Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW), a horse industry organization (HIO) that manages Tennessee Walking Horse shows, including the National Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, has asked a federal court in Texas to block implementation of new USDA regulations requiring HIOs to impose minimum penalties for soring horses on grounds that the new rules are unconstitutional.
Soring is the deliberate injury to a horse’s feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait. The USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) enforces the Horse Protection Act, which prohibits soring, certifies HIOs that manage horse shows, and trains Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs). HIOs hire DQPs to carry out HPA compliance inspections on horses presented for exhibition at the horse shows.
In 2010 auditors from the USDA’s Inspector General’s Office recommended that APHIS develop and implement protocols to more consistently penalize HPA violators. Last year the USDA proposed a protocol that would require HIOs to enforce uniform minimum penalties for HPA violations found at events they manage. On June 5 the agency announced the rule in its final form.
Under the final rule, all APHIS-certified HIOs must assess penalties that equal or exceed minimum levels. The final rule requires suspensions be issued for HPA violations to any individuals who are responsible for a range of activities including showing a sore horse; exhibiting a sore horse; entering or allowing the entry of that horse in a show or exhibition. The rule also forbids anyone who is suspended to show or exhibit any horse or judge or manage any horse show, horse exhibition, or horse sale/auction for the duration of the suspension. The final rule also stiffens penalties for repeat HPA violators. The new rule goes into effect July 9.
In a complaint filed on June 25 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas SHOW alleges that the new minimum penalty rule violates the U.S. Constitution because it forces private entities to impose penalties on horse show participants for violations of federal law. The complaint further claims that the Tennessee Walking Horse industry will be irreparably harmed if the rule becomes effective.
In a written statement, SHOW President Stephen Mullins, DVM, said the rule also discourages industry-driven reform, including a new testing initiative intended to detect the presence of banned substances on horse’s feet.
“Reformers within the walking show horse industry are committed to self-regulation as demonstrated by recent efforts, but the USDA’s regulations are not only unconstitutional, they unfairly punish those most aggressively working to clean up the industry,” Mullins said.
APHIS spokesman David Sacks said the agency’s General Counsel was reviewing the lawsuit but declined further comment.
Teresa Bippen, spokesperson for the HIO Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) said the lawsuit indicates that some HIOs remain reluctant to impose significant penalties on HPA violators.
“It is disheartening,” Bippen said. “The majority of the HIOs, including FOSH, implemented the USDA mandatory penalties two years ago and have reported no issues with the penalty structure or its implementation.”