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USDA Eliminating Sound Horses from Celebration Using Subjective Inspection Methods

SHELBYVILLE, TN – TWSHO and the SHOW HIO today expressed concerns that the USDA is not implementing the scar rule correctly and as a result sound and HPA compliant horses are unjustly being turned away from horse shows.

“In my opinion, the USDA is wrongly disqualifying sound horses from the Celebration,” said Jane Lynch Crain, TWSHO spokesman. “It is unfair to the trainers, riders and owners who love their horses and are doing everything possible to prove the soundness of their horses only to be turned away for an unjustified ruling.”

According to the HPA regulations, in order for a scar rule violation to be issued, there has to be bilateral evidence of abuse indicative of soring, in other words a scar on both feet.  USDA inspectors are improperly identifying natural marks such as wrinkles, field injuries, tissue changes caused by the motion of a walking horse’s gait, the normal aging process, and conformation of the lower limbs as violations that are exempted from the HPA and do not mean a horse has been abused.

At this year’s Celebration, the number of USDA violations that are scar rule disqualifications have significantly increased in comparison to last year’s Celebration. In the first six days, USDA inspectors have issued over five times the number of scar rule violations that they issued last year over the entire 11-day show.  Additionally, a local horse passed USDA inspection twice on Thursday and was found to be free of scars. On Friday, the same horse was disqualified under the scar rule, even though it is medically impossible to develop a scar on both feet within 24 hours. When the owner questioned the USDA’s lead inspector at the event he said he could not explain the ruling.

Some of the horses who were disqualified by the USDA at Celebration for the scar rule were inspected by SHOW HIO inspectors and Dr. Scott Hopper a renowned equine veterinarian from Rood & Riddle a premier equine hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. Both the SHOW HIO inspectors and Dr. Hopper found the horses to be sound and in compliance with the HPA.

This scar rule has been marred by a lack of consistency in determining sound horses and is why industry reformers are seeking to move to science based testing as the technology becomes available. There is a well known affidavit signed by the former President of the Mississippi Walking Horse Association that details the discrepancies between USDA inspectors in applying the rule at a scar clinic she attended. At the clinic two USDA inspectors failed to render the same opinion on a scar rule 26% of the time. In 2010 horses were allowed to be disqualified at one inspection and be re-inspected for a later show at the same event. The rules were changed in 2010 to disqualify the horse from the entire event if found in violation because there had been so many discrepancies among USDA inspectors over the scar rule. A horse would fail one inspection and be disqualified, then later he would be inspected for a different class and pass. On August 12, 2012 in Wartrace, TN a flag horse passed USDA inspection and several

hours later the same USDA inspector found the same flag horse in violation of the scar rule – a medically impossible scenario.

Under the HPA Regulations the controversial and highly subjective scar rule is defined as follows;

Sec. 11.3 Scar rule.

The scar rule applies to all horses born on or after October 1, 1975. Horses subject to this rule that do not meet the following scar rule criteria shall be considered to be ``sore'' and are subject to all prohibitions of section 5 of the Act. The scar rule criteria are as follows:

(a) The anterior and anterior-lateral surfaces of the fore pasterns (extensor surface) must be free of bilateral granulomas,\5\ other bilateral pathological evidence of inflammation, and, other bilateral evidence of abuse indicative of soring including, but not limited to, excessive loss of hair.
(b) The posterior surfaces of the pasterns (flexor surface), including the sulcus or ``pocket'' may show bilateral areas of uniformly thickened epithelial tissue if such areas are free of proliferating granuloma tissue, irritation, moisture, edema, or other evidence of inflammation.

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