SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – Representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture were in Shelbyville last week as part of the USDA’s Veterinary Medical Officer training as well as the Designated Qualified Person training on Saturday February 8th. After that training was complete Deputy Administrator Dr. Betty Goldentyer, Dr. Aaron Rhyner and Dr. Melissa Carlson conducted an open informational session for stakeholders in the Tennessee Walking Horse community.  Several owners, trainers and interested parties took the opportunity to hear from the USDA with regards to the performance of the industry in 2019 and the expectations for 2020.

Dr. Goldentyer, who was promoted to Deputy Administrator in late 2019 welcomed everyone and insured the audience that the horse protection program would continue along its current path and there would be no major changes moving forward.  After Dr. Goldentyer’s opening remarks, Dr. Rhyner conducted a review of the industry statistics from the fiscal year ending September 30, 2019.

In total, the number of HPA violations found by industry HIOs went from 622 in FY 2018 to 924 in FY 2019.  The 302 violation increase represents a substantial increase and each category of type of violations increased year over year.  When asked about the increase, Rhyner commented, “I don’t think there is more soring going on but I do think these numbers represent that the HIOs and DQPs are getting better at detecting soring.”  Of the 924 alleged violations, 220 of them were first found by a USDA VMO and returned to the DQP for ticketing.

In those same years, the USDA found an additional 30 violations in 2018 and only 5 in 2019.  These numbers are dramatically down from previous years because of the policy of the VMOs now returning the horse to the DQP when found by them to be in violation and only being written up by the USDA if the DQP/HIO doesn’t write the horse a ticket.

Prohibited substances are a major source of concern for the industry, with an increased focus starting under former Deputy Administrator Bernadette Juarez and continuing with the current leadership.  In 2018, 57 samples returned a positive finding as compared to 44 in 2019 however the percentage of positive samples was very similar in each year, 64% in 2018 and 62% in 2019.  

A question from industry veterinarian Dr. Jim Baum focused on whether or not the increase in soring violations had to do with the USDA’s focus in 2019 on rear limb inflammation.  Dr. Rhyner answered that it was a factor but not the totality of the increase because those violations would go in the “other” category and in 2018 that category had 27 violations and in 2019 it increased to 98, which would account for 71 of the 302 increase.

Rhyner did highlight a change for 2020. Performance horse entries will now be allowed again to have the saddle on when going through inspection, yet Rhyner warned to have the saddle loose so that it can be easily lifted and checked underneath by either the DQP or VMO. The horse will not be allowed to be in a tail brace for either the pre-show or post-show inspection. Rhyner also mentioned that coming in the 2021 season the custodian of the horse would be required to have his back number with him prior to both pre-show and post-show inspection and no longer will the custodian be allowed to verbally give this information.  

Another change will come when a horse show has a single VMO present. If that VMO finds an entry bilateral sore and returns the entry to the DQP, if that DQP does not find the horse in violation, the VMO will alert show management to disqualify the entry.  Rhyner did inform the industry this scenario happened only twice in 2019.  When two VMOs are present, if the first VMO finds the horse bilaterally sore it will now trigger an automatic second inspection by the second VMO instead of presently it being requested by the custodian.  If the two VMOs do not agree on the type of violation then the horse will be allowed to show.

Dr. Carlson addressed the industry on the inspection process and opened by stating that there would be no change to the scar rule criteria in 2020 and the palpation pattern used by the VMOs and requested to be used by the DQPs will also be the same.

Dr. Carlson did address the rear limb violations and the inflammation and open lesions being found during inspection.  The industry has questioned since early in 2019 what is the intentional act of soring being done by a person that would qualify as a violation of the HPA when the inflammation is caused in the show ring.  Dr. Carlson and Dr. Rhyner both emphasized that the practice of training, shoeing and riding the horse was what was causing the damage, along with the substrate of the tracks, thus qualifying it as a violation of the HPA.  
Dr. Carlson referenced the definition of sore in Regulation 11.1 and the term “practice” in that definition as qualifying the rear limb rubbing or lesion as a violation of the HPA.
“(4) Any other substance or device has been used by a person on any limb of a horse or a person has engaged in a practice involving a horse, and, as a result of such application, infliction, injection, use, or practice, such horse suffers, or can reasonably be expected to suffer, physical pain or distress, inflammation, or lameness when walking, trotting, or otherwise moving, except that such term does not include such an application, infliction, injection, use, or practice in connection with the therapeutic treatment of a horse by or under the supervision of a person licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the State in which such treatment was given.”

In addition, Dr. Carlson referenced Regulation 11.21 as to the HPA mandating the examination of the rear limbs when they have lesions or show signs of unusual movement.

“The DQP may examine the rear limbs of all horses inspected after showing, and may examine the rear limbs of any horse examined preshow or on the showgrounds when he deems it necessary, except that the DQP shall examine the rear limbs of all horses exhibiting lesions on, or unusual movement of, the rear legs.”

Dr. Rhyner agreed with the crowd that they would have to agree to disagree on the qualification of what was being found on the rear limb as a violation or not but hoped that everyone could agree that the inflammation being found post-show needed to be cleaned up and was not a good representation of the horse or industry.  There was agreement with that statement among those in attendance and Rhyner also informed the trainers and exhibitors that there were many wraps and other protective devices that could be used in accordance with the HPA that would help prevent this rear limb inflammation in the ring.

At the conclusion of the open information session the meeting was adjourned outside to Champions Arena where SHOW Lead DQP Tim Hatfield demonstrated an inspection.  In recent years, the relationship between the industry and the USDA has improved, especially in the inspection area and Dr. Rhyner and Dr. Goldentyer are both committed to continuing that relationship in their attempt to best enforce the HPA.

You can view the entire presentation by Dr. Goldentyer, Dr. Rhyner and Dr. Carlson by clicking on the below two YouTube links provided by Jerry Harris and What A Horse. All trainers, owners and exhibitors should watch the presentation as it goes in depth on what is being looked for, how inspections occur and photos that demonstrate both compliant and non-compliant horses. 

USDA Listening Session Part 1

USDA Listening Session Part 2