Regulations Also Unfairly Punish Those Cleaning Up Industry, Hinder Reform Efforts

(Washington, DC) –Today SHOW Horse Industry Organization filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the United States Department of Agriculture’s recent regulatory action that would force the walking show horse industry to be responsible for managing the legal process surrounding penalties, on the grounds that the rule is unconstitutional.  The rule also punishes those who are working hardest to reform the industry as they have the most stringent rules.

“Reformers within the walking show horse industry are committed to self-regulation as demonstrated by recent efforts but the USDA’s regulations are not only unconstitutional, they unfairly punish those most aggressively working to clean up the industry,” said Dr. Stephen L. Mullins.

Background on the Rule
The new rule adopted by the USDA attempts to force private organizations to impose federal mandatory suspension penalties on participants in horse shows for violations of federal law with no regard for the accused individual's constitutional rights.  The scheme proposed by the USDA would require SHOW and other Horse Industry Organizations to function as legal tribunals and require them to impose federally mandated penalties while denying the accused any possibility of an appeal to either the agency or a United States Court of Appeals.  The new rule violates the United State Constitution, the Horse Protection Act as well as the Administrative Procedures Act.
Under the Horse Protection Act, Congress protected an accused's due process rights by requiring that only the Secretary of Agriculture could issue civil penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act and only after the accused was given notice of the violation and a right to a hearing before an administrative law court.  The Act also specifically grants the right to appeal an Agency decision to the appropriate United States Court of Appeals.  None of these constitutional protections are address by the new rule.
As private organizations, HIOs, such as SHOW, do not have the authority or expertise to interpret federal law as they would be required to do under the new scheme.  HIOs do not possess subpoena power and do not have the personnel to act as investigators, judges or "court" staff.  Under the new rule, HIOs are required to find a violation, prosecute the alleged violation and process any appeal within 60 days or be decertified.  This 60-day requirement to issue a federally mandated suspension has been imposed despite the fact that in cases prosecuted by the USDA the average length of time between an alleged violation and the finalization of an appeal is 70 months.  Further, the proposed scheme requires that HIOs submit reports to the USDA of only those decisions that overturn an alleged violation through the HIO's appeal process.  If the USDA disagrees with the decision, the HIO then faces decertification - a clear affront to judicial independence.
SHOW and other HIOs simply cannot comply with the new rule as they are unable to meet the requirements necessary to protect an accused's statutory and constitutional due process rights and would bear an unreasonable burden of legal exposure associated with the inability to do so.  As a result, SHOW and the other Plaintiffs would not be able to continue to participate in the HIO system, hindering their efforts to protect the horse.
The proposed scheme will also provide a disincentive for participants to show at events that are inspected by HIOs because of concerns surrounding the lack of due process.  Consequently, more horses will be shown at events with no inspection process whatsoever.  This is clearly not in the best interest of the horse and frustrates the purpose of the Horse Protection Act itself.

Walking Show Horse Industry Reform
SHOW leaders created the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO) to lead the effort to institute reforms that will protect the wellbeing of walking horses, while maintaining the integrity of the sport. 

TWSHO leaders understand that the industry will not survive if those who love the walking horse, as well as the sport, do not crack down on those bad actors who are in it only for themselves.  Therefore, since its creation, the organization, along with others committed to reform, has made major strides to clean up the industry and rid it of bad actors.

SHOW has adopted a new swabbing protocol that goes above and beyond the requirements of the federal government.  The swabbing initiative, started on June 15, 2012, is an objective, science-based inspection initiative to swab the feet of horses in competition in order to detect substances that harm the horse or mask substances that have harmed the horse.  Violators will be punished and the names of the abusers will be posted online for all the public to see.  TWSHO worked with the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association to launch this swabbing program, and all four Performance Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) have committed to participate. 

The swabbing initiative is just the beginning.  While in 2011 the industry was more than 98.5 percent compliant with USDA’s own federal regulations, SHOW will continue looking for ways to ensure the wellbeing of horses and protect the integrity of the sport. 

Members of TWSHO have done more to reform the industry in the last three years than the USDA has done since the passage of the Horse Protection Act over forty years ago.  TWSHO continues to ask the USDA to partner in its reform efforts, to no avail.

Even Congress has recognized the USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) failure to work and communicate with the industry on these types of issues and activities.  The FY 2013 Draft Agriculture Appropriations Committee Report outlines Congress’ concern that APHIS is not enforcing the Horse Protection Act (HPA) in a fair and consistent manner and, in particular, was not focused on inspecting or going after the non-HIO events and organizations.  The Report states that “these non-affiliated events and organizations are in violation of HPA, and APHIS’s lack of prioritization of stopping these non-affiliated activities is of great concern to the Committee.”  TWSHO supports this directive as it reflects the organization’s desire to reform the entire Walking Show Horse industry.