As we finish another show season, the Walking Horse industry is in the midst of another rulemaking attempt by the United States Department of Agriculture. The rulemaking process and the finality of that process will play a huge role in the future of the breed.

To start, the USDA did finally announce the formal withdrawal of the “old” 2017 rule that was the original rulemaking attempt by USDA to remove the pad and action device and eliminate the Horse Industry Organizations. The process was an expensive one for the industry as we intervened in the legal battle between the Humane Society of the United States and USDA. In the end, the industry, along with USDA was successful in not having the 2017 rule implemented, which was what HSUS was seeking to force USDA to do.

As part of the USDA’s withdrawal, they always referenced a new rulemaking that would address deficiencies in the old rule and make the necessary changes in the new rule. For the industry, those changes didn’t amount to much of anything and the USDA once again has come after the pads, action devices and HIOs.  

The comment period on this rule ended in October, and now we find ourselves in a waiting game. That wait will be the time the USDA takes to review the comments received, make the necessary changes, send the “final” rule to the Office of Management and Budget for its review, incorporate any changes requested by OMB and prepare the rule for final printing in the federal register.

I urge each of you to read the comments submitted by The Celebration, on behalf of the entire show horse industry through the law firm hired to prepare those comments, Ellis, George, Cipollone, out of Washington, D.C. You can find those comments on the Walking Horse Report web site.

The comments are a very well done, concise rebuttal to the provisions in the rule that fall outside what the industry feels is fair and/or legal. It is obvious that the Tennessee Walking Horse is being singled out in the show horse industry, an interesting position for the USDA to take. Even more interesting is that the American Horse Council and the American Association of Equine Practitioners have gone on record again supporting a ban of equipment allowed in so many other show horse breeds.

Although the timeline and what will be the exact wording in the final rule are still unknown, I think it is safe to assume the goal of USDA is to have a final rule published sometime in 2024 before the end of the current administration. Most experts in the regulatory process opine that the effective date will be sometime in 2025.
But, just because a final rule will be published doesn’t mean the industry will lay down and accept that rule. The industry, through its lawyers, can seek an injunction and file a lawsuit challenging the rule. The timeline of that legal proceeding is also unknown, but would start immediately upon the publishing of the final rule, assuming that rule hasn’t been changed significantly enough to accommodate the industry. I think it is safe to say the major portions of the rule that we have issue with will remain in the final rule.

For those that ask, what will be different this time as opposed to the last time when the rule was finalized but never implemented. Well, the comment period for that rule ended just months before the election and inauguration of President Trump, who then stopped all rulemaking through executive order. With this rule, the time the USDA has to get it finalized and printed is over a year, when last time it was only three months. I don’t say that to paint a bleak picture, only to assure you that the fight for our show horse is here and we must be prepared to defend our horse.

I hope this helps to let you know where we stand, the best approximation of a timeline and the options the industry has to defend itself against a final rulemaking that devastates the show horse. We are prepared, have great facts and arguments and are represented by one of the top firms in the country.

The most important thing all of us can do is make sure that we have appropriate funds to fight this battle to the best of our ability. Fundraising has already started and has progressed nicely, but we still have a long way to go to meet our goals and to have the necessary resources to pursue every option available to us.  

More information about how the industry will meet its fundraising goals over the next 6-12 months will be forthcoming in the coming weeks. But, I urge each of you; participant, horse show, association, trainer, breeder, stakeholder and business alike to do what you can to support this effort. Every donation will count, large and small, and if everyone bands together we will be able to preserve a proud Tennessee Walking Show Horse.