS:

• Congress passed the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to eliminate the cruel and inhumane practice of soring horses. How close are we to achieving the goal?
• Can the industry achieve a consensus on how to carry out a self-regulatory program to enforce the Horse Protection Act in a consistent way?
• What responsibilities should USDA-certified Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) have within the industry?
• How can the industry reconcile its inherent competition aspect with ensuring compliance with the Horse Protection Act?
• What can USDA do now (and in the future) to ensure compliance?
• What responsibilities should USDA have within the industry with respect to enforcement and what hinders oversight of the HIOs and/or industry?
• Should there be prohibition of all action devices?
• Should there be prohibition of pads?
• Currently, the Horse Protection regulations have a shoe weight limit on yearlings. Should there now be a shoe weight limit for all aged horses?

After a brief explanation of the rules of the listening session by Mike Tuck, the moderator/facilitator, and welcoming remarks by Dr. Rachel Cezar, Horse Protection Coordinator for USDA, the comment session began.

Of the 14 individuals who spoke, 13 were in agreement that the industry has made vastly positive improvements since the inception of the Horse Protection Act and that, with a 98.6% compliance rate, the industry can certainly self-regulate with the USDA acting in an oversight capacity only. They further agreed that based upon scientific data, there is absolutely no need for reduction or elimination of pads and action devices and no need to limit the weight of shoes. And, the general consensus of opinion was that for the industry to survive and thrive the padded performance horse must be preserved.

One speaker, Nathaniel Jackson of Cookeville, Tenn.,  expressed his personal belief that the industry cannot self-regulate and needs more USDA involvement. He further expressed his belief that the action device should be eliminated.

Those who spoke favorably represented a diverse cross-section of the industry: two veterinarians, Dr. Jim Baum and Dr. Steve Mullins; two Presidents and one past President of industry organizations, Marty Irby (TWHBEA), Kim Bennett (WHOA) and Bob Wright (SSHBEA); two trainers, Winky Groover and Sonny Holt; one area businessman, Ben Craig (chairman of Bedford County Chamber of Commerce); one DQP coordinator, Dwayne Rector; the President of the WHTA Auxilary, Alie Napier; and three owner/exhibitor/breeders, Ginger Evans, Marshall Kemp, and Ty Irby. Many meaningful positive observations and statements were shared by these individuals.

During his time to speak, Winky Groover who has shown horses for over 50 years, trained horses professionally for 37 years, and served as President of the Walking Horse Trainers Association in the past, made an extremely credible case against any reduction in pads or action devices and submitted a video of a current World Grand Champion who had been in the pasture for three months being brought into the training barn, being shod, and with a six-ounce action device in place, hitting a “big lick”. Based on the Auburn University study which proves that pads and action devices do not harm the horse and the evidence of the video itself
Groover rested his case.

In his presentation, Marty Irby informed those present that in meetings of TWHBEA and the recently-formed Unity Committee, Dr. Chester Gipson, Deputy Administrator of APHIS, warned that the performance horse was in jeopardy because of unsanctioned and/or non-affiliated shows and because of conflict of interest within the DQP programs. Irby also submitted to the USDA several very informative statistical reports in support of the padded performance horse. To view all of the information submitted by Irby to the USDA, go to

Alie Napier reported on the charitable impact of the padded performance horse in the work of the WHTA Ladies Auxiliary.

In that same vein, Ben Craig of the Shelbyville Chamber of Commerce reported on the economic impact of the Tennessee Walking Horse to the community of Shelbyville and Bedford County, bringing over 40 million dollars annually to the area. He further stated that since its inception in 1939 when two civic clubs hosted the first Celebration behind the Harris Middle School, the industry has continued to give back large donations to the community.

Dr. Steve Mullins, Director of SHOW HIO, explained that the Unity Committee is working rapidly to standardize shoeing requirements and regulations and enforcement of penalties among all HIOs which has not been the case to date. He advised that SHOW HIO employs no one with a vested interest in the industry and that all the other HIOs are trying very hard to do the same. He further stated that the USDA hinders progress when they change the rules inconsistently.

In their closing comments, both Dr. Cezar and Dr. Gipson thanked those in attendance and asked for cooperation in identifying when and where nonaffiliated shows are occurring. They entertained several pertinent questions from the floor, but were noncommittal in their answers regarding swabbing or how nonaffiliated horse shows would affect the USDA’s perception of the industry as a whole.

Dr. Gipson observed that when he began working with the industry he found the attitude to be “defiant not compliant” and  over the years he has seen a change to an attitude of trying to work together for the good of the horse. He further advised that in the past every USDA veterinarian did horse inspection and now only those who express an equine interest act as VMOs when the USDA attends horse shows. He emphasized that the industry must have more transparency and a better image in the eyes of the public at large, and must remember that it is all for the good of the horse.

To view the entire listening session online, scan this image with a QR code reader app or go to

Nationwide Listening Sessions:
March 7 Irving, Texas
March 8 Springfield, Mo.
March 15 Lexington, Ky.
March 22 Ontario, Calif.
March 23 Albany, Ore.
March 27 Asheville, N.C.
March 29 Starkville, Miss.
April 4 Murfreesboro, Tenn.
April 10 Riverdale, Md.