"This will be a very good show season, especially for the horse."

Copyright 2009 WHR

by Linda Scrivner

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – The 2009 USDA and HIO training was held at the Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville, Tenn., Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009. This is the Horse Protection training for the Veterinarian Medical Officers (VMOs) and Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs). VMOs are USDA Veterinarians that assist in the implementation of the Horse Protection Act (HPA).  DQPs are trained and licensed by USDA-certified horse industry organizations (HIOs) or associations to detect sored horses. The meeting began with Mike Tuck of the USDA welcoming the different HIOs that were in attendance and their DQP coordinators.

Those HIOs in attendance were the National Horse Show Commission (NHSC), Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (SSHBEA), Heart Of American Walking Horse Association (HAWHA), Western International, Kentucky HIO, Friends Of The Show Horse  (FOSH), Horse Protection Council, Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) HIO, Celebration HIO, Oklahoma HIO and Rocky Mountain Horse Association (RMHA) HIO.

Tuck stated that this would be an “ambitious” clinic and next introduced Dr. Chester Gipson, the Acting Deputy Administrator of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS provides leadership for determining standards of humane care and treatment of Animals. APHIS is the branch of government that oversees the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.

Lonnie Messick, representing NHSC spoke next about DQP responsibilities and standards of conduct. Messick stated that once you are on the show grounds you have the total right to check any horse on the show grounds. He emphasized that DQPs must be aware of HIO and USDA regulations and to always be professional in manner. He said to always use discretion with a positive and friendly attitude, to be consistent and uniform in all inspections making sure that you consider all three aspects in every horse. These are locomotion, physical palpation and overall appearance. He said it was important to show no favoritism and to avoid situations that would reflect poorly on the program.  “It is important to remember all eyes are on you at the show,” said Messick.  He urged the DQPs to follow the guidelines in order to minimize the criticism they receive.

He also emphasized the importance of inspections being the same across the country and that everyone be treated fairly. “We need to set a line and the trainers across the country will come to that line. Trainers can’t prepare if there are different inspections at different shows. If all DQPs are the same, then the trainers will know what to expect,” Messick continued. “You need to have a strong commitment and work together with the VMOs. You’re all there to do the same job; to see that all horses are compliant. Discuss your findings with the USDA when there is a problem . Don’t write a ticket if the horse is in compliance. Don’t worry if you can’t agree with the VMO. Stand behind your finding and if you can’t work it out, that is why we have conflict resolution. Remember you can’t satisfy everyone, be fair and consistent and they’ll respect you.”

Messick closed with, “It’s also important that you take no verbal abuse or mistreatment from anyone concerning your inspections. He emphasized that you report anyone doing this to your DQP Coordinator.”

Dr. Rachel Cezar, USDA Horse Protection Coordinator, spoke next. She began with, “First of all, coordinators and DQPs, thank you for doing your job.” She stated that in 2008 the Horse Protection Act and the Tennessee Walking Horse had received a lot of media attention from the Lexington-Herald, Equus Magazine, the American Farrier’s Journal and other publications.  The USDA also received proposals to eliminate soring from the United States Animal Health Association and the National Institute of Agriculture. Also the American Association of Equine Practitioners White Paper “Putting the Horse First” recommended the elimination of the DQP program. The USDA Office of Inspector General  audited the USDA DQP inspection program as well. Cezar continued, “In the end, there is a lot of scrutiny on the industry and the inspections.”

Cezar said that the emphasis on inspection this year would be to enforce the HPA as it is written in the act and the regulations. This year there will be no tack (saddle or tail brace) on the horse when coming through inspection. The horse may be lead by a halter or bridle, the horse may walk to inspection with the saddle on but it will be removed before inspection begins. Horses may be subject to looking in their mouth and under their tail for any objects or distractions. If the custodian does not remove tack prior to inspection this will be interference of inspection which is a HPA violation. If the USDA observes a DQP inspecting a horse with tack on, the DQP will receive a recommendation for a Letter of Warning (LOW) and the HIO will receive a reprimanding letter.

Another emphasis this year is that DQPs and VMOs have the authority to have shoes pulled for further diagnosis when a farrier is available and that hooftesters may be used on flatshod and padded horses. They would be looking for bruising or any abnormal changes to the hoof. The hoof will be evaluated by the use of thermography, hooftesters, hoof picks, percussion hammers and digital radiography.

This year there will be inspections of the warm up area, barns, horse trailers, etc. In the warm up area, chains that are suspected to be more than six ounces may be weighed onsite.  Pads are not to be hollowed out and other substances or weights added to it and metal bands are not to be tightened after going through inspection. Only tack, a six-ounce chain or allowable lubricants supplied by show management will be allowed after inspection. Any further alterations will be subject to additional inspection.

Cezar impressed upon the DQPs that a DQP shall not inspect horses at any horse show, horse exhibition, horse sale or auction in which a horse or horse owned by a member of the DQP’s immediate family or the DQP’s employer are competing or being offered for sale. Cezar said that four LOWs have been recommended this past year from the USDA. They are poor palpation techniques, changing the call after the horse and custodian had left, poor attitude towards VMOs, inciting the custodians and allowing the custodian to tell the DQP what violation to give them when referred back by the VMO.

Cezar also said that no one should have to put up with intimidation in any way. The floor was then opened up to discussion. Several questions were raised about time allowances, safety of saddles and horses shown multiple times. Cezar said that more time could not be allowed because the regulations stated that they could not be inspected more than three classes ahead.

The top three horses coming out must be brought to the inspection area and stripped for inspection each time they show. At shows that had less than 150 horses, they could only be checked two classes ahead. Only the exhibitor, trainer and custodian involved with the horse are allowed in the inspection area.

Bob Blackwell, DQP Coordinator for FOSH, spoke about the correct way to fill out DQP show reports and tickets. It was announced that in the next few years they would be filing tickets and forms electronically. In addition to filling out forms, they were encouraged to take pictures and videos for future reference.

The group then convened to the arena for a demonstration on the correct use of hoof testers on horses by Dr. Mike Harry, an AAEP Veterinarian. Dr. Harry demonstrated that on a flat shod horse to start at the tip or apex of the foot, to go back across each nail and then the bar. He said to use the same amount of pressure everywhere and to be careful not to press on the band or up on the coronary band, which is soft tissue. On padded horses they can be hoof-tested across the heel about four or five inches below the coronet band. If there is a reaction one of the USDA representatives said that reaction in one foot would be considered a unilateral sore horse and that reaction in both feet would be a bilateral violation.

There was discussion about the frog and when a horse has thrush sometimes the frog is trimmed to help it heal. Harry also said that at certain times in the year, the thrush will release old frog and new frog will replace it and all of that needs to be taken into consideration.

Contracted heels were discussed and heel springs, which are a correction device, are not allowed due to the regulation that states that nothing except soft hoof packing can be between the hoof and the pad.

Several different hoof testers were used and demonstrated. It was stated that if the horse moved and palpated well, there probably was no reason to hoof test that horse. The DQPs then used the hoof testers.

Following lunch, Dr. Randy Ridenour of the USDA, went over the scar rule inspection procedure and conflict resolutions in the classroom. Ridenour went into the history of the scar rule to bring everyone up to date. At one point there was a proposal to amend the HPA so as to prohibit scars. As an alternative to a potential amendment to the HPA prohibiting scars, the Tennessee Walking Horse industry promised to impose and enforce its own “scar rules”.

The industry’s enforcement was unsuccessful, so the “scar rule” was added to USDA’s Horse Protection Regulations, explained Ridenour. In 1979 it was added stating, “The Department would point out to the horse industry that the scar rule applies only to horses that were foaled and trained well after the passage of the  HPA of 1970, and after the passage of the 1976 Horse Protection Act amendments. Such horses should therefore bear no scars whatsoever if the law were being complied with.” Photos of horses that were put into conflict resolution in 2008 were shown and problems pointed out. Ridenour said to make sure that forms were completely filled out with all findings documented with drawings or pictures of front and back of each foot included.

Following the classroom discussion, they returned to the floor to view 12 horses. First there was a demonstration and review of inspection guidelines and procedures. Each DQP was given a sheet for each horse that was placed in an envelope by that horse with his name and findings on it. They also recorded their findings on a sheet with 12 places for their findings and if the horse was in or out. After each person had checked each horse, the findings on each horse were called out and then questions could be asked or problems pointed out to those that had not found them.

At 7:30 that morning the VMOs and the DQP coordinators made their determination and that was the final decision on each horse. The VMOs in attendance collaborated on their findings and released one ruling while all DQPs were required to inspect the horse independently and give their individual findings. 

The horses were called out by number, the findings were revealed and each could be reviewed before he left the arena. Eleven of the horses were considered out by the scar rule and one was declared in compliance according to the VMO findings. There was considerable discussion on several of the horses. Most of the industry HIO DQPs found more horses in compliance than did they USDA VMOs.

The group then returned to the classroom where Dr. Rachel Cezar spoke about the USDA Sponsored Technology in the field this year. Cezar said that using the sniffer last season, 50% of the samples found were positive and that letters of warning were going out on these. 

Cezar said that they would be using thermography as a screening tool. She then showed a media presentation on research done by Dr. Tracy Turner entitled, “Utilitzing Thermography to Assess Compliance with The Horse Protection Act.” It showed that thermography can enhance clinical examination by assessment of the vasculature and blood flow to tissues, can tell the examiner what they did not know, can detect heat where it was not palpable and detects abnormalities. It was based on a study event that took place in December 2007 with 15 walking horses of various disciplines. Of the 15 horses, one was found normal.  The conclusion of the study supports previous findings that thermography can be used to determine if a horse is in compliance with the HPA.

In the future, horses deemed “not normal” will be either excused from competition or referred for further veterinary evaluation. Plans are to incorporate thermographic imaging as part of the inspection process for the 2009 season.

Dr. Chester Gipson then concluded the training by saying that you now know what to expect this season. He said, “To the DQPs, we appreciate you and know what’s against you. We support you. We have the technology and it works. Any concoction that is put on will be detected. Thermography will detect gojo and whatever else is applied. The DQP may find nothing but the thermogram will probably find something. The strobe lights point directly where to look. It’s going to be out this year. It started in 2004, 2006 and 2007. We’re in the last phase, the more painful phase of any program. Expect problems, 14 out of the 15 horses had problems. Many that showed last year will not make it in. Technology can be used by you as well. We will use it. Technology will not lie. Horses that are not compliant by our technology should not expect to get in.”

Gipson continued, “Every horse in the show ring will be compliant. DQPs need support from you and us. We have no options but to enforce the act. We’ve done everything. The line has been established and the USDA will enforce it. You’ve come a long way, you must prove yourself. You can do it. It’s time to end this practice. The burden is on us to do this. We will use all the technology and be defensible when challenged. You know our expectations. We appreciate your patience and cooperation.” He concluded with, “This will be very good show season, especially for the horse.”

Mike Tuck thanked Dr. Doyle Meadows for furnishing the facility, the NHSC for the food and the horses and the trainers for bringing a good variety of horses.