Response For USDA Listening Session on April 5, 2012 from Marty Irby, President of The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA).

Following this information are four separate PDFs that include a study from the University of Tennessee titled, Tennessee's Equine Industry: Overview & Estimated Economic Impacts; a U.S. Government Accountability Office Report on Horse Welfare (Action Needed to Address Uninteded Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter), a 2012 Economic Impact Study and TWHBEA horse registration information.

Good morning, my name is Marty Irby, President of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, headquartered in Lewisburg, Tennessee. TWHBEA is the oldest and most prestigious organization devoted to the promotion and protection of the breed. Founded in 1935, the breed registry was established to record the pedigrees of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Its goal is to maintain the purity of the breed, to promote greater awareness of the Tennessee Walking Horse and its qualities, to encourage expansion of the breed and to help assure its general welfare. TWHBEA’s current membership is comprised of some 10,100 members from all 50 states, and a number of foreign countries.

TWHBEA was the only breed registry in the United States of America to show membership growth in 2011. This above all breed registries including AQHA, Paint Horse Association, Arabians, Morgans, and many more. All other breed registries showed substantial declines. This lends credibility to TWHBEA’s position, and shows strength within our industry to represent the interests of all members from all factions.

TWHBEA is the only National and International Organization whose membership is represented by states and regions, that elect representatives from each area to represent members on our International Board of Directors.

TWHBEA stands firmly against ANY reduction in weight or size of the current pads or action device. The survival of our registry relies mainly on the performance horse. As the performance horse market has declined over the past 6 years, our annual budget has decreased from $5,000,000+/- to less than $2,000,000 annually. Our breed, horse, and registry will not survive at its current level without the existence of our great performance horse.

Response to Questions Provided by USDA

1.  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?

For the five (5) predominate certified HIOs which inspect both performance and pleasure horses (PRIDE, WHOA, SHOW, KY AND HOA), the average compliance rate was 98.56%.  In 2011 alone, there were a total of 53,783 horses inspected by these five (5) HIOs with a total of 955 violations found.  In light of the fact that the USDA is able to attend only 6% of affiliated events, HPA self-regulation through these and other certified HIOs has provided massive strides in effectuating the Act and its regulations since the Act was passed in 1970.  Additionally, the HIO system has provided for immediate disqualification from competition of horses found to be non-compliant as well as industry-imposed penalties for violators. 

This question posed by the APHIS begs the question “by what standard do you measure success in ‘eliminating the cruel and inhumane practice of soring horses’”?  ’In considering this question as it relates to the HPA enforcement, it must be kept in mind that the enforcement process involves not one (1), but two (2), levels of subjectivity.  HPA enforcement pursuant to its regulations involves the inspection of large animals by unfamiliar humans who conduct manual palpation in an environment that is unfamiliar to the animal being examined, i.e., large, crowded, dusty and noise horse shows.  The OIG Audit of 2011 recognized that “Because inspections are performed by hand their quality and results can vary greatly.”   
By way of example, based on publicly reported numbers generated by the USDA, its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) branch reports an approximately 98% compliance rate for 2010 and 2011.  The inspections performed by FSIS are to ensure the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg production is safe in order to protect human health and safety.  FSIS inspections are based upon objective standards enforced by USDA FSIS inspectors yet the USDA is only able to report an approximately 98% compliance rate on these issues directly affecting human health and safety.

2. 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?

In November 2011 the industry formed a “Unity Committee” with the goal of achieving consensus on industry issues, including HPA enforcement.  The Unity Committee is comprised of representatives from the four (4) major industry organizations:  The Walking Horse Trainers Association, The Walking Horse Owners Association, The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.  The Unity Committee has also involved certified HIOs in their process to best address HPA enforcement.  Pursuant to recommendations flowing from the Unity Committee effort, the HIOs have begun work to standardize rulebooks, shoeing and showing standards, and are considering other items such as common inspection training sessions. In addition, the current Unity Committee is in the process of formalizing a unified effort under the name Tennessee Walking Horse Alliance. Dr. Chester Gipson of the APHIS Division of the USDA came to speak to our groups in the later part of the Fall of 2011 to warn us of the forces at work against the padded performance horse. We have made great strides in a short period of time in unity efforts. The “one voice” concept for the performance horse was brought to us by Gipson, and we believe we can come to some consensus.

A major current problem today is the segment of our industry which chooses to participate in events which are unaffiliated with any HIO, thereby rendering the industry incapable of regulating these events because it lacks any legal authority to do so.   Consequently, all horses shown at these events are completely unregulated and the industry has no mechanism to ensure these horses are shown in accordance with the HPA.  The industry is faced with issues associated with unaffiliated events over which it has no control, but must instead rely upon the USDA to take steps to ensure HPA compliance at such events which, to date, has not occurred.

The USDA has long-recognized that this unregulated segment of the breed constitutes a significant number of events at which a significant number of horses compete.  USDA statistics associated with the 1976 HPA Amendments estimate that 75% of all shows are in fact unaffiliated.  Additionally the USDA has rarely attended any of these events. As long as non-compliant individuals are given the option of showing at events which are virtually ensured to be unregulated, the breed as a whole can never achieve complete consistency regarding HPA compliance due to the industry’s lack of authority. The USDA has failed miserably in this area and should immediately move full speed ahead in identifying, visiting, and inspecting these unaffiliated shows. These unaffiliated shows cripple our industry and have long been a problem that must finally be resolved.

3.  What responsibilities should USDA-certified Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) have within the industry?

USDA-certified Horse Industry Organizations should, and do, have the responsibility of the consistent enforcement of rules which are consistent with the HPA and its regulations to ensure the welfare of the horse and the integrity of the events they affiliate.  Given the number of horse events annually and the budgetary restraints of the USDA, HIOs provide an invaluable ability to ensure compliance with the Act where, otherwise, there would be absolutely no oversight.  Since, according to the OIG Audit of 2011, APHIS was able to attend only six (6)% of horse shows between 2005 - 2008, HIOs are able to fill what otherwise would be a huge void in HPA enforcement. 
4.  How can the industry reconcile its inherent competition aspect with ensuring compliance with the Horse Protection Act?

Legitimate competitors, whether in sport or in for-profit businesses, all desire a level playing field upon which to compete.  The role of the regulatory body, whether public or industry-driven, is to ensure that level playing field.  The Tennessee Walking Horse Industry is no different from any other profit-driven industry which self-regulates.

As discussed previously, the inspections performed by the FSIS division of the USDA based upon objective standards have not resulted in a 100% rate of compliance – despite the direct impact on human health and safety.  In fact, the compliance rates reported by the FSIS for 2010 – 2011 are almost identical to those for the Walking Horse industry, approximately 98% compliant.

Incorrectly, the USDA seems to be focusing on the competition aspect as it relates to competitors in individual classes or shows.  As stated above, such competitors should desire a level playing field each time they enter the ring.  The more damaging competitive aspect as it relates to HPA compliance is the competition which now exists between individual horse shows for entry numbers and between certified HIOs for affiliations.  As addressed by Dr. DeHaven, former Deputy Administrator for APHIS, in his 2000 article, horse shows have an incentive to either not affiliate or to affiliate with less stringent HIOs in order to increase their number of entries, thereby increasing their profits.  Dr. DeHaven stated the following:

“A DQP program stays in business by having horse shows affiliate with them to provide on-site inspections.  Because horse show managers seek to maximize the number of entries at their respective shows, they may be less likely to affiliate with a DQP program having a reputation for stringent enforcement of the HPA.”

HIOs with a more stringent inspection process are left at a severe financial disadvantage as horses affiliate with less-stringent HIOs thereby jeopardizing the existence of the HIOs which best effectuate the purpose of the Act.  

Additionally, one of the issues raised by the 2011 OIG Audit was the conflicts of interest possessed by some industry DPQs.  The USDA and the industry should require that all DQPs do not operate under such conflicts of interest by requiring disclosure of any potential conflicts and oaths taken that no such conflicts exist.

5.  What can the USDA do now (and in the future) to ensure compliance?

First, in order ensure compliance, the USDA must form a true public/private partnership with those within the industry who are trying to do the right things to ensure the welfare of the horse and compliance with the HPA.  The USDA-certified HIOs which are actually enforcing the HPA and its Regulations must be rewarded through a constructive VMO supervision program.  The HIOs which are not enforcing the purposes of the Act must be punished by the USDA and decertified, if necessary.  The failure of the USDA to focus on less compliant and/or less stringent HIOs results in the elimination of the HIOs which best effectuate the purposes of the Act.

Secondly, the elimination of DQP conflicts of interest must be made a priority for the USDA and HIOs.  The USDA should develop a Point of Interest beginning with the 2012 show season requiring HIOs to eliminate all DQP conflicts of interest from their programs.   

USDA representatives have mentioned on numerous occasions the amount of “rumors” they hear concerning HPA compliance issues.  Simply put, no one has the ability to fix a problem that has not been brought to their attention.  The USDA and the certified HIOs should develop a system whereby an HIO is given the opportunity to investigate and address, if necessary, any legitimate issues raised through alleged “reports” made directly to the USDA.  Most certified HIOs have in place a system to address such “reports”, however, the system is rarely, if ever, utilized.  Instead, most such allegations are, apparently, made directly to USDA representatives.  A system should be put in place to allow any HIO which is potentially involved to be made aware and given the opportunity to address issues in order to ensure compliance and to encourage a level of trust between the USDA and its certified HIOs.  

6.  What responsibilities should USDA have within the industry with respect to enforcement and what hinders oversight of the HIOs and/or industry?

The HIO system of industry self-regulation dictates that the USDA perform supervision and oversight at HIO-affiliated events and to attend unaffiliated events to enforce the HPA.   As discussed above, the industry is required to rely solely on the USDA for HPA enforcement at unaffiliated events.  The USDA’s limited resources to attend unaffiliated events and to, instead, focus on HIO affiliated events handcuffs the industry and provides a safe-haven for noncompliant individuals to function.   The lack of a true public/private relationship breeds distrust and adversarial attitudes on both sides of the fence.   A true partnership between the USDA and its HIOs with the singular goal of HPA compliance would eliminate many of the issues currently facing the industry such as competition between HIOs and the increased number of entries at unaffiliated events. 

7.  Should there be a prohibition of all action devices?; (7-9 All answers below)

8.  Should there be a prohibition of pads?; and

9.  Currently the Horse Protection regulations have a shoe and weight limit on yearlings.  Should there now be shoe and weight limit for all aged horses?

Scientifically accepted studies and data indicate that the current regulations concerning action devices and pads do not in any way cause harm to the horse.  A copy of the Auburn Study has been attached hereto.  To consider amendment of the Horse Protection Act Regulations currently in place regarding the action device and pads would be to take action to address a problem which simply does not exist with no scientific proof to the contrary. 

Any attempt to eliminate the pads would impact not only the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, but also those breeds which utilize similar pads in their training, showing and therapeutic treatment.  For example, the Saddlebred, Morgan,  Racking and others would all be affected by any attempt to eliminate the use of pads.

Click here for the UT Study, Tennessee's Equine Industry: Overview & Estimated Economic Impacts.

Click here for the U.S. Government Accountability Office Report: Horse Welfare - Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter.

Click here for a 2012 Economic Data Study.

Click here for TWHBEA numbers on 20-year history of registered horses throughout the U.S.