There is no question that reform is desperately needed in the Walking Horse industry. But fair-minded Tennesseans should not jump to judge an entire community, by the actions of a few bad actors. The sport is an economic driver through the Midsouth and a tradition steeped in our state’s history. Those involved care deeply about horses and, together, we can and will institute necessary reforms.

The sport has become the target of a vicious misinformation campaign pushed by those who are more interested in self-promotion than they are in protecting horses. Last week, two veterinary groups called for a ban on the horses’ action devices and pads used by every Tennessee Walking Horse in competition. But there’s little to no evidence linking them with unhealthy horses. And, while unethical participants have stained the sport’s reputation, the leading horse-industry organization has achieved 98.5 percent compliance with health and safety standards over the past three years.

While we are proud of that record, we won’t stop until every horse, in every class, in every show is sound and healthy.

That’s why we founded a new group, the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO), which is dedicated to preserving the well-being of the show horse and the integrity of the sport. And we are not just talking about reform; we are doing it. This industry has tried to get away with the “all talk and no action” approach for far too long and our reputation, deservedly, has taken a beating for it.

Most recently, we worked with the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association to implement an objective, science-based testing protocol for the caustic substances that injure or “sore” horses and the masking agents that hide evidence of soring. This is an encouraging first step, but the industry can and should increase these penalties, especially for repeat offenders. For those who break the rules, we are going to post their names on our website and let it be known to all that they need to clean up their act if they want to participate. All four performance horse-industry organizations have expressed an initial willingness to support the protocol and enforce penalties for violators. We are hopeful actual implementation will begin as soon as possible.

Last week, the Humane Society of the United States announced a reward for any trainer found to be violating the Horse Protection Act. We applaud this effort and, if the organization is willing, we will work by their side to rid the sport of those who break the rules, as we will with any organization or individual who shares the same goal.

We have also been trying to work with the federal government for years, but to no avail. To this day, the USDA still will not share information that could improve our efforts despite incessant requests. How can the department improve the treatment of horses when it won’t work with the very people trying to rid the sport of those who harm the animal?

While we are strong advocates for the sport, we are first and foremost horse lovers, and we will not tolerate any practice or any person that harms these beautiful and majestic animals.

Frank Eichler owns Tennessee Walking Horses and serves on the board of directors of the newly formed Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization.