The American Horse Council recently sent a memo to its Animal Welfare and Horse Show committee outlining H.R. 4098, introduced by Congressman Marsha Blackburn and its proposed amendments to the Horse Protection Act.

In the memo, the AHC points to its endorsement of the PAST Act, which prohibits the use of weighted shoes, action devices and pads, although many of the breeds that are members of the American Horse Council utilize this equipment.  The AHC criticizes H.R. 4098 for the elimination of HIOs.  “Additionally, there are “sound horse” HIOs that are making legitimate efforts to eliminate soring.  The bill would eliminate those HIOs,” stated the memo.  What the AHC didn’t clarify to the committee was that the legislation they support eliminates all HIOs as well.

Here is the AHC complete memo:

To:      Animal Welfare Committee/ Horse Show Committee
From:  American Horse Council 
Date:     March 5, 2014 
Re:      Blackburn Soring Bill
On February 26, 2014, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced a bill to amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA), the Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2013 (H.R.4098).   The bill would create a single Horse Industry Organization (HIO) that would be responsible for enforcement of the HPA.

Currently, there are multiple U.S. Department Agriculture (USDA) certified Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) that are responsible for licensing Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs). DQPs are persons familiar with horses who may be appointed and delegated authority by the management of a horse show or sale to inspect horses and detect those that are sored. A DQP must meet the requirements set out in USDA regulations and must be licensed by an HIO certified by USDA. By hiring DQPs, show and sale managers may insulate themselves from liability should a sored horse show or be sold at their event.

The bill would establish a single HIO that would be responsible for licensing DQPs. The new HIO would be governed by a board consisting two individuals appointed by the Commissioner of Agriculture of Tennessee and two individuals appointed by the Commissioner of Agriculture of Kentucky.  These four board members would in turn appoint two representatives from the walking horse industry in consultation with the Walking Horse Trainers Association.  These six board members would then appoint three additional board members.   

The bill would direct the new HIO to use “objective, science-based inspection protocols” that: 

(A) have been the subject of testing and are capable of producing scientifically reliable, reproducible results;
(B) have been subjected to peer review; and
(C) have received acceptance in the veterinary or other applicable scientific community.” 
The bill would also require the new HIO to issue policies requiring any person licensed with the HIO or an immediate member of such person to be free from conflicts of interest or any association with the industry.

Ninety (90) days after establishment of the new HIO the certification of all existing HIOs would be revoked.  

The bill has 9 co-sponsors; Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), John Duncan (R-TN), Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Diane Black (R-TN), Stephen Lee Fincher (R-TN), Andy Barr (R-KY), Nick Rahall (D-WV), David Roe(R-TN)

This bill was introduced as an alternative to the PAST Act, which is supported by the AHC and most of the show horse industry.  We believe this bill would not reduce the prevalence of soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse and Racking Horse industry and does not address most of the issues raised in the USDA Office of Inspector General Report on the HPA enforcement program.  In fact it could exacerbate the situation by placing responsibility for enforcement of the HPA more firmly in the hands of a walking horse-controlled HIO.  

Furthermore, the USDA currently has the authority to decertify HIOs that are not adequately enforcing the HPA and is currently in the process of doing so.  Under this bill it does not appear USDA would have any recourse if the newly established HIO was failing to enforce the HPA or anyway to remove any of the governing board. 

Additionally, there are “sound horse” HIOs that are making legitimate efforts to eliminate soring.  The bill would eliminate those HIOs.

The AHC is continuing to review this bill and its potential impacts on the walking horse industry. The full bill can be reviewed at If you have any questions or comments on the bill, please contact us.

In response to the AHC memo the following letter was sent to the AHC from the Performance Show Horse Association.

To American Horse Council, 

It has recently come to our attention that you provided a summary of the Blackburn legislation, H.R. 4098, to various members and others that was inaccurate on several counts but, specifically, regarding the Independent HIO. You stated “In fact it could exacerbate the situation by placing responsibility for enforcement of the HPA more firmly in the hands of a walking horse-controlled HIO.” This could not be further from the truth. The Blackburn legislation allows for “consultation with” the industry and in no way does that constitute control. By your statements, you are assigning a lack of integrity to the Kentucky and Tennessee Commissioners of Agriculture, who each get to appoint 2 persons to the panel. We, however, believe in their integrity and desire to eliminate the sore horse (not the show horse as the HSUS/Whitfield bill would do) and expect that all Board members, including those appointed by both Commissioners, would be required to be free from conflicts of interest with the Industry just like the inspectors for that HIO. 

Interestingly, you also make the following statement which is disingenuous - “Additionally, there are ‘sound horse’ HIOs that are making legitimate efforts to eliminate soring.  The bill would eliminate those HIOs”. The PAST Act introduced by HSUS/Whitfield eliminates all existing HIOs, and gives the management of the entire Industry inspection process to the USDA, which according to the OIG Audit failed to properly manage the inspection process for over 40 years. Is the American Horse Council willing to tell all of its members that any potential oversight for any animal cruelty issues for all equine breeds should be turned over exclusively to the USDA? That is where the HSUS/Whitfield bill is headed. 

Finally, you completely fail to disclose to your members and others of the invasive impact the HSUS/Whitfield bill will have on all equine breeds. HSUS has a clear strategy to domesticate or totally eliminate the farm animal -"My goal is the abolition of all animal agriculture." According to J.P. Goodwin, Director of Animal Cruelty Policy for HSUS.  As currently pending before Congress, the HSUS/Whitfield legislation allows HSUS, through the USDA, to bypass any state legal authorities and go to a person’s barn or house to determine if there are practices that are being used that are abusive.  

The Horse Protection Act (HPA) applies to ALL equine breeds - it is not limited to the Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH). The HSUS/Whitfield bill contains one change that is specific to the TWH (the elimination of weighted shoes and action devices) but the rest of the proposed legislation applies to ALL equine breeds. 

Under the HPA the definition of sore when used to describe a horse means, among other items,  that - -“ a person has engaged in a practice involving a horse, and, as a result of such … or practice, such horse suffers, or can reasonably be expected to suffer, physical pain or distress, inflammation, or lameness when walking, trotting, or otherwise moving,…” (emphasis added). Currently, the USDA has only applied the HPA and the concept of “sore” to the TWH. However, the HSUS has bigger plans. 

Under the HSUS/Whitfield legislation, they have amended the definition of “sore” to include “causing a horse to become sore or directing another person to cause a horse to become sore for the purpose of showing, exhibiting, selling, auctioning, or offering for sale the horse in any horse show, horse exhibition, or horse sale or auction.”
This would apply directly to ALL the other equine breeds that show or exhibit horses and allow the USDA to go to a person’s barn or house to determine if there are practices that are being used that cause a horse to “suffer or reasonably expected to suffer physical pain or distress…” 

Even events where speed is the prime factor or rodeo events, parades, or trail rides may not be entirely exempt from the HPA Regulations if they still sell and transport horses. If a horse dies or is seriously injured, the HSUS/Whitfield bill and language could be broadly interpreted, by the HSUS, to allow the USDA to go to the thoroughbred and rodeo barns to determine if illegal practices caused the death or injury. 

And if you are still wondering what the intent of HSUS/Whitfield is please read what the AVMA has stated in an article published February 27, 2014 by Dr. Whitney Miller, assistant director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division:

Unlike the PAST Act, H.R. 4098 does not make the actual act of soring 
illegal; it only continues the existing prohibitions on the sale, auction, 
transport and exhibition of sored horses. Soring is WRONG! It must be 
stopped at its source, not after the harm has already been done.

Ask yourself, “If HSUS/Whitfield eliminates 85% of the TWH show horse, which is clearly documented, why do they need to change any other parts of the HPA?”  Also ask yourself, “What breed will be the next target of HSUS?”   Do you really want HSUS or the USDA coming to your barn and prosecuting you for any practice which they feel the horse is suffering from or could reasonably suffer from?
Mrs. Blackburn’s bill, HR 4098, establishes an independent process, governance and science based inspection protocol that will eliminate the sore horse, but it doesn’t eliminate the TWH show horse. Nor does it allow the US Federal government to sidestep state authorities and go to a person’s personal place of business or home to determine abuse.

We would request a meeting to discuss these and other items to clarify any issues as well as any other improvements that can help eliminate soring without  allowing the HSUS to take over control of the equine industry.