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An Open Letter from Dr. John O'Brien

Copyright 2006

Editor's Note: Dr. O'Brien is a practicing veterinarian in Bowling Green, KY, who is the chairman of the National Horse Protection Society Interim Committee. Dr. O'Brien worked with Dr. Scott Bennett at the 2005 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration as independent veterinarians to assist in conflicts with the United States Department of Agriculture. He was also one of the panel of experts who participated in the Florida meeting of the NHPS.  He sent the following letter to Tom Blankenship.

Dear Tom:

Here are some thoughts I have concerning the formation and mission of the National Horse Protection Society (NHPS).

I have been a practicing veterinarian for 35 years and have treated and been associated with Tennessee Walking Horses for that period of time. In those early years of practice I saw some terrible cases of abuse and at one point thought I would just wash my hands of the whole mess. But my love for the horse would not allow me to do that and I have continued to work at the local level to "clean up" the industry. There have been many positive changes over the years, but it is now time for everyone to come together in one concerted effort. For years we have put Band-Aids on the problem to just get by or many times in fact, looked the other way. In those 35 years the Tennessee Walking Horse has evolved into a different animal. The intense competition to win has caused individuals to do what was necessary to get the blue ribbon at the horses expense. We have come to a time when owners, trainers and the public must accept that the horse is physically only capable of doing so much. Everyone must recognize that limitation and not ask or expect any more. There will always be good horses and winners, but we must make sure to create a level playing field with everyone treated fairly and equal. We can no longer accept the "sore" horse, but must implement drastic changes for the health of our industry and more importantly for the health and well being of the horse.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I accepted a position on the NHPS advisory board and have spent the last four months with other representatives of the TWH industry to make recommendations for a regulatory program that would insure that only "sound" horses be exhibited.

The Horse Protection Act has been in effect for years, but I believe has been somewhat unclear to many. The term "sore" needed to be further defined such that an individual would know exactly where the boundaries were. There is a need for consistency in the application of the Act. The NHPS has proposes revisions to the Horse Protection Act. I have reviewed the proposed changes and revisions and find them to be medically correct and properly defined. These changes will enhance the Horse Protection Act's ability to enforce the rules. It leaves little room for discussion.

I encourage everyone connected with the industry to join together in supporting the NHPS efforts to save the industry, but more importantly to save the Tennessee Walking Horse so that it can have the respect it deserves. God gave us dominion over animals and it is our responsibility to care for them in an acceptable manner.

Respectfully submitted,

John L. O'Brien, Jr., D.V.M.

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