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USDA Updates Owners At WHOA Convention

by Linda Scrivner

(Editor’s note: The complete 90-minute question and answer session with Dr. Rachel Cezar and Dr. Chester Gipson is available to view online at
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – In a highly anticipated meeting, the Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) hosted Deputy Administrator Dr. Chester Gipson and Dr. Rachel Cezar, Horse Protection Coordinator from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Dr. Cezar and Dr. Gipson were present to allow the owners the opportunity to seek answers to questions they had concerning the Horse Protection Act, its enforcement in 2009 and how it differs from previous show seasons.

Frank Neal, president of WHOA, introduced the guests and quickly turned the microphone over to Dr. Gipson to begin the session. Dr. Gipson thanked the owners and pointed out it was his first opportunity to meet with the owners, since taking his position at the USDA. “We spend a lot of time talking about one another and not enough time talking with one another,” said Gipson.

“There will be a significant difference with the horse that goes in the ring (in 2009),” said Gipson. “We have a job to do… Responsibility falls on you first. Ultimate responsibility then falls on us if you aren’t diligent (in your enforcement).” He concluded his opening statements, “There is a mandate that the USDA enforce the Horse Protection Act as it is written.”

Dr. Cezar then spoke on the new 2009 inspection procedures. The most controversial of these was the removal of tack for inspection. Cezar pointed out that the horses could walk up to inspection with the saddle on and then remove it before the inspection. Also in 2009, hoof testers will be used on flat-shod and performance horses as well as other technology such as thermography and digital radiography. The full enhanced procedures presentation is available on video at and appeared in an earlier edition of the Walking Horse Report.

Bob Ramsbottom asked, “Why not just remove tack on suspected horses instead of all horses all of the time?” Dr. Gipson answered the question with an emphasis on consistency. This would ensure that all horses are treated the same. He also stated that letters of concerns should be sent in and they would take these in consideration but for now all these procedures stand as they were presented.

Dr. Gipson began his answers to the scar rule questions by stating, “Let me clarify something: there is absolutely no change in our interpretation of the regulation. There is an expectation that we enforce the act and we are applying that expectation.”

Andrew Waites thanked Dr. Gipson for coming to the forum and asked about the scar rule pamphlet that the industry received from the USDA. Waites pointed out that the law and regulation haven’t changed but yet the pamphlet is not in use any more so the enforcement or interpretation of those regulations must have changed. “That pamphlet was a detriment to the program because it was in conflict with the regulation,” stated Gipson. “We have had difficulty enforcing the Act because you (the walking horse industry) had more influence in Washington than we did. Now with the emphasis on welfare, we have a mandate from those same people to enforce the HPA.”

In regards to the “sniffer” results in 2008, Dr. Cezar gave an update on the findings. She replied that they have sent out letters and will send more out. She said that of the 600 horses tested in 2008 that 50 percent or approximately 300 were positive. She reminded them that the elemental sulphur was considered a masking agent, and was not one of the three allowed substance in the Horse Protection Act.

Debra Coleman pleaded with Dr. Gipson to acknowledge the progress that has been made and to understand that each time the industry makes progress the USDA moves the bar. In response to Coleman, Dr. Gipson said he understood and would agree to another scar rule clinic to better educate the owners.

Dr. Gipson concluded the seminar with some final remarks. “A number of people are trying to help and are working for the horse and the industry. You need to work closely with the AAEP. This is the first time I’ve heard owners say we want to do what’s right and show compliant horses. We feel we’re going forward. The target can’t move any more. Thank you for inviting us. We want you on board. We’re not your enemy.”

Overall the owners were very appreciative of the visit of Dr. Gipson and Dr. Cezar and found the session to be very informative. You can log on the Walking Horse Report web site and view the entire question and answer session.

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