The proposed rule to amend the Horse Protection Act that the USDA sent to the Office of Management and Budget has not yet been released. The proposed rule was sent to OMB on September 2nd for its review. After OMB finishes its review of the rule, it will be sent back to the USDA at which time they review, potentially modify and release publicly.

While OMB is reviewing the proposed rule, stakeholders can request meetings with OMB to provide input on the rule. Jeff Speaks, the Walking Horse industry’s lobbyist requested a meeting with OMB, as did the Humane Society of the United States. The assumption during these meetings was the rule would be similar to the 2016 rule, or at a minimum contain many of the same provisions. OMB will not discuss the contents of the new rule, nor the timing of the proposed rule.

During the industry meeting, several concerns were raised based on the contents of the 2016 rule, including the validity of the scar rule given the recent review by the National Academies of Science where the experts assembled made clear the rule is currently unenforceable as written. The industry representatives also addressed the removal of equipment that has been proven to not cause any harm, and is allowed in other show breeds, as well as the lack of due process afforded participants during the disqualification of entries at the horse show. This due process was challenged successfully in Georgia in the McSwain vs. Vilsack case.

The HSUS reiterated their message which was the abolishment of all show horses in the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse industries. Many in the industry have felt that the proposed rule only applies to horses that wear pads and action devices. The HSUS makes clear that isn’t enough and they petitioned OMB that the rule must include the prohibition of weighted shoes in addition to the pads and action devices. The material presented from HSUS also made clear the rule must “maintain that show management will still pay for inspectors…so taxpayers won’t have to shoulder a new expense.”

Once the rule is made public, it will enter a 60 to 90 day comment period where interested parties and stakeholders can comment on the contents of the proposed rule. The industry has retained representation to develop and submit those comments. The timing of when the rule will be made public for comment is not known at this time, however the expectation is it will be in the next couple of months. After the comment period closes, the USDA will review the comments and propose a final rule which will go back to OMB for another review prior to its final release and publication in the Federal Register.

The industry made clear in 2017, and has again this year, that if certain elements of the rule in 2017 are kept in the new proposed rule, the industry intends to challenge the rule in court. The same firm that has been retained to formulate the industry’s comments will challenge the rule on behalf of the industry.

Update on fundraising

Earlier this year, several meetings were held across the industry preparing for the release of the proposed rule. During those meetings it was made clear that the industry must comment on the proposed rule and be ready and able to challenge any final rule that does not take into account the industry’s concerns. The industry has retained Ellis George Cipollone, LLP to prepare comments and potentially challenge a final rule.

The fundraising goal began at $1.5 million, but discussions have also taken place on what to do specifically about the scar rule and its enforcement. That could potentially drive the fundraising upward and exceed $2 million. The Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse (FAST) had $200,000 remaining from the previous fundraising on the challenge of the 2017 rule. In addition to that $200,000, an additional $850,000 has been pledged with close to $500,000 already collected.

The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Walking Horse Trainers’ Association and Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association have each given or pledged $100,000. The Racking Horse Breeders’ Association has also pledged $50,000. The Alabama Walking Horse Association, North Carolina Walking Horse Association and Maury County Horsemen’s Association are also contributing $10,000 each. The remaining amounts raised have come from individual contributions.

The WHTA, THWNC, TWHBEA and FAST recently came together to host the horse show in Tunica, Mississippi, held in November. Proceeds from this horse show are going directly to the legal fund at FAST. Preliminary figures conservatively put the amount raised at $80,000, with the potential for this figure to approach close to $100,000.

The industry can’t slow down its fundraising efforts. The time is now for everyone, of all levels, to contribute to ensure our Tennessee Walking Show Horse is preserved and maintained for future generations.