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TWSHO Responds to AAEP and AVMA Endorsement of H.R. 6388



The following is a statement by the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO) on H.R. 6388:
 
The primary goal of TWSHO is to implement reforms that will rid the industry of soring trainers for good.  Not only do we support components of H.R. 6388, the reformers in the industry are already doing most of what the legislation proposes.  The bill would weaken significantly the progress the industry has made to implement strict inspections and harsh penalties, the toughest in the business, even when compared to the USDA.
 
We do have a problem however with legislation that will eliminate inspectors, be they from the industry or the USDA.  The elimination of HIO inspectors and a system that allows for horse shows to voluntarily request inspectors would allow abusive trainers to go undetected and unpunished.
 
 
The following is a letter TWSHO sent to AAEP and AVMA in response to their endorsement of H.R. 6388.
 
Dr. John Mitchell
President
American Association of Equine Practitioners
4075 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington, KY 40511
 
Dr. Doug Aspros
President
American Veterinary Medical Association
1931 North Meacham Road, Suite 100
Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360                                                    November 28, 2012
 
 
Under the Horse Protection Act (HPA) Congress declared that soring of a horse was inhumane and established the HPA to prohibit the showing, exhibiting and sale of sore horses. Congress specifically recognized that wedges, pads and action devices were not the cause of soring. It was the application of caustic substances and other inhumane actions by individuals that was deemed to be a violation of the law.
 
At no time in the last 40+ years has there been any scientific proof that the use of pads and action devices cause soring. In fact a 7 year study conducted for the USDA (where caustic chemicals were used in some of the trials) concluded that the use of the pads and action devices less than 6 oz did not cause soring in a horse. The AAEP and AVMA have also continued to state that "there is little scientific evidence to indicate that the use of action devices below a certain weight are detrimental to the health and welfare of the horse..." Interestingly they have recently stated that the pad and action device are "implicated" in the practice of soring and when used in conjunction with a human beings use of caustic substances can cause soring. To take the position to eliminate pads and action devices because they are implicated in soring is akin to saying 2 year old  thoroughbred horses should not be run competitively because they have not matured enough and the actual racing and age is implicated in hundreds of horses' deaths each year. Or because a rope is implicated in calf roping events when a calf dies to eliminate the rope.
 
As Congress, USDA, AAEP, AVMA and others acknowledge there is no scientific evidence that pads and action devices below 6 ounces cause soring. Humans do. Just like humans injecting drugs into race horses or other horses at other competitive equine events are the direct cause of inhumane treatment. To declare something is implicated or should be criminally illegal which is not the cause of a legal violation is improper and should not be allowed. Guns are implicated in crimes. Alcohol is implicated in DUI deaths. The precedence alone should cause everyone to be afraid if this is the new Congressional and Constitutional standard. Make illegal the human action not the "implication".
 
Unfortunately the AAEP and AVMA have chosen to disregard the facts of the Tennessee Walking Horse Industries positive impact on eliminating soring. In the early 1970's after the HPA was enacted the USDA adopted regulations for veterinarian inspectors, setting standards for accreditation and suspension. Unfortunately the use of independent veterinarians was ineffective and the USDA testified before the House Committee that the intended effect of the law was vitiated by a combination of factors, including “...lax enforcement methods, and limited resources available to the Department.” As a result Congress initiated self regulation by the use of DQPs under the Horse Industry Organization structure. In fact President Ford stated that "I continue to be committed to achieving meaningful reform by compelling this industry to police itself properly. To that end I pledge cooperation with the Congress in seeking continued improvements in the law which will place the primary responsibility for enforcement with the industry itself." Yet the HSUS, AAEP, AVMA and others, regardless of the benefit of decades of history and millions of dollars, still refuse to heed his warning and continues to double down on a failed approach in an attempt to pacify the very same special interest groups that continue to bang the gong and spin the message to suit their agenda. And instead of participating with the industry that is committed to scientific based reforms to eliminate soring it appears that some individuals and the key equine Organizations are supportive and propose a "new" system that eliminates any Industry self regulation and encourages a system that already failed.
 
Over the last 25 years the Industry and USDA have identified approximately 7000 soring violations (taken from the FOSH database of violations). At first this sounds like a large number. However when you understand that this is out of approximately 2.9 million inspections it means that the incidence of soring was less than 1%. To suggest that the Industry "seems unwilling and/or unable to police itself" does not appear to be supported by the actual factual data. In addition the Industry has gone even farther than is required by the HPA or even suggested by outsiders. The Industry has initiated swabbing to identify any masking agents or caustic substances and spent over $200,000 in just the last 6 months on this initiative. And it recognizes that its initial program can and will be improved. It is willing to initiate blood testing. It is willing to embrace other scientific reform based initiatives. The industry is willing and encourages participation by the equine association to help it eliminate soring by humans. It has previously stated that it would incorporate independent veterinarian inspectors in and under its inspection program.  Three of the top HIOs in the Industry, representing over 90% of the inspected performance horses are supportive of combining their inspection programs under the concepts above and developing a uniform inspection protocol, process, violations and program - something no outsiders including the USDA have been able to accomplish.
 
Instead of condemning a division of an equine breed and making it extinct, the Industry would encourage critics to participate in the reforms and eliminate the problem - humans who sore horses not items which are implicated.
 
In reviewing H.R. 6388, we respectfully suggest that the Horse Protection Act still provides a good framework for protecting horses and that the Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs), with some modification to the statutory and regulatory guidelines under which they operate, are the best method for ensuring effective and consistent regulation of horse shows and the welfare of the horse. Horse Industry Organizations, in our opinion, are the keystone of the Horse Protection Act and the intent of Congress with respect to this importance is well documented. They provide the best means to oversee and penalize those that abuse horses.
 
As discussed above the U.S. Department of Agriculture previously tried to enforce the HPA without any Industry involvement and it failed which is why the 1976 amendment to the HPA was implemented. A key concern is that if the HIOs are totally eliminated there is no immediate effect to a violation. The USDA has admitted their limited resources do not enable them to investigate much less prosecute all the potential violations. Without the HIOs the average violation takes the USDA and OIG a significant period of time to investigate and prosecute. The impact of the proposed legislation would unfortunately have the effect of allowing more soring to continue as the violators would not be suspended for possibly 2+years. We are convinced we can assure the members of Congress, equine associations and others that we can work to meet our common goal of the welfare of the horse and not only strengthen but assure enforcement of the HPA.
 
The proposed legislation has several defects that in my opinion significantly undermine the HPA including;
 
1.      Eliminates HIOs entirely and replaces them with certified accredited veterinarians. This was something that was tried in the early days of the HPA and failed. Even recently the USDA tried to sign up independent veterinarians as inspectors and it has been unsuccessful – too little pay for the risk of having a mark on your record if the USDA determines you have failed to eliminate soring. In addition a lot of veterinarian’s that have horse knowledge don’t want to impact their practice by inspecting horses - in essence they are conflicted. It is probably also understandable since Independent veterinarians would not be USDA employees, would not have access to federal employee immunity protection and could be subject to personal liability by trainers or owners who are improperly disqualified. In addition the APHIS response to the OIG on this particular item committed they "will incorporate its authority to directly discipline DQPs, including DQPs who are accredited veterinarians. APHIS will develop a work plan to add enforcement of the Horse Protection Act under duties for accredited veterinarians by January 1, 2011. Therefore, the accreditation for a veterinarian will be suspended or revoked if they do not carry out their duties under the Horse Protection Act.”
 
In other words the Independent veterinarian could be subject to personal liability and could lose their veterinarian accreditation if they failed carry out their duties to enforce the HPA - something that the OIG has stated the USDA and DQPs have been unable to do.
 
2.      Encourages a horse show to not affiliate – since there would be no HIOs and only a voluntary request for Independent veterinarians is required it is unclear why a horse show would request anyone. The larger shows might request these independent veterinarians but this will encourage shows to just hire a local veterinarian who may/may not know what they should be doing. Also this does not solve the issue of a suspended or ticketed, but not prosecuted, trainer from showing. Without HIOs there is no one to track which individuals have been suspended. And most importantly the Independent veterinarians will only have the ability of the USDA VMOs – they can disqualify a horse but can’t initiate or implement any type of immediate penalty or suspension – only the Secretary of the USDA can do that, after notice and a hearing.
 
As is well documented by the USDA itself there are more non-affiliated shows than those under a HIOs inspection which has been the case for the last 40 years. This legislation would further increase the number of shows that have no inspection with the resulting increase in soring – a precedent in direct contravention of the HPA.
 
3.      Without HIOs there are no immediate penalties. The horse would be disqualified by the Independent Veterinarian but then every ticket must be prosecuted by the DOJ in order for a suspension to take place. The USDA can’t keep up with what they have now as they themselves acknowledge. And the time frame to prosecute will eliminate any deterrent effect.
 
4.      Soring will increase because of the above. The soring individual can horse show shop – don’t show when an inspector is “invited” and if caught he/she needs to be prosecuted by the Secretary before any penalty/suspension is issued. And if he/she is not prosecuted, which the supermajority never are, then they can continue to show and exhibit sore horses – totally undermining the HPA.
 
5.      Without HIOs there are no assurances of consistent inspections, tracking of individuals that have been previously ticketed, and thus no effective enforcement of the HPA. This is why this concept was eliminated by Congress in 1976. There will be no reforms. There is no process to self regulate, ensure soring trainers do not continue to show, establish overall inspection procedures if the USDA inspector is not invited, and ensure the Judging which is the last phase of the inspection process, does not tie a sore horse.
 
According to the OIG Audit the USDA was not doing its job, and criticized conflicted DQPs and the HIO system. Specifically they stated “Although the DQP system was intended to establish a way for inspections to occur even when APHIS employees could not be present, we found that it was not functioning as intended. DQPs realize that by ticketing horse exhibitors, or by excluding horses from a show, they are not likely to please their employers—who are interested in putting on a profitable show. DQPs are also likely to be exhibitors themselves, and so while they may be inspecting horses at one show, they could be exhibiting horses at another. If they inspected other exhibitors’ horses rigorously, they might find their own horses subjected to much more strenuous inspections at other shows.” And “Given the DQPs’ clear conflict of interest, we found that they did not always inspect horses according to the requirements of the Horse Protection Act.” Finally the OIG stated that in discussions with APHIS “OIG and APHIS have together reached the conclusion that the system of inspections based on DQPs is not working to accomplish the goals of the law, primarily because DQPs are not independent of the horse show organizers who employ them.”
 
While the OIG concluded the best way to solve the problem was to eliminate the DQPs, APHIS did not agree but proposed to license the DQPs. Perhaps it was a result of the numerous concerns expressed above. In any event why eliminate a system that can work – require non-conflicted DQPs who aren’t employed by the shows. In fact one HIO, which started after the OIG Audit concluded its investigation did just that. This HIO eliminated any conflicted DQPs - they are not trainers or exhibitors nor are they employed by the show managers and thus have no conflict to inspecting pursuant to the HPA. Unfortunately other HIOs did not have this standard and for the last 3+ years this allowed suspended trainers under one HIO to continue to show and exhibit sore horses at other HIO shows with impunity – something the USDA has not been able to solve. The Industry is prepared to implement this concept for the supermajority of the performance show industry.
 
Finally of concern to all owners, trainers and others associated with the industry is the economic impact of this proposed legislation. Individuals have spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars for the current performance division of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Mare owners have carefully selected bloodlines, stallion owners have invested untold dollars to develop those bloodlines all to enable a horse that can naturally perform the gait that does not require soring. Owners and exhibiters have spent years and again hundreds of millions of dollars for these horses. To eliminate a division of this equine breed when there are no facts that support the theory the current package causes soring is akin to taking an individuals’ property because you just can.
 
Since pads and action devices do not cause harm to the horse, individuals do, and since the Industry is willing and in fact implementing reforms to eliminate those individuals from the Industry wouldn’t it be in the best interest of all involved to work with the Industry? And instead of eliminating a self regulation program that can effectuate the purposes of the HPA, to instead work with the Industry to resolve the problems and concerns with that system, to eliminate soring once and for all?
 
Reestablishing a failed system that eliminates self regulation, allows individuals who continue to sore horses and for all practical purposes avoid any penalty, is opposed to the HPA, not strengthening it.
 
 
Frank Eichler, Chairman
Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization
 

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