Dr. Paul Stromberg, DVM, PhD, Diplomate AVCP, was in attendance via Zoom to present to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee that is looking at the inspection process of Tennessee Walking Horses under the Horse Protection Act on May 7, 2020.  Stromberg is an expert pathologist and is a Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University.  He also has experience with the Tennessee Walking Horse after serving in assistance with the Veterinary Advisory Council and more specifically conducting biopsies and analyzing those areas of tissue.

The committee Stromberg presented to included Chairman Dr. Jerry Black as well as Dr. Susan White, Dr. Pamela Ginn, Dr. Robin Foster, Dr. Tracy Turner, Dr. Bart Southerland and Dr. Sarah le Jeune.  Black introduced Stromberg to the group and began the discussion of issues surrounding the scar rule and the detection of soring in Tennessee Walking Horses.  The committee did allow questions of Stromberg from the committee members but did not allow any public comment or questions, rather referring the public to email those comments to banr@nas.edu.

Stromberg opened his comments with very pointed criticism of the current methods to detect soring in Tennessee Walking Horses.  Stromberg in his documentation to the committee summarized it this way, “I could say that overall the USDA is doing very poor science and medicine in the enforcement of the HPA…their inspection methods are entirely subjective and the inspectors are highly biased to think everything abnormal equals evidence of scar tissue or inflammation and that must mean soring.”

Stromberg walked the committee back to the beginning of the HPA and what type of lesions on the front of the pasterns existed in that day.  “Inspectors with the USDA agree that those lesions are gone and they have now shifted their focus to the posterior aspect of the pastern and are looking at something very different.  Despite this nobody in USDA ever questioned this change nor did they verify these are not soring lesions.  Nobody sought to biopsy them and look at them histopathologically,” said Stromberg.  

Stromberg summarized that this was a key factor in why there is so much inconsistency in the application of the scar rule during inspection and such disagreement from inspectors on what they are looking at.  “The language of the HPA is inaccurate, poorly worded and confusing to properly trained pathologists much less lay people so USDA does not know what to look for.”

Stromberg was part of the group that took 136 biopsies from horses cited for scar rule at Tennessee Walking Horse competitions.  Stromberg, along with another independent pathologist, found that all 136 were false positives.  “We have attempted to show by biopsy and histopathology these posterior pastern changes are not soring injuries.  USDA will eventually have to accept this and look elsewhere.”  This high level of subjectivity and lack of reliance on science and objective testing methods is the reason that the NAS committee was formed.

When Stromberg switched the focus of his presentation to what should be done moving forward, he was emphatic that more science should be utilized to ensure welfare and compliance with the HPA.  Stromberg urged the use of evidence-based science and specifically talked about the need to incorporate blood testing in the inspection protocols.  He also said USDA needs to mitigate the bias in inspection currently with the use of more objective and science-based inspection methods.  

“People who sore horses now try to hide it so we need to change how we detect it.  You need multiple approaches not just simple visual inspection and manual palpation,” concluded Stromberg.  This again pointed out the impetus for why the committee at NAS was formed and what their goals are for changes to the inspection process.

As for the expected work product of NAS, Chairman Black informed all of those in attendance via Zoom that the committee will form a draft report that will go through a rigorous review by a separate confidential committee.  After that review, the committee will produce a final report that is sent to leadership at NAS for review and publishing.  A timeline for this completion of work was not given but originally the committee had hoped for the draft report by this summer.

When Stromberg’s presentation is made public on the NAS web site the Walking Horse Report will update this story to include a link to that presentation.