USDA adopts new rule on TN Walking Horse ‘soring;’ Alexander objects

Just days before the Obama administration leaves office, the U. S. Department of Agriculture announced changes to rules governing enforcement of the Horse Protection Act Friday that animal rights supporters hailed as a major step toward ending the abusive practice of soring, reports The Tennessean.

The new rule will ban much of the gear used, including chains placed around horses’ ankles during training and stacks — the tall weights attached to the front hooves.

It also will force inspectors to become trained and licensed through the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“(The USDA is) taking away the most obvious and ubiquitous tools used for soring,” said Keith Dane, senior adviser on equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States. “We’re very encouraged by the rule.”

Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said reformers have devoted countless hours to deliver mercy to these horses, outlawing “a practice that is as deplorable and intentional as dogfighting or cockfighting.”

The horse industry is currently responsible for training its own inspectors in what the USDA says is a conflict of interest that leaves them with no incentive to find violations. During audits, federal inspectors consistently find more sored horses than private inspectors do.

The new trainers would be veterinarians and veterinarian educators. APHIS said it will be able to deny an application for a horse protection inspector’s license or revoke the license of an inspector “who does not meet the minimum requirements, who fails to follow the designated inspection procedures, or who otherwise fails to carry out his or her duties and responsibilities in a satisfactory manner.”

… Mike Inman, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, said he plans to challenge the regulatory action. The Celebration, based in Shelbyville, Tenn., is the largest Tennessee walking horse show in the nation.

“The avenues available are, of course, to file a legal challenge, and we are prepared to do that,” Inman said.

He said a Trump administration could put the rule changes on hold until they can be reviewed.

“During that review time, our industry would look forward to presenting the facts that we feel would lead to a different course of action,” he said.

Dane said the Humane Society is expecting Big Lick industry supporters to challenge the decision but that it is prepared to work with the USDA to fight back.


News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 14, 2017 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized a rule that would give the agency authority to ban all action devices and require USDA selected inspectors:

“I am in favor of wiping out the contemptible and illegal practice of horse soring, not wiping out the century old tradition of showing Tennessee Walking Horses as this rule could do.  I and other members of Congress introduced legislation last Congress that would end horse soring. I would hope the new Secretary of Agriculture will not concur with this overreaching rule announced during the last few days of the Obama administration and instead will work with Congress to enact legislation that punishes trainers, owners and riders who abuse horses while preserving the opportunity for law abiding horse enthusiasts to participate in competitions that are the basis of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.”

The Tennessee Walking Horse industry supports more than 20,000 jobs nationwide and pumps $3.2 billion into the nation’s economy. In 2014, there were more than 350 shows contributing millions of dollars to local economies. There are 275,000 walking horses registered nationwide, including over 90,000 walking horses in Tennessee, and more than 40,000 in Kentucky.

On Jan. 13, USDA published the final rule: “Horse Protection: Licensing of Designated Qualified Persons and Other Amendments.” The final rule requires USDA to assume responsibility for training, screening and licensing horse inspectors and bans the use of all action devices. The final rule could have a significant negative effect on the Tennessee Walking Horse industry and the small businesses and communities benefiting from the industry.

Last year, Alexander signed on to Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s letter asking the Assistant Deputy Administrator to extend the comment period for this proposed rule for at least 60 days to provide the necessary time to gather

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