The current system for examining animals for signs of soring at Tennessee Walking Horse shows would be dismantled if recommendations contained in the results from a new USDA Office of Inspector General audit are adopted. The audit, results of which were released last week, examined the efficiency of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970. The act forbids soring, the deliberate injury to a horse's legs to achieve an exaggerated "big lick" gait. The USDA/APHIS is tasked with enforcing the law.
Currently horse show managers hire USDA-licensed designated qualified persons (DQPs) to inspect animals at horse shows. But according to the results of the audit, the system creates a conflict of interest between DQPs and the horse show management organizations that hire them.
"DQPs realize that by ticketing horse exhibitors or by excluding horses from a show, they are not likely to please their employers, who are interested in putting on a profitable show," auditors said.
The audit also revealed that DQPs who are also exhibitors are less likely to vigorously inspect animals to avoid scrutiny when their own animals are inspected, and that DQPs frequently refrain from issuing violation citations to persons directly responsible for soring the animal.
As a result, auditors recommended that the system employing DQPs be abolished and replaced with a new protocol whereby independent USDA-accredited veterinarians would carry out animal inspections at horse shows, sales, and other events. Those veterinarians would be empowered to issue violation citations to those responsible for soring an animal.
Auditors further suggested that APHIS implement measures to ensure that suspended HPA violators are barred from participating in future events, and to revise and enforce regulations that ban horses disqualified due to soring from future exhibition.
Finally, auditors proposed that the USDA petition Congress to increase HPA enforcement funding significantly.
Doyle Meadows, PhD, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, declined comment on the audit. The president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association, David Pruett, was unavailable for comment.
Lori Northrup, equine welfare advocate and president of Friends of Sound Horses, an organization that opposes the soring of gaited horses, said the auditors' recommendations represent positive steps in HPA enforcement.
"Progress in this direction will certainly help protect these show horses from the abuses of soring," Northrup said.