Over the weekend of February 4th, 2012, Dr. Chester Gipson from the USDA APHIS attended a members meeting with WHOA members and directors. The Shelbyville Times-Gazette published this article--text is copied and pasted below.
USDA official slams horse groups hard
Thursday, February 16, 2012
T-G STAFF REPORT
A Department of Agriculture representative who enforces the Horse Protection Act had critical comments for the local equine industry this past weekend.
Dr. Chester Gipson, Deputy Administrator for Animal Care with USDA-APHIS, met Saturday with members of the Walking Horse Owners' Association (WHOA) in Murfreesboro, telling members enforcement of the Act would be no different during the 2012 show season than it was last year.
But Gibson also told WHOA members that the Walking Horse industry had "no credible voice," warning that they are dividing themselves, and urging unity.
"Unity" was the idea behind a committee that was formed in December to look at issues related to the future of the breed in the show ring and to also discuss unification within the performance horse division.
But the group, made up of WHOA, the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association (TWHBEA), Walking Horse Trainers' Association (WHTA) and The Celebration, has objected to any reduction of pads and action devices for walking horses, also opposing proposed mandatory penalties by the USDA.
According to the Walking Horse Report, Gibson said that the penalties, which he termed as the Uniform Penalty Protocol, is "hung up and I'm not quite sure when they will be completed. This process can take a long time and it has taken a lot longer than we thought."
Gipson was also quoted as being "surprised" by the feedback he has received in previous meetings with horse groups and individuals, telling WHOA members that he does "not have a hidden motive and I expect a certain level of distrust because I work for the government."
The USDA official stated that unification "is an industry initiative and is a totally different issue from pads and action devices and they are totally separate." But Gipson also urged the Walking Horse industry to unite behind a common goal.
"There is no credible voice within this industry and when someone doesn't like something they spin off and create their own group," Gipson was quoted as saying in the Walking Horse Report. "You are dividing and surrendering and we don't have to do anything to you, you are doing it to yourself."
He urged the industry to stop splintering saying, "there are more good resources in your industry than in any industry I know but they aren't being used effectively." However, Gipson was also quoted as being optimistic about the industry's efforts at unification.
Pads and soring
Other topics the USDA official touched on were soring and pads and action devices, telling WHOA members that he had a responsibility to let the industry know what was on the horizon "especially when it may have an adverse effect on your industry."
Gipson stated that regulations state "that if certain things didn't change we would re-visit the action device and pad," adding that other credible groups were looking at the issue, urging the walking horse industry to do the same.
"The issue is open and we are going to re-visit but that doesn't mean anything will change," Gipson was quoted as saying. "You need to provide alternatives based on fact and not emotion. We are going to do what's best for the horse based on the best science."
Gipson reportedly said that the issue of horse soring "has become an animal welfare issue," explaining that groups such as the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association "have stepped up and become more active."
Trainers and the industry were complimented by the USDA official as to advancements made on the scar rule, with Gipson explaining when he took the job, the Horse Protection Act "wasn't being enforced, it was being ignored."
"You can't change overnight so we have taken a measured approach," Gipson told WHOA members. "I joke with some of the trainers I talk to that said, 'We can't do it' and tell them they did do it." Gipson also stated that scar rule adherence was "where it needs to be."
ID the horses
Gipson also spoke about two recommendations made in a 2010 audit of APHIS by the USDA's Office Of Inspector General: abolishing of the Designated Qualified Persons (DQP) industry inspection program and the proper identification of horses.
The audit also said APHIS needed to improve its program for inspecting show horses for abuse and penalizing violators, as well as ensuring that Horse Protection Act violators do not participate in shows while suspended.
"Doing away with the DQP program would be a disaster for the USDA and for the industry," he said, adding that the audit recommendation is that individuals serving as DQPs "do not need to have a conflict of interest."
"The primary area of enforcement should be within the industry, but the USDA will take on the responsibility of training and licensing the DQPs as part of this recommendation from the OIG," Gipson said.
Gipson also stated that the industry needs to address the issue of horses being identified properly, noting that the Justice Department had looked into the falsification of entries in several recent cases, saying "this is an opportunity for the industry to address this and look for solutions," suggesting that placing microchips in horses to identify them is a possible solution.
Follow the law
Also addressed by Gipson were the "Points of Emphasis," or rules for the Horse Protection Program, stating there isn't much room for confusion on the part of the USDA.
"It's the law, you don't have to sign on (to the points of emphasis), you just have to follow the law," Gipson said. "If anyone wants to challenge them, we cited the regulations behind each point."
Gipson also said that petitions for rule making "drive very little of what we do," explaining that he couldn't think of a petition that has driven any regulation.
"Petitions are not driving your community, the OIG Audit is driving it," he said, also clarifying that USDA initiates no regulation, they simply enforce it.
The USDA official also "laughed off the threat of litigation against him," the Walking Horse Report stated, quoting Gipson to say that "I'm used to being threatened (to be sued) so all I can say is bring it on and I'm not intimidated by it."
He also stated that the industry needs "a system where all horses are being checked by the same standard," pointing out that the industry needs to self-regulate and continue the theme of unity.
"United, you stand a better chance than divided," he said.
Gipson also said that the USDA was moving toward more transparency, explaining that was the motivation behind his previous visits in the Walking Horse industry as well as upcoming listening sessions.
"I have an open door policy and don't discriminate against anyone or any group," said Gipson. "We will focus our efforts on outreach, education and information sharing in an effort to try and let people know what is going on."
Then we have the following articles from the Walking Horse Report, posted February 13th and 14th of 2012.
Dr. Gipson Provides Clarity Prior To Show Season
Monday, February 13, 2012
Copyright WHR 2012
By Jeffrey Howard
Editor's Note: Part one of two from Dr. Chester Gipson’s meeting with the Walking Horse Owners’ Association general membership meeting.
The Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) hosted Dr. Chester Gipson, Deputy Administrator for Animal Care with USDA-APHIS at its general membership meeting on February 11, 2012 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Gipson was very informative in his session and used the meeting as an opportunity to clarify many of the statements and positions being attributed to him as part of the industry’s unification efforts.
Gipson began by stating that the 2012 show season should have no major differences from the 2011 show season with regards to HPA enforcement. Gipson addressed the mandatory penalties, which he referred to as uniform penalties by stating, “The Uniform Penalty Protocol is hung up and I’m not quite sure when they will be completed. This process can take a long time and it has taken a lot longer than we thought.”
With regards to clarifying his statements, Gipson stated, “I have been surprised by the feedback and comments I have received from my previous meetings with groups and individuals. I do not have a hidden motive and I expect a certain level of distrust because I work for the government.” He continued, “Unification is an industry initiative and is a totally different issue from pads and action devices and they are totally separate.” Gipson urged, as he has done in the past, for the industry to unite behind a common goal.
“There is no credible voice within this industry and when someone doesn’t like something they spin off and create their own group. You are dividing and surrendering and we don’t have to do anything to you, you are doing it to yourself,” said Gipson. Gipson urged the industry to stop splintering saying, “There are more good resources in your industry than in any industry I know but they aren’t being used effectively.”
As a result of the industry’s efforts at unification recently, Gipson was optimistic that it was going better than what is commonly perceived in the industry. “You have groups that talk about one another that are talking with one another and that is a good first step. I am very optimistic that something good will come of it,” reiterated Gipson.
Gipson also spent time clarifying his position with his statements to prior groups regarding the pads and action devices. “I have an ethical responsibility to let your industry know what is on the horizon especially when it may have an adverse effect on your industry. In the regulations it states that if certain things didn’t change we would re-visit the action device and pad.” Gipson reminded the industry that other credible groups were looking at the issue and he urged that our industry should do the same.
“The issue is open and we are going to re-visit but that doesn’t mean anything will change. You need to provide alternatives based on fact and not emotion. We are going to do what’s best for the horse based on the best science,” said Gipson. Gipson reiterated multiple times that the USDA is not making a change to the pad and action device but warned other groups are studying the issue and he urges the industry to do the same so that science will be at the core of the argument made by the industry if that time comes.
Gipson at many times talked about the credibility of who the industry is up against and why it has become so popular. “The HPA deals with the soring of horses which because of the harm to the horse has become an animal welfare issue which is the reason groups such as AAEP and AVMA have stepped up and become more active,” said Gipson.
Gipson did compliment the industry and trainers with regards to the advancement made within the industry on the scar rule. “When I took this job the Act wasn’t being enforced, it was being ignored. You can’t change overnight so we have taken a measured approach. I joke with some of the trainers I talk to that said, ‘We can’t do it’ and tell them they did do it,” said Gipson. Gipson clearly stated that in the measured approach he has taken to scar rule enforcement, “It’s (scar rule adherence) where it needs to be.”
Watch for Part Two of the Dr. Gipson meeting with WHOA which deals with the OIG Audit, Points of Emphasis and his reaction to the threat of litigation against him. The complete story will be in the February 20, 2012 issue of Walking Horse Report.
Dr. Gipson Emphasizes Transparency - Part 2
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Copyright WHR 2012
By Jeffrey Howard
Editor’s Note: The following is Part 2 in our series of coverage of Dr. Chester Gipson’s visit with the Walking Horse Owners’ Association on February 11, 2012.
The Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) hosted USDA-APHIS Deputy Administrator-Animal Care Dr. Chester Gipson at their general membership meeting on February 11, 2012 in preparation for the 2012 horse show season. Gipson touched on many topics in his visit and definitely focused on the movement toward more transparency in the USDA. The need for transparency is magnified according to Gipson because of the impact Agriculture has on the country and how agriculture “affects every one of our lives.”
Gipson said the focus on transparency was the motivation behind his previous visits in the industry as well as the upcoming listening sessions. “I have an open door policy and don’t discriminate against anyone or any group,” said Gipson. “We will focus our efforts on outreach, education and information sharing in an effort to try and let people know what is going on.”
Gipson did focus on two areas recommended as part of the Office Of Inspector General (OIG) audit performed on APHIS; abolishment of the DQP program and proper identification of horses. “Doing away with the DQP program would be a disaster for the USDA and for the industry however the effect of that recommendation is that individuals serving as DQPs do not need to have a conflict of interest,” continued Gipson. “The primary area of enforcement should be within the industry but the USDA will take on the responsibility of training and licensing the DQPs as part of this recommendation from the OIG.”
With regards to horses not being identified properly Gipson was very straightforward that it should be an area of concern in the industry. “With the Justice Department looking into the falsification of entries in several recent cases, this is an opportunity for the industry to address this and look for solutions,” said Gipson. Gipson referred to the chipping of horses as a possible way for the industry to alleviate this issue.
“This is an opportunity for the Registry to help in this issue (identification of horses). When we (USDA) go to the registry we find a lot of disparity in the information there. When you (industry) fail to do it, USDA has to follow up and do it,” reiterated Gipson.
Gipson also addressed the Points of Emphasis and said there would not be “new” points of emphasis for 2012 but did say they are what they are and didn’t leave much room for confusion on the part of the USDA. “It’s the law, you don’t have to sign on (to the points of emphasis), you just have to follow the law. If anyone wants to challenge them we cited the regulations behind each point.”
Petitions for rulemaking have become a common theme and talking point recently in the industry yet Gipson discounted their importance in driving regulation. “Petitions come every day and we have to publish them so the public and industry affected have an idea of what is out there but they drive very little of what we do,” said Gipson. He continued, “I can’t think of a petition that has driven any regulation. Petitions are not driving your community, the OIG Audit is driving it.” Gipson also clarified that USDA initiates no regulation, they simply enforce it.
Gipson laughed off the threat of litigation against him and talked of the many groups and industries that he regulates and those threats he receives. “I’m used to being threatened (to be sued) so all I can say is bring it on and I’m not intimidated by it,” laughed Gipson.
When asked about a preference for one HIO versus the system of multiple ones in place, Gipson reiterated, “My job is to work with all of them and that is what we will do. The regulations allow for multiple HIOs.” He did point out, “You need a system where all horses are being checked by the same standard.” On multiple occasions Gipson made the point of self-regulation and that it needs to continue as well as the theme of unity within in the industry, “United, you stand a better chance than divided.”
When asked about the subjectivity of inspections Gipson clarified, “Do our inspectors err in judgment, yes they err in judgment because they are human, however I do not overturn a call that an inspector that works for me makes. There are three things I tell all of my inspectors, be fair, be firm and be friendly,” concluded Gipson.
A lasting theme throughout the roughly two hours of meeting was science and the need for it, the driving force of it and the search for it. “It (regulatory process) doesn’t work on emotion. Science drives the regulatory process,” said Gipson.
I agree completely with Dr. Gipson's assessments. He is absolutely right--this industry is killing itself by continuing to act the way they do. Their "unity" group claims to be united, but it's not including all of the HIOs and is rejecting the idea of changing the pads and chains situation and oppose the mandated penalties. How is that going to help the industry?
The problem, however, is that Gipson is still praising them for the work they've done to make changes. What changes? I don't understand what changes have happened. The industry has continued to fight the USDA at every turn and continues to run things as is. Big Name Trainers still get high accolades, even if their horses are found sore. At the 2011 Celebration, everyone got their money back if their horses were found sore. What kind of incentive is that to stop soring?
Our other problem is that Gipson is not working to implement the points of emphasis and mandated penalties. It has been TWO YEARS since he threatened to decertify any HIO that didn't sign the mandated penalties. And last year he said they're going to add the mandated penalties to the HPA in 2012, but now he's saying it's taking longer than he thought it would to do it. Did he not have a plan in place when he made his threats? It seems to me the industry has called his bluff.
So really, we're not seeing any progress here. Neither side is making a difference. So what we need all of you to do is to make your voices know. Contact the USDA at the emails and phone numbers included in the top of the sidebar, or click here. Let them know we want to see real progress. And let your local shows know that you're tired of seeing the heavy pads and chains and you want it to end.
However, there is good news for the sound horse!
In Mississippi, the State of Mississippi Horse Show Association has made a change to their gaited horse classes: CHAINS ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED! Check out their website for more information.
This show has a variety of horses showing in it in various categories: barrel racing, reining, pole bending, pony races, gaited trail horse classes, and a few padded horse classes. This decision is an excellent one. This way padded horses can show without the chains, since the chain is supposed to be only 6 ounces anyway and "doesn't hurt" the horse. I've had some padded horse trainers and riders tell me the chain isn't really necessary, so it seems there's no need to use them at all.
Thank you to the folks at this association for taking a huge step toward supporting the sound horse! We appreciate your decision! Your show will be better for it!
"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
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