"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Monday, May 30, 2011

RESEARCH - Q&A From USDA Stakeholder's Meeting May 27, 2011: Part 1

As you all know by now, the USDA held a stakeholder's meeting over conference call on Friday, May 27 to let the public know about the proposed changes to the HPA. The Walking Horse Chat recorded the meeting and posted it. Click here for the link.

First, it's important to note that the changes proposed are the same as the mandatory required penalties that all the HIOs were required to include in their rulebook as of January 1, 2011. However, SHOW, PRIDE, KY HIO, and HOA all refused to make the changes.

To recap, here are the changes proposed. The USDA will remove the reference in 11.2(d) to assessing penalties set forth in the rulebook of the certified program under which the DQP is licensed. Instead, that paragraph would require HIOs to assess and enforce penalties for violations in accordance a new paragraph 11.25, which would add the regulations and would contain the penalty protocol, as follows.

- To include violations that require a suspension to suspend the individuals including, but not limited to the owner, manager, trainer, rider, custodian, and seller, as applicable, who are responsible for showing the horse, exhibiting the horse, entering or allowing the entry of the horse in a show, exhibition or sale.

- A bilaterally sore violation would require a one year suspension for the first offense, a two year suspension for the second offense, and four years for the third and all subsequent offenses. The horse will be disqualified for the remainder of the show.

- A unilateral violation would require a 60 day suspension for the first offense, 120 days for the second offense, and one year for the third and all subsequent violations. The horse will be disqualified for the remainder of the show.

- A scar rule violation would require a two week suspension for the first offense, 60 days for the second offense and one year for the third offense and all subsequent violations. The horse will be disqualified for the remainder of the show.

- Foreign substance violations that are found pre-show will result in disqualifying the horse for the remainder of the show. Post-show foreign substance violations will result in a 14-day suspension and disqualify the horse for the remainder of the show.

- Equipment violations will directly follow the penalties for the foreign substances.

- Shoeing violations, including heel-to-toe ratio, will result in the horse being dismissed from the remainder of the show, whether found pre- or post-show.

- Unruly or fractious horses and horses that cannot be inspected will be dismissed from the class but can return in future classes at that show for inspection. A six month suspension will be incurred for each occurrence.

- All suspensions will be served consecutively and not concurrently. The amendment will include a hearing process to be instituted and any violation of the suspension would result in an additional six month suspension.

I was going to transcribe the whole audio for the meeting, but honestly, it would just take me way too long. So below is the Q&A portion of the meeting, and I have paraphrased the questions in italics. My thoughts follow the questions in regular print. If you notice any discrepancies between my paraphrasing, please feel free to let me know.

I also am going to break this post up into three parts as it's already getting really long. So the other two parts will be finished within a couple of days.


Q1: How are these rules to be enforced? The penalties sound great, everything sounds great but how will this be enforced?
A1: There will be additional changes coming to the regulations that will impact the enforcement. Currently what we're doing right now is putting in a penalty protocol that all HIOs must follow and if they don't follow it then they are subject to decertification. We have clarified the decertification process. This is an enhancement of the current rules that are in place that have not been adequately followed or adhered to by the current HIOs.

Note: he says an ENHANCEMENT. This is exactly what this new proposal is to be viewed as. It enhances the current rules and regs of the HPA. The USDA is given the authority to make these changes per the HPA in order to better enforce the HPA. They must present it to the Secretary of the USDA and he/she must approve it.

Q2: Who is this being proposed to? Is it to the Secretary?
A2: When we put out the proposed rules it's being proposed to all of our stakeholders and the general public. That's why it's on a public website and people can make comments on it. We review the comments and then we will see if we will go further with the current proposed rule or make changes or decide how to go further with it.

As I have further researched and understand this, the USDA needs to post this publicly for various reasons, which they did not do in the beginning when they required the rules to be included in the new rulebooks. However, this does not negate putting these rules in the new HIO rulebooks, and the HIOs still need to follow these requirements or they face decertification.

Q3: First, is there going to be an additional definition of equipment violation or can there be better clarification for equipment violation since it covers a broad range? And second, for the new penalty protocol is there any renewal or time that this resets or is this lifetime accumulation?
A3: First, the equipment are listed in Section 11.2 in the horse protection regulations, and also in the proposed rules it will define this further. Also, we will not take comments on the proposed rule but clarification questions are okay.

This is the answer to Q3's second part from later in the Q&A session.

A3: At this time we're not looking at changing it after it would be implemented so there would not be any continuing changes into the penalty structure unless it's necessary at a later time.

I think they misunderstood what Q3 was asking here. I think Q3 was asking if the penalties would be lifetime for the horse/trainer/owner/etc. But I could be wrong on that.

Q4: These are the penalties that were required in our rule structure for 2011, is that correct? And I am aware that there are two or three HIOs that didn't include the penalty structure. Have they been decertified or is the department looking into the procedure for that?
A4: Yes. Second, we are looking at procedures for that and we haven't actually decertified them as of yet.

Q5: First, can you tell us anything additional abut the further documents that are referred to that are now being developed the further regs being developed. Second, is the dept studying in any way or concerned in any way with uniformity of digital palpation in the form of using an algometer or in any other way?
A5: At this time we can't speak about the further proposed rules that we're looking into. They the revision of the regulations is being looked into very thoroughly because of the OIG audit from 2010. These are possibly the reasons why we'll be changing the regulations. There was concern about the DQPs with the digital palpation issue outlined in the OIG audit in that the DQP program be abolished from the complete inspection system. We aren't looking at doing that. We're looking at licensing and training those inspectors under the USDA. So we will hopefully be looking at having more uniformity and working a lot closer with the inspectors to make sure they're trained accordingly. We aren't looking at algometry at this time.

It seems pretty obvious that they can't talk about the rules they're now working on since first, this discussion is about the current rules that are being proposed, and second, they haven't finalized the next set yet.

Currently, each HIO is required to train their own DQPs. This is an excellent choice by the USDA to train the DQPs themselves rather than relying on the HIOs, since as the OIG audit shows, many of the HIOs have not been doing their jobs. To clarify for those who don't know, an algometer is a handheld device that measures sensitivity to pain through pressure. While this is a great tool, the only problem is each horse is an individual, just as each human is an individual, and therefore one horse's level of pain may be lower than another, whether sored or not. So this could present some problems in the long run.
Q6: Where is it in writing that you can certify and decertify HIOs?
A6: Under the HPA we have the authority to certify as well as decertify HIOs as they are not following the inspection guidelines as they are in Section 11.21.

So in other words, go read the HPA and don't just go on what you hear others say about it. I've heard this excuse as well, but if you go read the HPA you will see that all authority is given to the USDA to change and/or enforce the rules as they see fit, and this includes decertifying HIOs. Come on, people--if you're going to challenge the USDA, have your proof to back it up, like in the below question.

Q7: In the HPA it plainly states that anything the USDA does involving the TWH industry should not hurt the industry in any way. Can the USDA explain to us the fact that they want to suspend owners on something that they have no knowledge about is going to benefit the industry but rather would hurt the industry?
A7: The focus of our responsibility of the HPA is focusing on what is to the benefit to the horse. If you are the owner of the horse then you are responsible for knowing how that horse is treated and cared for. This is the whole reason why the HPA was put in place. So we will focus on the welfare of the horse first and those who are are responsible for the welfare of the horse.

THANK YOU DR. GIPSON. Come on, owners: STOP PRETENDING YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON. We all know you're full of B.S.--this excuse has been going on for years. He is exactly right: it is your responsibility as an owner to look out for the welfare of your own horse. If you want to win at all costs, don't choose an industry where winning has proven to be equivalent with breaking the law. A horse is not a machine--it is a living creature that knows pain. If you don't care if the horse is in pain or not, then go buy a stock car or find another sport to participate in where an animal's welfare is not at stake.

If you're worried that the changes will hurt the industry, then obviously something fishy is going wrong. No one complains when new laws are put in place to deter burglars or illegal immigrants except the burglars and illegal immigrants and those who support breaking the law by supporting them. If the industry falters because of these changes, that is the industry's fault, not the USDA's. Again, the industry is continuing to fight against the USDA instead of seriously fighting to end soring. If you would have ended soring in the first place, then this would never be happening.


Part 2 starting with question 8 will be posted tomorrow.

AGAIN, please don't forget to comment! Click here to make comments on the new penalty structure. Click on Comment Due under Horse Protection Act: Requiring Horse Industry Organizations, etc. COMMENTS ARE DUE BY JULY 26, 2011!

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