August 19, 2010

Dr Chester A Gipson

4700 River Road

Unit 84 - Suite 6D03
Riverdale, MD 20737

Dear Dr Gipson:

I am writing this letter in response to the recent Petition For Rulemaking filed by The Humane Society Of The United States, The American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, The American Horse Protection Association Inc, Friends Of Sound Horses Inc, and Former Senator Joseph D Tydings. First let me say that Pride commends the USDA’s hard work and efforts to uphold the Horse Protection Act. Pride is in total support of the USDA’s determination to make sure that everyone is in compliance at all times. We are also very pleased with the working relationship with the USDA that we have enjoyed in our short but very productive existence as a Horse Industry Organization. I want to emphatically state that Pride is 110% in support of upholding the Horse Protection Act and has made every effort to do so at the shows that we have affiliated to date. We are dedicated to continuing to work with the USDA to enforce the HPA throughout the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry. With that being said it is also Pride’s goal to ensure that the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry grow and prosper for all horse enthusiasts who desire to show compliant horses in the future as the Horse Protection Act originally intended, including padded Tennessee Walking Horses.

I have reviewed the Petition in detail over the last two weeks and have compiled the following preliminary response to the Petition. As the USDA is aware the Petition is very lengthy and contains a large amount of information, data, opinion and innuendo. Due to the size of the Petition I want to inform you that Pride will be filing an official detailed response to the Petition. I would ask that the USDA give us time to complete this response prior to making any decisions concerning the Petition. I feel that adequate time needs to be given for all parties affected by this Petition to respond.

After reviewing the Petition I have come to the following preliminary conclusions. First, Pride agrees that every effort should be made to continue to enforce the HPA. I also agree that there are still instances of people attempting to gain an unfair advantage by breaking rules including the HPA. This will always be the case just as people continue to commit other crimes such as robbery and murder even though we have created laws against those crimes. We also agree that there are instances of industry leaders who have violated the HPA and continue to hold their leadership position. These reasons are precisely why Pride was formed. Pride is run as a business by business people making business decisions. Pride is determined to enforce the Horse Protection Act fairly and consistently for every exhibitor, owner and trainer at all shows we affiliate. We are also dedicated to educating the Industry on how to show compliant horses, how to run a professional business, and how to care for the welfare of their horses, among many other topics. Our goal is to create an environment that nurtures professional trainers of these beautifully talented animals and rids ourselves of the many years of being labeled “rednecks with toothbrushes”. Pride has made it clear in all discussions with the industry that the “days of old” are over. As you are aware Pride worked with the USDA in every step of the certification process to ensure that the USDA had no issues with our leadership team.

Unfortunately this is where our common ground with the Petitioners ends. If you dissect the Petition further you find that it is littered with misstated facts and false information. The Petition starts by saying that soring continues to dominate the industry. The facts state differently. The USDA data for industry compliance proves this to be false. The Petition continues to say that self regulation does not work and has continued to be ineffective. Again the numbers prove this to be false. Also the big advantage of self regulation is that information concerning upcoming shows is readily available to the USDA. If it were not for the HIOs and their affiliation programs the USDA would be hunting for “wildcat” shows similar to the illegal dog fighting and chicken fighting industry. No one in the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry wants to see an increase in “wildcat” shows. Over the last 5 years there has already been a huge increase in “wildcat” shows and this will continue exponentially if the HIOs and the USDA do not have some serious and constructive conversations about why this is happening soon. The Petition states that the USDA should permanently disqualify a scarred horse. This actually points out one of the major issues that exist with the current interpretation of the scar rule. I believe if our inspection process was consistent today then the scarred horse would already be permanently disqualified because it would never pass inspection. Who would determine whether a horse is compliant to the scar rule? Many instances exist where multiple VMOs have come to completely different conclusions concerning the same horse. The scar rule is not a black and white issue as the Petitioners would like for everyone to believe. The Petitioners talk about the clips, burs and other illegal things done to attempt to get horses through the inspection process. I feel that the changes in the current inspection process have dealt with these issues. The Petitioners state that pressure shoeing is a common practice. The facts do not support this statement. Pride has a lifetime ban on anyone caught pressure shoeing a horse.

The Petitioners ask the USDA to take the following actions:

1.       To permanently ban a scarred horse. In theory this is already the case because once scarred the horse could never pass inspection again without having some type of cosmetic surgery. The current definition of a scar is at issue and needs to be discussed in a detailed and constructive fashion. I would also remind the USDA that the HPA is the Horse Protection Act and is not meant to penalize or lesson the value of a horse. It was actually created to protect the horse and its value. I fully understand that if a horse is actually scarred that it would never pass inspection again therefore would have no show value. The question becomes is this horse scarred?

2.       To require the HIOs to adopt a standard penalty structure. Although Pride supports a common penalty structure, we do not agree with the proposed penalties as being proposed. Many of the tickets written by the industry would not become Federal Cases and be prosecuted by the USDA if there were no self regulation. This fact needs to be taken into account when determining the proposed penalty structure. Otherwise you undermine the self regulation process.

3.       To incorporate 2010 Points of Emphasis into the Regulations. These issues will be discussed in the detail response.

4.       To permanently ban repeat offenders. Pride does support a graduated penalty structure. I will lay out our proposal in our detail response.

5.       To decertify HIOs who are not in compliance. Pride is dedicated to enforcing the HPA and will continue to work with the USDA in constructive talks to improve our enforcement of the HPA at our events. I do believe there needs to be some discussions about honest differences of opinions on issues and how those are handled in a constructive way instead of in an adversarial nature as happens way to often today.

In conclusion I urge the USDA to not make any decisions on the Petition until we have had time to digest this information and submit a formal response. The original Horse Protection Act was intended to stop people from gaining an unfair economical advantage over others and falsely inflating the value of their horses through “soring”. I would conclude that the industry along with the USDA has taken great strides over the last 37 years to accomplish what the HPA intended. Most people only can talk about what the horses of the early 1970’s. I saw those horses in person up close. There is no comparison to the horses of today. Yes there are still instances of abuse and we need to deal with them, but the Petitioners seem to want to throw the baby out with the bath water. The original intent was to protect the true value of the Tennessee Walking Horse and its very natural “Big Lick”. The Act was written around the padded Tennessee Walking Horse to protect it not eliminate it. I would submit to you that the Petitioner’s only goal is to completely eliminate the padded Tennessee Walking Horse Industry and force their self righteous views on the rest of the world. I am asking the USDA to carry out the original intent of the HPA and protect the padded Tennessee Walking Horse. I believe the USDA can work with Pride to help this industry make the constructive changes required to create a new positive working environment that will allow the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry flourish and become a part of this great country’s economic recovery. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sam Hamilton

Chairman Pride